www.dannybeaton.ca In Memory Of Alicja Rozanska
Two weeks before the takeover of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), I had the privilege of sitting down with Gary Wassaykeesic (Dec 4, 1969) near Pickle Lake, Ontario Canada five hundred miles north of Thunder Bay. Gary was one of the protestors who took over the 8th floor of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada on Thursday, April 14th, 2016, where the protest is still going on today (Sunday April 17th).
Gary has been a friend from our neighbourhood here in Toronto where we both live and work as Native activists for Mother Earth and our people, only now our kids are committing suicide because of the attack and rape of the land by mining companies and logging in Attawapiskat, Mishkeegogamang, and other northern Native communities. Many elders call our sadness and sickness “culture shock” or traumatization, helplessness. Children are seeing no future ahead but see drugs and alcohol finding a way into northern communities by roads built for exploration and exploitation on Indigenous territories. With no sharing of the corporate profit, Indigenous people are losing culture, homeland, respect, and their heath. Native kids are committing suicide because of the negativity and being out-of-balance with their culture, the misery they see their parents facing!
Gary Wassaykeesic Speaks Out
I am from northern Ontario, five hundred miles north of Thunder Bay, Pickle Lake Sioux Lookout area. But there’s a reserve called Mishkeegogamang, formally known as Isenberg. There is a lot of mining going on where I am from, a lot of extracting that they are doing, always finding different minerals up in our territory.
There is so much to talk about now. Canadian gold mines that do international mining. The mining companies put a highway right through our community and built hydro dams for power. They really did the conquer and divide routine on us. There used to be five different communities in our territory; they turned around and separated us with the highway, and they separated us further by putting hydro down the middle of our main community, which makes hundreds of millions of dollars every year. They built a highway which goes through our community, which serves the gold mines. It’s all self serving.
Danny, they are doing other mining too: ore, diamonds, and more. We are ninety eight percent on welfare! What is wrong with this picture? The same thing is happening in Attawapiskat, James Bay, communities all across the north are being exploited for minerals or logging or hydro—whatever makes a profit for companies.
But yes, that’s where I come from, and there are a lot of issues happening, like the Ring of Fire. It’s going to be happening within our territory, so the mining companies will be using our roads—or its more like government roads—and the highway or the little strips of land that cuts through our territory, our reserve, our land. They consider it that little “government strip of land” That highway is theirs to do what they want. That hydro line that goes right through our territory, our reserve, belongs to them. It’s considered government or Hydro property and we get nothing from all that! We get nothing from the mines, hardly. Whatever agreements were made, we get minimal; they are like two cents to whatever they profit.
Our people are dying at a fast rate now. We’re dying from diabetes, from alcohol-related deaths, a lot of our people are on the streets. Some could not take it here—the isolation, seeing the rape of Mother Earth, the pollution, the violence growing and growing. Some of our people left the reserve and are dying in Dryden, Thunder Bay, Red Lake, Pickle Lake, Sioux Lookout and even Toronto where I am living, cities near and far.
I just feel the way things are this has got to stop. It’s been going on since first contact: walking all over the Indian man. The death rate is so high. That’s the bottom line for me. When people are dying, you have to do something man. If no one is going to do nothing, someone is going to pick it up and do something about it, and that’s the way I feel. All this stuff that’s happening, man— because when I get a phone call, sometimes I have to hold my breath. Sometimes because you’re getting bad news from home. Sometimes its from your own family that someone is dying from diabetes or violently or found frozen outside, so many different causes of death in our territory right now and that’s what Toronto doesn’t know or Six Nations doesn’t know. That’s what southern regions don’t know: what’s happening in Northern Ontario.
In some communities, if we are walking down the street after dark and a non-Native is walking on the same street towards you, if you don’t cross the street then you get beat up or attacked. There is still racism in Kenora. It is the worst place for beatings in Canada. It’s like Mississippi Burning. We’re the blacks all over again. Would you believe this is happening all over the north? Sure there are some good people but not enough to make a difference. Our women are disappearing, our mothers are not safe, our sisters are not safe. We are afraid to live in our own country. The corporations did this to our reserves. We never had so much sickness.
We have been here for thousands of years, so why are these companies not sharing our resources that they are extracting? Look at our people! We have been here thousands of years! Look at our people. When the government says we have to move in a day, we are told we have to live in a box called reservations. Then they send us to these wonderful institutions called residential schools. They did the Sixties Scoop on us. These are issues that created culture shock. We are a broken nation!!
The way I look at this is the genocide is still going on here in the north, but its affecting all of Ontario, all of Canada, and the whole planet! The resources that they are extracting, all the gold that they take out of our territory comes down to Bay Street in Toronto. They take it down their government highway they consider government land right, and our people are lining up at the welfare office. Meanwhile Toronto is living like kings and queens. They are benefitting from our misery because all the gold and minerals comes from our homeland, our traditional territory. We have been here since the beginning of time, living off the land hunting, trapping, and gathering. The earth was pristine when they got here! Why does it have to be destroyed? We were living the way you’re supposed to live. Now they make us live the way we are today, moving us around in misery.
When I talk to my brother and relatives and friends back home, things are not the way they are in Toronto. In Toronto everything is at the touch of a button. Everything here in Toronto is happy. Like I said Danny, its good here, but how can I be positive when you’re always getting news of people living in misery? How can you be positive when so many of our people are dying in misery? My own story is, I have been through the residential schools. I know the story first hand about all of this. The government has turned us around so much that we have to beg for what is ours to start with. They have done a fantastic job of turning our lives around.
Now the forestry companies are getting closer and closer to our homeland, and they want to build a gold mine in our backyard. If this carries, my work as an activist will have to help my people more because I am awake spiritually and consciously for ten years. I know where I have been and am at, and I know where I am going. My mom was murdered when I was in the residential school. That’s when I started to get into activism because I needed to know what happened to my mom while I was in Residential school. As a kid I was always put into foster homes, group homes, training schools, jails—all of that. My life was institutional for a long time, but I always wanted to do something for my mother’s case, my mother’s justice! I have been doing line nine blockades, train blockades, road blockades to protect Mother Earth with Natives and non-Natives. Trying to get the word out what happened to our people. Why we have so much drug and alcohol addiction, homelessness on the streets—its happening all over Canada.
The impact of what happened to us, the politics that have played out, its exactly what happened to us—now I see on the streets of Toronto, not just in my community. Sometimes I live on the street, and I would rather be on the street. I used to have a girlfriend. I used to have a job and apartment. I had a lot. But when I started looking into my mother’s case, I became a Native activist. I became involved in something more than myself. I became one with Mother Earth and my people. I don’t have too much, Danny, but I am a happier person, and I am a little bit more satisfied because I have answers now. Now I know what happened to me, my brothers. I know what happened to my family, our community. I know what happened to Native people right across this land, now our home.
The impact of residential schools, the politics that played out, are still going on to this day. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission doesn’t mean a damn thing because no one contacted me about my opinion, and I have been working on Native missing and murdered women issues for ten years now, trying to get the truth out because Canada has a propaganda machine going that we as Native people are up against. Canadian society has fallen asleep spiritually and consciously. Corporations and government are making war on Mother Earth and her children.
When people come to our country, they don’t know what Native people are because Canada tells them who Native people are. New Canadians say, “Oh you Natives get a big house and free money every year! Canada treats you real good,” and I could bring them new people to our home and they would be shocked.