As a 65-year-old recovered (recovering) authentic alcoholic with ten years of sobriety and 40 years of destructive drinking–courting death and disaster–behind me, I believe I have earned the right to tackle the issue of alcoholism. In my up close and personal experience with inebriation I have gathered the ideas and vocabulary necessary to articulate the problem taken on by Harold R. Johnson’s recently published book, Firewater: How Alcohol is Killing My People (and Yours). If there were ever an issue that cries out for a fix it is the devastation by alcohol, by the ‘firewater’ of the book’s title.
And if Harold Johnson and I have experienced the death-dealing power of alcohol use for individuals and their communities from different perspectives, we have arrived nevertheless at a similar conclusion; that is to say, so far nothing has worked, nothing has managed to stem the homicidal and suicidal direct results (and many and myriad unintended consequences) of alcohol consumption. Johnson’s book is, as others have said, “a passionate call to action.”
Johnson begins (as any good writer should when arguing a point) by pointing beyond the act of writing to establish his credibility; he gives us a good reason why we should give him a listen in the first place, in the context and language of the courtroom (or the sentencing circle) why we should give him a hearing; and it is very much a valid justification. The author is a Crown prosecutor: as such over the course of his career he has “noted that the vast majority of people charged with offences were intoxicated at the time they committed the offence.”
But there is more to Johnson’s credibility than this objective relationship with the problem of alcoholism, and as a reader I think this is important. He has been many other people in his life: logger, miner, trapper, fisher, mechanic, firefighter, heavy equipment operator, smelter worker, tree planter, trade unionist, educator, writer, and holds a Master’s degree in Law from Harvard University. He has written five works of fiction and another non-fiction book, Two Families: Treaties and Government examining Canadian constitutionalism from a Cree law perspective. If this does not add up to credibility I do not know what does.
He is honest about his own past. He also gives us access to the historical trauma of his interior life. He was the victim of sexual abuse when he was a child. The very first words he writes state that, [this] small book is a conversation [between the writer and his] relatives the Woodland Cree” in Northern Saskatchewan. He intends to be ‘tough’, as one might expect a Crown prosecutor to be; that is to say, we may not like what we hear as it pertains to ourselves and our place in the problem we face, the fact that in the end we bear responsibility for at least some of the devastation caused by drinking, and there is no easy solution to the problem. And what is the problem, or better yet, what is not the problem, according to Johnson?
Well, it is for certain not the past internalized and the historical trauma that indigenous peoples have experienced in Canada and the rest of the Americas by colonialism, residential schools, the sixties scoop, impoverished urban exile, etcetera. The list could go on and on. The problem of alcoholism and substance abuse (as wrongly defined by the colonialist) is in fact the solution, but that solution is the problem. This narrative of aboriginal intersection with alcohol needs to be rewritten and retold.
Johnson is clear; the story being told, the story we tell ourselves, a twenty-first century story written by the white man (kiciwamanawak) defining the Indian once again as victim— from indios by Russel Means and the American Indian Movement, from Columbus as the phrase In Dios “with God”—this story must be reformulated and populated with new, no longer victimized protagonists and warrior heroes. The colonial story forces First Nations peoples to take on an identity as a people unable to fix the problem ourselves. “If we are a product of historical trauma and so we’re then victims,” according to Johnson, “we are stuck in that story with no way of telling our way out of it.”
On the basis of this articulation, Johnson lays out an alternative narrative from that of the ‘lazy drunken Indian’ in order to clear the way to a different conclusion and find and fashion a home-grown fix to a problem that threatens to destroy Indigenous communities. Johnson’s suggestions for necessary ways of healing are welcome and tragically overdo. And his suggestion for an alternative narrative is not one of hopelessness. The book should be a bible in the fight for survival and recovery, for a better life for coming generations, and it should somehow be made available to band councils and urban community and friendship centres.
Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, a celebrated Vancouver-based artist of Cowichan (Hul’q’umi’num Coast Salish) and Okanagan (Syilx) descent, has a style that is bold and vibrant, playful and politically charged, exploring themes of colonialist suppression and the struggle for Indigenous rights to lands, resources, and sovereignty. The Museum of Anthropology (MOA) at University of British Columbia (UBC) is proud to exhibit Unceded Territories, an impressive collection of his work on display May 10 to October 16, 2016 in the museum’s Audain Gallery.
Curated by Karen Duffek and Tania Willard, Unceded Territories showcases Yuxweluptun’s remarkable 30-year career and includes over 60 of his most significant drawings, paintings, and other works, as well as brand new art on display for the first time. A full-colour publication accompanies the exhibit, beautifully illustrated with selected works, and a series of public programs at the MOA will also compliment the exhibition. Visit [moa.ubc.ca/lawrence-paul] for details.
Highly respected locally, Yuxweluptun’s work has been displayed in numerous international group and solo exhibitions. He has called the MOA the “Indian morgue,” but Unceded Territories brings something current and vibrant and loud to a space where people and the past usually talk in whispers. Tania Willard (artist and independent curator from the Secwepemc Nation) explains that showing Yuxweluptun’s work there is a statement, “a way for him to speak to an audience, an institution, a collection, a past, and his very own ancestors.” Museums have an important place in the process of reconciliation. They can be an active site for facilitating discussion and articulating history for the wider public, “places of conversation, sharing, respect, celebration, and laughter,” Willard explains. “There is medicine and spirit in this place, and though Lawrence’s paintings are often dominated by their bold politics, they are also about medicine and spirit. Today we as Indigenous people come to this museum to speak to the poles, to laugh with the stones, to cry with the water, to struggle with weapons built on our culture, and to celebrate with colour our ancestors’ carvings, weavings, and other objects.”
Fish Farmers They Have Sea Lice, 2014 acrylic on canvas 162.6 x 244 cm. Private collection. Photo by Ken Mayer.
MOA curator Karen Duffek predicts the exhibition will “undoubtedly fuel dialogue, indignation, and even spiritual awareness” about land rights, environmental destruction, and Indigenous art from the Northwest Coast. “The issues Yuxweluptun addresses are impossible to ignore,” she explains. “Environmental concerns and debates around topics such as oil pipelines, liquefied natural gas, and fracking are no longer predictions for the future, but reflective of what is happening now in Canada.”
Yuxweluptun is a free-thinking modernist, a graduate of the Emily Carr College of Art and Design “taking the translation of our cultures in new directions.” He sees the land “in a Native way” as he was born to do, envisioning landscapes animated with spirit beings, “living components of the land, water, and atmosphere,” Duffek explains, sometimes “wounded and grieving” from the ravages of industry and environmental toxins.
Larry Grant, an elder-in-residence at UBC First Nations House of Learning, first saw Yuxweluptun’s work at the Vancouver Art Gallery. “I came around the corner and BOOM, there it was: a huge outcry coming from this painting,” Grant recalls. “I could see the artist’s anguish and anger.” Grant says the conflict revealed Yuxweluptun’s work is “not an imaginary thing—it’s real.” It is “an outcry about the injustices perpetrated by Canadian society on Aboriginal people.”Grant sees Yuxweluptun as “a frontline activist” breaking free from cultural restraint with artistic license, “taking us out of the ancient terminology into contemporary terminology.” In the process, there is a broader realization that we are all connected.
Killer Whale Has a Vision and Comes to Talk to me about Proximological Encroachments of Civilizations in the Oceans, 2010 acrylic on canvas 280 x 184 cm. Private collection. Photo by William Eakin, courtesy of Plug In Editions.
Yuxweluptun “Man of Many Masks” was given his name at the age of 14 during initiation into the Sxwaixwe Society, but Yuxweluptun doesn’t claim to be making Native art. “I’m not a traditionalist,” he says, “though I did my Black Face dancing, I did my masked dancing, and I have traditional philosophy. But my work is for the world. Natives already know what it feels like having a bad colonial day. We wake up to it.”
