Suresh Kurl: Chief Theresa Spence and the difference between a fast, a hunger strike, and Kaya-Kalpa

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      Chief Theresa Spence's recent statement, "I remain steadfast on my journey and will not allow any distractions at this time to [waver from] the goal set forth,” is admirable.

      After all, it was made within the first week of the New Year. However, I have a problem with the use  of the term "hunger strike" implied in her journey. Well, in order to explain my disagreement with the chief, I would like to share a portion of something I know.

      There was a time when I used to fast once a week to please gods in hopes of getting something from them in return. Now I only fast twice a year, on Krishna and Shiva's birthdays. Fasts are short term. When I fast, I abstain from solid food for a day, but not from water or tea.

      While I have never been on a hunger strike, I recall that as a kid, I threatened my mom a few times. I must tell you that growing up, I was a very sick child and unable to eat normal foods. I craved the ordinary things that the family ate every day. 

      I told my mom that if she did not cook something I craved, I would go on a hunger strike. Being a small and weak child I thought that the threat of long-term starvation; without any solid food would work on her.

      I might have learned to use the nonviolent force to get my way from Mahatma Gandhi. He had mastered this technique and used it to bend the will of his followers.

      He was especially successful in bending the will of the British government. He called it stya-graha (truth force). Hardly a year ago, a social reformer India, Anna Hazare, tried this technique to force the Congress Party–led government to pass a bill to stop systemic corruption in India, but it hasn't worked yet.

      Kaya-Kalpa! What is it? Well it is neither a short-term fast nor a Gandhian fast unto death—starvation. "Kaya'"in Sanskrit means body and "Kalpa" means treatment. It is an Ayurverdic method to rejuvenate and transform your body.

      People who are into health food or alternative diets might refer to it as a “cleanse”. The method not only regenerates the entire body, but it also re-energizes the mind and spirit. This secret healing technique was used in India for thousands of years by healers to revitalize and attain longevity.  

      Let me tell you a story. Thousands of years ago, a strong-willed daughter of a king in India was determined to remain unmarried. She refused every eligible prince brought to her for her approval. Unlike medieval and modern India, those were the days when swayam-vara (self-selection of your partner) was allowed and encouraged.

      She frustrated the king so much that one day he invited all the possible suitors, and ordered his attendants to blindfold his daughter and leave her amid of all her suitors in the castle courtyard. The idea was that she would have to marry whoever she touched first, even accidentally.

      Blindfolded and frustrated with her father, she started wandering around the garden, and as ill luck would have it, touched an elderly holy man, though unintentionally, who had wandered into the courtyard to deliver herbs to the king’s physician.  

      The holy man pleaded for an exemption because of his vows of celibacy and advanced age. The king out of reverence to the holy man listened to him, but did not change his mind. He ordered him to marry the princess in three months time.

      The holy man returned to his ashram to consult his guru about the king's decree. The guru, though he knew he could not change king's mind, listened to his disciple and offered to help rejuvenate and energize his tired old body and mind.

      For 90 days, the disciple followed an intensive program consisting of special diet, breathing techniques, ritual herbal baths, and sacred oil massages. At the end of 90 days, the holy man’s hair changed from gray to black and his skin and body from old and wrinkly to youthful. And with the blessings of his guru, the youthful holy man married the princess and entered a family life (grihastha-ashram).

      Chief Theresa Spence is living on ceremonial tea, water, and a healthy diet of fish broth. Depending on how many cups of broth consumes every day (one cup of fish broth has 39 calories—34% fat, 10% carbohydrates, and 56% protein), the circumstances of her hunger strike are unlike any that I have known.

      I will therefore have to conclude—no disrespect intended—that she is neither on a fast, such at the type I undertake twice a year, nor on hunger strike, such as Mahatma Gandhi used to undertake while fighting for India’s independence.  She is on a cleansing regime: the Ayurvedic transformation Kaya-Kalpa.

      Suresh Kurl is a long-time newspaper columnist and retired senior public servant.


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      Jan 12, 2013 at 8:19am

      Suresh - Who the hell do you think you are to judge that Chief Theresa Spence is not on a hunger strike? YOUR method of fasting (drinking tea) is not the same as others so should you be called out by them for not really fasting? Shut up and go away you imperialist asshole. This is not India. Chief Theresa Spence is on a hunger strike, doing it her way, and you have no right to dismiss her actions due to your own definitions.


      Jan 12, 2013 at 10:38am

      Not a hunger strike rick. Am I an asshole now ?


