Flying to Fort Hope
My flight to Fort Hope
First Nations - Fort Hope, Ontario
Flying into fort hope was beautiful this morning. There is a stark rugged beauty up here. The trees are mostly deciduous and a dull green from the morning frost with sparse patches of snow and tufts of red, colored orange by the rising sun. Lakes dot the landscape as we approach and in this preserved beauty I can see and feel the spirit of this beautiful land. As a first nations person I can only imagine what feelings are in their hearts as they fly home. The beauty is fleeting, for the reality that waits is harsh and temperate. There are very few fairy tales here and the harsh boot of reserve life kicks at you from all corners
Xenophobia awaits outside her borders so you feel a sense of sanctuary inside but perhaps it is the same security that a long-term prisoner would feel. There is safety in the knowledge of your own existence in comfortable borders, but locked in and without freedom your soul is weighed down. You can only fly so far on Icarus’ wings without getting too close to the sun and falling without mercy back to the hollow cage of the reserve.
Family, culture and the land are your home and it must be hard and almost terrifying to imagine leaving all of these things behind to find a future at a high school in a large city. The kids have to go to high school in Thunder bay and are subject to all manner of challenges; racism, ostracizing by a xenophobic community, loneliness, and isolation that all lead to a rise in drug abuse, teen pregnancy and most alarming a suicide rate that is becoming an epidemic.
First nations people have contended with boil water advisories, poor and inadequate housing, band corruption with a nepotistic hierarchy that awards the best jobs to a select few and bleak employment opportunities in isolated communities hundreds of miles away from modern conveniences and opportunities. These facts and statistics are usually reported in the back pages if at all and occasionally burst forth when a tragedy or disaster occurs as in Attawapiskat last year when the Red Cross declared the community to be under a state of emergency. The public response was shock and outrage at the conditions described in this community within Canadian borders. Canadian people denied the basic tenants and rights of citizenship by virtue of their birth heritage and historical legacy that has been for too many years now subjected to the cruelty and oppression of a self-righteous colonialist society
We ask a lot of our First nations people. We ask them to share their magnificent culture at ceremonies and governmental displays of pomp and pageantry. We ask for their art and culture to sell and gift on the global stage as representative of a Canada that is viewed as a multi-cultural jewel and yet the truth is the diamond is encrusted with coal by the dark shadow of truth. A bitter truth of a history that robbed a culture of an entire generation through the residential school system and left its children in a spiritual and cultural orphanage, raised by parents who had been raised without love alone, miles away from their families, hair cut short and their tongues silenced. The generation now grows up amidst the rampages of the tortured souls of their parent’s whose pain has been manifested in drug abuse, love-less homes and empty hearts.
We ask them to carry on living in this quagmire we have created and offer few lasting or meaningful attempts to help. Where is the true Canada we sell available for purchase in the north?
We ask for truth and reconciliation and treat it as a sideshow and a financial game show without offering long term counseling and support once the old wounds have been ripped open during testimonials required to receive financial compensation. The amount of money received can never balance a lifetime of pain and why do we always throw money at people who are trying to heal. Is it here’s your pay now go away? Or is it guilt dealt with in the easiest and cheapest way possible to appease our damaged conscience? Is it a lack of commitment to our higher ideals as declared in our parliamentary constitution or is it that we are just as lost and have forgotten how to treat each other with grace and dignity.
I struggle with the idea of solutions every time that I work with the wonderful First nations youth that I am privileged to meet and have gotten to know as friends and family over the last five years
My own ego has taken a battering up here and my naïve hubris replaced by a battle worn hope despite the desperation and ominous depression that exists on the reserve.
My hope and belief come from the people that I meet on my trips up here who have taught me true honesty and dignity in impossible circumstances. I have learned that humor, tradition and a powerful sense of community and the deepening desire to preserve an ancient history and significant cultural identity, that is at the core of our own history and national identity, gives our First Nations people a strong foundation despite their trying circumstances and troubled past. The knowledge that coming every year is important and signifies our commitment to the people of Webequie as a family and as friends fuels my desire to continue what I know define as part of my life’s work. My spiritual calling to a people and a way of life that feels as familiar to me as it is foreign.
It is in this philosophy perhaps that we can open the door to true healing and a new Canada; that we look as first nations as our friends and family and ask ourselves if we would allow this to happen to our own family and not do everything in our power and right to improve their lives and bring back the light of hope and belief to our First Nation’s people.