Yuxweluptun uses the visual language of Northwest Coast art (classic formlines, U-forms, and ovoids of the Haida, Kwakwaka’wakw, Tlingit, and Tsimshian traditions), but pushes against those artistic boundaries. In the earliest painting on exhibit, “Haida Hot Dog” (1984), the artist took liberties with traditional ovoids, the split-U form, and the salmon-trout head to comment on “hot dog culture,” assimilation, and the politics of identity. “Northwest Coast art is serious,” Yuxweluptun says. “Haidas don’t eat hot dogs.”
Willard suggests he is responsive to, rather than influenced by, modernist masters like Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, and Max Ernst. The surrealists coveted and rabidly collected Northwest Coast art and objects, some of which were actually confiscated during potlatch raids when the ceremonies were illegal in Canada. Yuxweluptun has taken artistic elements of classical European styles like surrealism and cubism and fired them right back at colonialism.
“Man’s job on this planet right now is to learn from our mistakes,” Yuxweluptun says. He was working on a painting called “Killer Whale Has a Vision and Comes to Talk to Me about Proximological Encroachments of Civilizations in the Oceans” when the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill happened in 2010 along the Gulf of Mexico. “If you can’t eat the fish, then there’s something wrong,” he says. On the rez, people watch the complete destruction of the biosphere of their territories. “It’s a very sorrowful feeling,” Yuxweluptun says, and disheartening that Aboriginal people don’t have the right to say “No, you shouldn’t have done that in the first place.”
“Land is power; power is land,” Yuxweluptun says. “For Indigenous people, it’s all Indian land in desperate need of Indian caretakers.” The largest clear-cuts in the world are not in the Amazon, they are in British Columbia, and you can see them from outer space. Yuxweluptun has been compared to Emily Carr, who also saw the destruction of the natural world as matricide. His painting “Red Man Watching White Man Trying to Fix Hole in Sky” (1990) was an early comment on global warming, illustrating the absurdity of scientists trying to fix the hole in the ozone layer with a screwdriver. “Do we continue to make a big hole in the sky?” the artist asks. There will be consequences for generations. “This is my homeland. I have to stay here and look after it, clean up this mess,” Yuxweluptun says. “It’s time for change. Canada has to grow up. We are the caretakers. The biosphere is too fragile for pipelines. Let us move in a new direction.”
Preliminary Study, Burying Another Face of Racism, 1996 black ink on graphite paper 90 x 63 cm. Collection of the artist. Photo by SITEPhotography, courtesy Petra Watson and the Contemporary Art Gallery.
Yuxweluptun considers himself an “urban Indian” and thinks of reserves as “internment camps for glorification of the colonial regime.” He wants to be emancipated from the oppressive legislation Indian Act and its assimilation policies designed to absorb Aboriginal peoples into “mainstream” Canadian life. The potlatch, one of the most important ceremonies among west coast First Nations, was seen as a threat to assimilation tactics, so it was outlawed, and the impact was significant. For 75 years this law prevented the sharing of cultural values and oral history. “How do you exile people and limit rights and call it democracy? How will we move forward if you’re going to keep us prisoner on our own land?” he asks. “This is not my dream.”
In 1997, Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun went to Healey Estate, Northumberland, UK for a defiant act of performance art: “An Indian Act Shooting the Indian Act.” On September 14th, he tied copies of the Indian Act to posts and “fired a shot at colonialism” while the national anthem played in the background. The British were “a bunch of assholes,” so he shot it to “teach them with their own power.” He decorated the sacred guns and mounted them in display cases along with the empty bullet casings and the executed legislation, and they can be seen in the Unceded Territories exhibit. The work was “blissful,” he said, “one of the most loving things I’ve ever put my hands on.”
Truth and reconciliation is a difficult thing to deal with in the face of the “global atrocity of genocide.” In Canada, the United States, South America, Australia, everywhere Indigenous cultures met colonialism, “first contact” quickly became conquest. In pursuit of resources and real estate, colonists took the land, took everything, and left scars on the landscape and spirit of every community they touched. Lack of understanding easily turned to fear, and the First Peoples of North America were forcibly assimilated. Their children were taken away and put in specialized boarding schools with the express directive to “kill the Indian in the child.”
