New school, and new hope, in Pikangikum

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(c) OPP Aboriginal unit via @OPP_Aboriginal.

This is old news by now but it’s great to see that a new school opened in Pikangikum First Nation, in northern Ontario, in October. The last building burned down a decade ago, so classes were being held in portables. Continue reading

Dozens of suicide attempts by indigenous youth: what the f!*? is going on in ‘sunny ways’ Canada?

Walking near Attawapiskat high school

People walk near the high school in Attawapiskat. (c) CBC.ca

The Canada brand has been trending everywhere since the election of a Liberal government led by photogenic Justin Trudeau on Oct 19, 2015. This resurgence has featured Trudeau’s ‘bromance’ with US President Barack Obama and the prime minister’s declaration to the Paris climate summit in November that, “Canada is back” to assume its historical role as a nation that punches above its weight in engaging in global issues.

Continue reading

This is Canada too

WaterAdvisoriesFNCanada_CBC151015Regularly these days a global report is released revealing that one or more Canadian cities has made the world’s list of Top 10 places to live. I admit that I can’t help feeling just a twinge of pride when I hear the latest news.

Then I give my head a shake, because, for instance: Continue reading

Pikangikum: What does it take to heal a community?

Coroners_report_title_pageEarlier this year I wrote to the Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario asking about any follow-up to a 2011 report on a shocking series of youth suicides in the northern First Nation community of Pikangikum.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the Office had followed up, and some weeks later received from them a copy of that document. My surprise turned to shock: according to the fact-based table that I received, only 1 of the report’s 100 recommendations had been implemented as made.

That’s when my journalist’s instincts kicked in and I began looking for a way to write a post around a headline that would go something like:

Only 1 of 100 recommendations in Coroner’s suicide report followed. Continue reading

Should Canadians treat First Nations like charities?

ski-doo_blog_140213A teenage girl working as a page in Ontario’s legislature hears then lieutenant-governor, James Bartleman, talk about how, growing up as an aboriginal person in a small community in northern Ontario, books were his ‘ticket out of poverty’.

Bartleman went on to describe how the shortage of books contributed to lower education outcomes in many Ontario First Nations, and how the situation endures today. Determined to do something, the girl and her sister begin collecting books to send to remote northern First Nations. To date, their organisation, Books with no Bounds, has delivered more than 15,000 books to such Ontario communities, and earlier this month the sisters, Emma and Julia Mogus of Oakville, received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal from Mr. Bartleman.

Good for them. I sincerely mean that. They are doing something, they are acting on their beliefs.

But … Continue reading

(The new) Two Solitudes*

Peter Mansbridge asked an important question Monday night during a panel discussion about the Idle No More movement. ‘Why is it that such extreme views are voiced when indigenous issues are discussed?’ asked the host of CBC-TV’s The National.

The question is important because I see the gulf between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians growing instead of shrinking, and I don’t think that a wider divide is going to benefit any of us.

I see the gulf between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians growing instead of shrinking, and I don’t think that a wider divide is going to benefit any of us.

 Having grown up in a small town on Vancouver Island where many people had strong views on this issue, I think I can answer Mansbridge’s question, for the non-aboriginal side: fairness. Many non-native Canadians believe it is unfair that aboriginal people in this country receive benefits like free education and tax-exempt status.

 I don’t think it’s unfair that aboriginal people are treated differently. Continue reading

Columnist’s indigenous ‘reality’ as illusory as ‘Dream Palaces’ he constructs

I’ve been impressed by some of Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson’s recent works, particularly on the dictatorial tendencies of the federal government and on the need for Canadians to take health care costs seriously. But his column Saturday on the Idle No More movement, First Nations chief Teresa Spence and aboriginal Canadians in general was an ill-researched diatribe compared to those other writings.

His main argument was that many aboriginal Canadians live in a “dream palace”: believing they can return to a glorious, mythical past, where all their communities live in perfect balance with nature. Because they persist in this illusion instead of getting down to the real business of developing their natural resources, they end up reliant on handouts – like in the isolated northern Cree community of Attawapiskat. Continue reading

Red cross relief for northern Canada community

The Canadian Red Cross delivered aid to the aboriginal community of Attawapiskat on Tuesday. One month ago the community declared a state of emergency over housing conditions as winter approached.

(See my previous post).

According to AFP, the Red Cross delivered generators, heaters, winter clothing and insulated sleeping equipment.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper pointed a finger at the community itself for not spending money provided by his government wisely. However, as the Canadian Press pointed out, the Auditor General previously warned Harper’s government that there was no proper oversight of money being provided for housing on First Nations and that the levels provided were based on dated information.

No doubt more will join the blame game in the glare of the current media spotlight. But are any of the politicians now flying in to show their concern prepared to make the long-term investment needed to tackle this situation, which is repeated in many other aboriginal communities across this country?

And if they’re not, what does that say about Canada?

Would you accept these living conditions?

“We have families living in tents and sheds and winter is coming. There is a risk to these families, especially the young children.”

Can you guess who this quote refers to? Survivors of October’s earthquake in Turkey? People displaced by monsoon flooding in Pakistan?

Wrong. The quote describes indigenous people living in northern Canada.

The northern Ontario settlement of Attawapiskat has a population of 3,281 but only 304 homes. Kashechewan has 1,900 people with only 268 houses while Fort Albany has approximately 1,000 people and only 150 residences.

Indigenous leader Leo Friday says that “while the average person per household in Canada is around 2.3, it ranges from 6.5 to eight people per household in our communities”.

The area’s member of parliament, Charlie Angus, says the federal government needs to provide “adequate housing and a housing strategy“.

Some Canadians argue that residents in these places should simply move south to larger communities; yet at the same time they would defend the rights of aboriginal people in other parts of the world to not be displaced from their hereditary lands.

Canada is one of the world’s richest countries; we welcome immigrants into a multicultural society that celebrates differences. Should we not be able to find a way to accommodate our original inhabitants who choose to maintain their historic, cultural ties to their land?

Hockey deaths overshadow First Nations’ tragedy

This week, Canada’s national media has been awash with news about the death of another professional hockey player – the third in 4 months.

Like the others, Wade Belak was an ‘enforcer’, a player put on a team’s roster to physically intimidate opponents and protect his more skilled teammates, often by dropping his gloves and fighting other teams’ enforcers.

Belak killed himself, and his death signals an urgent need to assess the support that is being offered to these players, both during and after their careers.

Five other deaths, including one this week, have received much less attention.

In less than two months, 4 teenage girls and a 26-year-old man have killed themselves in the Pikangikum First Nations reserve in northwestern Ontario, according to an official there.

Pikangikum, an isolated northern community 600 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay, is no stranger to suicide. In 2000, 8 young girls living in the community took their own lives. A 2004 article in the Canadian Journal of Native Studies said Pikangikum had a suicide rate of 470 deaths per 100,000, which is one of the highest in the world, and 36 times the national average, reported the Ottawa Citizen newspaper.

“We have no running water. We have no sewer system. We have 2,400 people living in 400 homes,” a Pikangikum official told the Citizen. “And the government is nowhere to be seen.

“Most of the youth don’t have any privacy, even in their own homes. Most of them have to share rooms,” added the official.

Whatever the reasons for this long-running tragedy – and they are bound to be many and complex – it certainly merits the sort of attention that the media has been focusing on the hockey deaths this week.

Read a report released by Ontario’s Chief Coroner on Friday

Listen to CBC radio’s interview with Ontario’s Chief Coroner.