      Jan 12, 2013 at 10:39am

      Chief Spence has been *faking* a hunger strike, after *cheating* band members from her reserve out of money that could have improved their housing conditions. She should be ashamed, but that word doesn't seem to be part of her lexicon.


      Jan 12, 2013 at 5:16pm

      i have been trying really really hard to sympathize with this hunger strike story. my gut reaction is look at that lazy fat liar..but im not sure if that is just from having become numbed by the endless stupid loud gibberish accusations of imperialism!/ colonialism! that come every time anyone even politely questions first nation motives/actions


      Jan 12, 2013 at 8:07pm

      As much as I've wished to get behind Chief Theresa Spence, I have felt that there has been something disingenuous about her 'hunger' strike and I believe that Suresh Kurl has hit the mark in untangling fact from fiction. To be fair, the column deals with the method of her protest...not the protest itself or the reasons for it.
      That said, there is no question in my mind that the First Peoples of this country have been treated in intolerable ways and continue to live in appalling poverty & that is shameful and something we can no longer tolerate. That must change!
      Idle No More is a great movement whose time has come...there are many, many Aboriginal voices that need to be heard on a multitude of issues and we must make time and give our ears to those voices.
      And speaking of voices, I find myself struggling with how we insult and diminish one another when our opinions diverge. Suresh Kurl is entitled to his opinion... as much as Rick is to his....but why insist on name-calling and put-downs? How can you, Blueheron be so certain that Chief Spence has been cheating her reserve out of money? Were you there? Did you see this with your own eyes? Lazy, fat Liar??? I'm not sure who will have the last laugh Ha Ha... must we be so unkind?and yes, I fully expect that there will be some choice insults coming my way... but, maybe...just maybe, I'm wrong.


      Jan 13, 2013 at 2:52pm

      hmmmm, you should read what the audit report says.


      Jan 13, 2013 at 6:31pm

      thanks blueheron..I have read some of the reports on the reports and while they certainly suggest malfeasance, no one seems to be able to say with certainty where the money went. Attawapiskat points at Ottawa and Ottawa points back.
      my point though, was that we take as 'certainty' what we read, what we hear, etc as 'truth', where in fact, we rarely 'know'. our biases, judgments, opinions and egos get in the way and we're quick to react, often condemning and hurting one another unnecessarily as we align ourselves with (mis)representations that at the moment, seem to suit us.


      Jan 13, 2013 at 11:40pm

      hmmmm, People who support Idle also "take as certainty what (they) read, what (they) hear as truth, when in fact, (they) rarely know (their) biases, judgements, opinions and egos get in the way and (they're) quick to react, often condemning and hurting one another unnecessarily as (they) align (themselves) with misrepresentations that at the moment seem to suit (them). IN OTHER WORDS, people who support Idle are just as gullible and misinformed as the people they condemn. Supporters of Idle are not morally superior just because they aren't mainstream.


      Jan 14, 2013 at 1:38am

      cuz, i believe you are right!! gullible and misinformed people are everywhere, but... that does not make the Idle No More movement any less valid or less relevant. You say "people who support Idle are just as gullible and misinformed as the people they condemn"... I'm not really hearing condemnation at the heart of this movement... I'm hearing ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! Your argument misses the 'over arching truth', which is that First Nations People in this country HAVE been oppressed, abused and discriminated against. This is not news, nor is it is widespread, common knowledge that there has been a systematic and deliberate genocide imposed on Aboriginals and regardless of one's biases, judgments, opinions and egos...that remains...a truth.
      My original comments challenged accusations ( 'faking', 'cheating'... ) which were directly aimed at the behaviour of Chief Spence. I also found the name-calling degrading and unnecessary. (fat, lazy...more stereotypical discrimination!!)
      Many of us, regardless of race, creed or colour walk around in a sleep-like state for most of our waking hours...but that doesn't mean that causes like Idle are not important and necessary...and sorry, but i really don't understand your last sentence.


      Jan 14, 2013 at 8:11pm

      hmmmm, are you aware of injustices that aboriginal tribes perpetrated against other aboriginal tribes? As in, raiding villages, taking slaves and killing other natives? Yes, that happened in the past (check the history of the Haida and what happened in Grant Bay and Gilford Island/Kingcome Inlet areas. There are no perfect people, and that includes First Nations members. At some point, it's time to move on and to accept responsibility for your own lives.

      MOST of us struggle to make ends meet. That's what life is about. Chief Spence has rewarded herself and her boyfriend financially while other band members in Attawapiskat deal with substandard living conditions. Her priorities are askew.