Cultural and religious practices were outlawed, but they were not destroyed. Colonialism took Yuxweluptun’s language, but he can talk to the world through his body of work. “Spirit Dancer Dances Around the Fire” is a religious painting that shows the world “this is how we pray.” It is his most recent work, completed just weeks before the exhibit opened, and it takes up an entire wall. There is a spirit dancer in the longhouse, a black face dancer, spirit guardians in green and red, and sacred ground inside and out. Culture and spirituality remain unceded territory. To the Catholic Church, Yuxweluptun says “Thanks, but no thanks.” The land is his sacred ground, and he has the right to be a spiritual person. “I will not get down on my knees and pray to your god,” he says with conviction. “I’m always going to pray this way.”
Some of his works evoke a deep human sorrow. There is no national monument for residential school children, so Yuxweluptun made his own. Laying on the gallery floor is Residential School Dirty Laundry (2013), a Christian cross composed of hundreds of pairs white underwear, some splashed with red. Another white ceramic cross in the centre reads “For this child I prayed… (1 Samuel 1:27).” Like war veterans, Aboriginal children gave up their lives and innocence to the Crown. It’s an unflinching indictment: “This is what Canada did.”
A pair of untitled ovoid portraits, described simply as Priest and Woman (2003) use singular ovoid forms outlined on white paper and detailed in inky black scribbles full of thought. They are facing you, but they have no face. They could be anyone. They are so simple in their form and colour, but they speak volumes and evoke a remarkable array of thoughts and feelings considered in the context of residential schools.
Yuxweluptun’s work is both delicate and raw, and he pulls no punches. Each work makes a statement, tells a story. His vivid landscapes are visually alive, filled with animated spirits in the trees, mountains, and water, illustrating the symbiotic relationship of all things and the need for healing. He is a master colourist, with a vivid and broad “chromatic vocabulary” that earned him a second name: Let’lo:ts’teltun (Man of Many Colours). “I paint the colour of life,” he says.”
“I have been an artist all my life,” he says. “It’s been my life’s goal to portray the negative and positive realities of this world.” He refers to his work as “history painting,” taking possession of history in his own hands. “The things I see are very hard, depressing,” Yuxweluptun admits. “My job is to enlighten people to see the world in a different way. I’m not asking for much. It’s simple. Look after our people, look after our children, make a better world.” As for National Aboriginal Day: “Make it a national holiday. Celebrate with me. Make change properly, together,” he says. “It’s time to take the walls down.”
The Vancouver Police Department is actively hiring for the position of Special Municipal Constable. In this role, you can work as a Community Safety Personnel member, as a Jail Guard, or as Traffic Authority member. Special Municipal Constables are appointed under the Police Act; they have restricted peace officer status and perform specific authorized duties, but are not police officers.
These positions offer flexible work schedules with a competitive salary. Once hired, you join an auxiliary employee list where the schedule is based on your availability and staffing needs. A part-time auxiliary position can become full-time, dependent on availability, qualifications, and performance. Additionally, some people may be trained for more than one position, depending on the current staffing needs
These positions are challenging and will help you improve your communication skills, your problem-solving abilities, and allow you to gain valuable police-related work experience. This can help prepare you for future careers within the criminal justice system and increase your competitiveness as an applicant. Many VPD officers began their careers as a Special Municipal Constable. For some it was a chance to mature and gain more life and work experience, while for others it was a great employment opportunity while going to college or university. It can also become a lifelong career.
Community Safety Personnel
Community Safety Personnel are distinct and separate from regular police members, and are a unique element of the police department. They provide a visible presence in the community and serve the citizens, businesses, and visitors of Vancouver. The primary purpose of Community Safety Personnel is to assist the Vancouver Police Department and enhance service delivery in the community by:
• responding to lower-level, lower-risk tasks, to alleviate regular police officers, thereby providing officers with an increased capacity to serve the community
• patrolling neighbourhoods, attending public events, and providing a visible presence to the community, which promotes safety and security
• acting as a liaison between regular police officers and the community, as appropriate, to ensure the Vancouver Police Department continues to effectively serve citizens in Vancouver
Community Safety Personnel assist patrol officers in their daily functions by doing various tasks, such as picking up statements, providing outside perimeter security at police incidents, and assisting with the transportation and tagging of property. They also provide logistical support during large-scale deployments, major events, emergencies, or disasters.
