Wednesday, November 30, 2011


I've decided I'm going to stop reading the comments that people post in response to online news articles - they simply make me too angry. I've been researching for some time now the situation in Attawapiskat, Ontario. It's a complicated situation, and unlike the plethora of ignorant commentators that litter every online news site with their trash, I didn't want to write anything until I felt I had a decent grasp on what's really going on. I'm not going to pretend that the grasp I do have is all that firm. It would take years of study before I could even begin to comprehend the profound impact European settlement in this country had, and continues to have, on its indigenous people. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to share the small amount of insight that I have gained.

Attawapiskat is a small, northern Ontario fly-in community of about 1500 people. Of those, 19 families are currently living in tents, 122 families are living in condemned houses, and 96 people are living in a large trailer. Children in Attawapiskat have been attending school in decrepit portables ever since their school was closed in 2000. There was a massive natural gas leak under the school in 1979. Despite complaints that people were getting ill, it took 21 years to close the school. It's been a decade now since the school closed, and there are currently no plans to replace it. The portables the children are now forced to attend school in were built on the same grounds as the original school. Ground shifting due to the natural gas has resulted in damage to the portables. Windows and emergency exits don't open. There are cracks in the walls. There are gaps in the doors, allowing cold air and snow in. It's so cold that children wear their snowsuits in class.

I don't know the solution. I don't even know all the causes. I do know, however, that this would never be allowed to happen elsewhere (except for other reserves). People like to simplify the problem, blaming the residents of reserves. It's easy to say that they misspent the money given them by the government, wipe our hands, and forget about it. We all know, though, that it really isn't that simple.

Families in Attawapiskat receive the same amount of money per household as families on any other reserve. Their remote location is in no way taken into account by the government. So while families on reserves in southern Ontario are capable of building suitable homes, families in Attawapiskat are forced to build poorly-insulated homes on wooden foundations. It's simply too expensive to ship in supplies, and to fly in contractors and inspectors. The forests surrounding Attawapiskat are now Crown land and cannot be used for lumber, hunting, or trapping. Essentially, we've placed these people on this remote piece of land and taken from them their means of survival.

These are people who thrived on this land for thousands of years, living a nomadic lifestyle, following the game and trap lines, before we arrived. But go ahead and place the blame on them...


educated said...

interesting that the residents of this barren wasteland "..These are people who thrived on this land for thousands of years, living a nomadic lifestyle.." can't seem to do this anymore. they forgot how?

also interesting is that for these thousands of years they never learned to build factories, hostpitals or anythinbg else. so let's just sit back and give them tax free status because they lost a war and continue to give them our money (which we earned).

Chad Roberts said...

@ educated:

Thank you for your comment. Please refrain from double-posting comments in the future.

I can only assume that your name is intended as sarcasm, as your comment is anything but educated. I made it entirely clear in my post that the residents of Attawapiskat cannot practice the traditional nomadic lifestyle they once did, because the land surrounding the reserve is now crown land, and they are not allowed to log, hunt, or trap on it, as they used to.

Further, after generations of being forced into residential schools, many First Nations peoples have, sadly, forgotten how to survive off the land in the manner that their ancestors did. The first residential schools opened in the 1840s and the last one closed in 1996. Attendance was compulsory from 1884 to 1948. The Canadian government basically committed cultural genocide, distancing children from their families for years, and prohibiting them from speaking their native tongue, or practicing their own religions. The living conditions at these schools were atrocious and mortality rates, on average, were between 30 and 60%.

I'm not even entirely sure how to respond to your remark about First Nations Canadians losing "a war". There was no war. Would you call the U.S. invading Costa Rica a war? Costa Rica has no miltary, in case you weren't aware. You might as well just say that you wouldn't mind if Canada was taken over by a country with a stronger military than ours. You'd just roll with the punches, I guess, and convert to the religion and culture of the invading country, cuz after all, they won, right?

Please continue to read my blog. You've inspired me to do some research into the residential schooling system and I will be blogging about it at some point in the near future.