Monday, January 08, 2007

Sudbury Welfare Hunger Striker Named Newsmaker of the Year

A local Sudbury newspaper named Sara Anderson their Newsmaker of the Year for 2006. Anderson is an Ojibwe woman living on social assistance who went on a hunger strike in early 2006 because of the province's oppressive welfare regulations. After hearing about her decision to take this action, the Sudbury Coalition Against Poverty was active in supporting her.

Here is the article:

Reluctant activist starved for cause

Date Published | Dec. 22, 2006

A woman who embarked on a arduous 16-day hunger strike to protest the province’s welfare system is Northern Life’s Newsmaker of the Year for 2006.

Sara Anderson, 45, says she has no regrets about her hunger strike, which started the first week in April and continued for more than two weeks.

When asked to comment on whether others might follow in her footsteps to denounce government policy, Anderson said her hunger strike was an act by a desperate woman who was sick and tired of living in abject poverty.

Spiritual guidance provided by a native elder made Anderson reconsider and call off her hunger strike.

“My elder spoke to me and told me it’s not time for me to die...If I continued much longer, I think I probably would have died soon and my elder convinced me it’s not my time. I’m not ready to go,” said Anderson back in April.

Days after ending her hunger strike, Anderson was granted the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) benefits she had been denied on numerous occasions in the past.

Being accepted for a disability pension had “nothing to do” with her decision to quit her hunger strike, said Anderson, who was preparing for an appeal hearing to receive ODSP in May.

Anderson demanded the provincial government dramatically increase social assistance rates and reinstate the monthly dietary supplement clawed back against tens of thousands of recipients. She also demanded more people with legitimate disabilities be accepted into the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP).

Anderson, who suffered a bullet wound in her hip while working as a truant officer on a native reserve in northwestern Ontario several years ago, said she could not afford to eat properly or provide any quality of life for herself and her daughter while living on Ontario Works benefits.

“I don’t regret a thing,” said Anderson, who was in very good spirits the week before Christmas.

While her life has improved since getting ODSP benefits, it hasn’t changed dramatically, she said.

“Me and my daughter don’t go hungry any more, but besides having more food in the fridge, my life isn’t much better,” she said. “I still don’t see a big difference.”

She is looking forward to the holiday season and has saved enough money to provide a good Christmas for her 16-year-old daughter Sheryl, who she credits for being “her rock and inspiration” during the hunger strike.

Anderson said she’s strongly considering returning to college for high school upgrading courses early in 2007 and would eventually like to pursue a career in journalism.

“I love to write,” she said.

When informed she was Northern Life’s Newsmaker of the Year, Anderson said she didn’t do what she did for fame or notoriety.

She simply wanted to show that poor people, who rely on Ontario Works benefits, don’t have any kind of quality of life and many lose all hope, which shouldn’t happen in a country like Canada, said Anderson.

Anderson survived on water with lemon for her entire 16-day ordeal.

“My body is very sore right now and my head feels like it’s going to split open,” said Anderson, one week into her hunger strike. “I knew this wasn’t going to be easy and it’s not, but quitting is not an option.

“I’m having a lot more difficulty dealing with being off medication for my arthritis than I am going without food, but I’m determined to carry on.”

Nickel Belt MPP Shelley Martel detailed Anderson’s plight 10 days
into her protest by making a public statement at Queen’s Park.

“People on social assistance in monetary terms are worse off now
with the Liberals in power than they were under the former Tory government,” said Martel.

The Liberal government and Premier Dalton McGuinty must change its
policies and gives people on social assistance enough to afford the most basic necessities of life, said Anderson.

Days after calling off her hunger strike, Anderson said she looked forward to eating her first bannock burger, a favourite among Aboriginals, consisting of a spiced hamburger meat patty placed between two pieces of bread.

She’s had many bannock burgers since, she said.

“I’m much healthier and stronger and I’m afraid to say I’ve eaten a few too many bannock burgers,” she said.

The only regret she has about her hunger strike was the affect it had on her daughter, especially when she became very ill after a dozen days without food.

“I was pretty sick those final few days and she was very worried about me,” she said. “My daughter has a dream to become the first Aboriginal fighter pilot in the Canadian Armed Forces and I’m going to try and help her achieve her dreams,” she said.

[Thanks to GK for the forward.]

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