The Vancouver Jail is located adjacent the Provincial Courthouse at Main Street and East Cordova. It is a challenging work environment – on any shift you may deal with everything from intoxicated persons to those arrested for having committed the most serious of criminal offences. A Jail Guard provides security and control in the jail, and the duties include, but are not limited to:
• searching all prisoners upon arrival
• obtaining fingerprints, photographs, and information of prisoners, and booking them into and out of the Vancouver Jail
• monitoring and assessing prisoner behaviour while in cells, restraining aggressive or violent individuals, responding to emergencies within the jail, and attending to overall prisoner welfare
• controlling the movement of prisoners within the cell areas and escorting them to the detention units
• serving court documents on prisoners and completing all necessary forms and reports.
Traffic Authority Members serve with dedication and commitment, upholding the professionalism and standards of the Vancouver Police Department. They perform specific authorized duties, primarily directing vehicle and pedestrian traffic at public, private, and community events. Member work outdoors in all weather conditions and are often called upon to work at large events like concerts, sporting events, and the annual Celebration of Light fireworks festival.
The nature of the work means a lot of time on their feet and working around vehicle and pedestrian traffic. The position appeals to those who are only interested in part-time auxiliary employment. There are no set hours for shifts – it’s based on your own availability, which you can base around your own work or school schedule.
Applicants selected for a Special Municipal Constable position will complete a formal paid training program that occurs on evenings and weekends at the Vancouver Police Department – 100% attendance is mandatory. The training includes, but is not limited to:
• legal studies
• use of force
• radio procedure
• policy and procedures
• traffic intersection control
• on the job practical training
Upon successful completion of training program, you will be sworn in as a Special Municipal Constable, eligible to begin working shifts. Starting wages range from $22.00 to 24.49 per hour, depending on the position.
In Memory Of Alicja Rozanska; story by Danny Beaton Mohawk
Her name is Katsitsiase or Betty Maracle. I know her as Ista in Mohawk, which means Mother, and she is very much a wisdom keeper. Ista lost her partner/husband this year and I lost my partner two years ago, so it brought us closer. The love that we both had and lived helped us both in so many ways and that love grows in both of us for life, Creation, Mother Earth and our people all peoples! So when Rick asked me for a story about one of our elders in Ontario my mind went to the Maracle family. In Tyendinaga, the Mohawk community gathered at the sacred fire at the Maracle home last month. The Fire Keepers there were tending the Sacred Fire at their home for ten days in respect for Jacks Sacred journey to the Spirit World. We all offered our condolences and I heard later that Tom Porter, our Mohawk Spiritual Leader, had conducted the Sacred Ceremonies for Jack/John Hills funeral for his Sacred Journey.
Betty Maracle, Photo by Danny Beaton
Katsitsiase Speaks Out For Life
Since the passing of my partner, I look at life quite a bit differently. You know, I go out and sit on the deck and I look at all the plants and the trees and everything in the yard, and I think about him. He was a part of it all, he helped me plant all these trees and take care of everything. He’s always present in my memory and my thoughts but at the same time, not so much that I cant still see the beauty. I can see beyond my loneliness or my pain and I just feel so grateful that we had the time we did together. So our home and our yard is a reinforcement of his presence here but now as time goes on, I see new life. It’s a new chapter in my life.
I am not anxious to get on with it, I am very content where I am, if anything this has made me more accepting of anything that comes along. Even the hard time and the pain of losing Jack, no matter what happens, I will be able to stay connected to this natural world until it’s time for me to leave. Because I feel I have been through one of the hardest pains that humans go through, by loosing someone they really love, I realize there are so many people that truly care and love you for who you really are. People are always there to help you and support you in any way they can, so life is still beautiful here. We need to embrace every moment, every day, because we don’t know when we will be leaving this world, and I love it here especially the environment that my partner and I have created.
