Hunger Strike 1983

Early morning, April 21st 1983, St. John’s. Atlantic Place offices were just starting to wake up. Thirty-one Mi’kmaq men and women from Conne River went upstairs to the RAND offices. The Rural and Northern Development Department of the Newfoundland Government. They occupied the office.

RAND occupation-daily-news-22-apr-1983
The Daily News, Apr. 22, 1983. Click for larger view.

For over a year, RAND had withheld funds from the Conne River Band Council in a dispute over its administration. Discussion and negotiation had not ended the deadlock. So it was time for direct action.

Conne River (now Miawpukek) was one of the “designated native communities” in the province. Thereby it received federal funding through a federal-provincial agreement. The others, Innu and Inuit communities in Labrador, had continued to receive their funds.

St. John's Telegram Apr 1983 Conne River
St. John’s Telegram Apr 1983. Click for larger view.

At the RAND offices, police arrived and arrested 23 of the protestors. They later got out on bail. And, the next day, the second phase of the protest began.

The hunger strike

Nine men went on a hunger strike. They and about a hundred others from Conne River camped out in a church community centre, along with St. John’s supporters of their cause.

The hunger strikers were determined to win, and winning meant getting the funding released. There was no Plan B.

After nine days, they won. The federal and provincial governments reached an agreement with the band council. RAND released the funds in full.

conne-river-hunger-strike-apr-1983 weigh-inIt was an intense week, and a good week. According to this photo, I was involved in the weighing-in of the hunger strikers. But the main thing I remember was chopping vegetables. We made huge pots of soup and stew every day.

I also remember Michael (Misel) Joe. He had not been chief long at that time. I had spent a bit of time with the previous chief, the late Billy Joe. So I knew Michael had big boots to fill. And he did, especially during those nine days.

The hunger strikers were: Misel Joe, Billy Joe, Andy Joe, Ches Joe, George Drew, Wilfred Drew, Rick Jeddore, Aubrey Joe, and Michael G. Benoit. Thanks for what you did.

Thanks too, Facebook friends, for sharing these photos posted on the Miawpukek Mi’kamawey Mawi’omi page.