He has come to visit me a few times because our daughter was having an operation Wednesday and I was thinking I have to get up at four o’clock. I never use an alarm clock, so I said to my daughter please call me and wake me up that morning. But you know, she did not have to call me because my partner came and knocked on the wall three times. I knew he was there to wake me up and I knew it was him and it was time for me to get up to be with my daughter. So he’s still taking care of us, the family, I don’t have any fear. I am so contented with everything and I am just so grateful, truly grateful to the spirit guides I have. I know who they are I acknowledge them and praise them for the gifts that they bring, the protection, everything, because they are as real as any human being that would stand before me.
I give thanks to our Great Creator for being able to be here, what a wonderful gift. No matter what one goes through in life it really builds who you are. We wanted to come here, we were granted that wish to come here. We weren’t promised that life would be easy and we were not promised anything except to be here, to be able to breathe the air and be in the water that protected us in our mother’s womb. That’s the beginning of the gifts that we were given. When we arrive into this world we need to acknowledge that, and be grateful for those spirits that helped us because the water has a spirit and that spirit of the water helps protect us. When it’s our time that water comes forward and falls on Mother Earth and Mother Earth takes care of it. It’s not hard to be grateful everyday, its very simple. Life is very simple. We make it complicated for ourselves. I personally understand the gifts of Creation, therefore, life is beautiful. I am excited about life and I want to do the things I came here to do.
A few weeks ago, it came to me after my partner crossed over to the other side, my slate was being cleaned so I could move forward and do the work that I said I would do years ago when my daughter was sick. I made a commitment to our Great Creator and Creation and Future Generations to do my part to take care of the natural world so that the generations coming will be able to enjoy the things that I have been able to enjoy in my life. It isn’t hard to be happy and be grateful every day now, I am on a new path and new chapter in my life and I am excited about it. I started writing a book, it’s been on hold since my partner passed away, but now I am ready to move forward because the spirit said my book will be finished in eight months. My life will change again once my book is finished. I don’t know what it all means, but I am ready to embrace whatever comes along. I know I have nothing to fear because those spirit guides are with me every day. Little things happen that reassure me every day that they are there so I am excited about life.
I get sad when I see people that are disconnected and don’t understand because life would be so for fulfilling for them if they could see everything has a purpose; the plant life, the air, water, insects and animals. It can be hard to see the positive side when you’re hurt, but there is always a positive side. Our pain is teaching us a lesson. It makes me sad because people can’t see the fullness of life, so in many ways so life is suffering. If we never suffered how would we teach anybody when they are suffering? How could we comfort someone if we didn’t suffer? When you have to go through pain and suffering it comes from the heart and then you share that with someone else because you have lived it and experienced it. So we enrich each other that way. That’s what I understand by my life and the things that happened to me. Even though something is happening with someone else, when they share it’s a great gift to you to be able to experience what comes through their pain and suffering too. There is no greater gift than that of suffering. You look at the trees and plant life now they suffer because this summer is so hot and dry there is no rain the plant life would love a drink of water but there’s none for them. They too are suffering. If we look at life that way, our own personal suffering wouldn’t be so heavy on us humans and we would be able to embrace it in a good way.
Thank you for listening. I was born October 13th, 1949, in New York State. We moved to Tyendinaga when I was three my name is Katsitsiase, which means flower opening or what the flower is doing is blossoming like a new flower opening up in the world.
The Port of Prince Rupert is within the traditional territory of the Coast Tsimshian, who have lived and traded in the area for thousands of years. The engagement and participation of local First Nations in port activity and development is critical to the success and growth of Prince Rupert’s trade gateway. The Prince Rupert Port Authority works closely with the nations of Metlakatla, Lax Kw’alaams and Kitkatla to ensure an alignment of interests, particularly on mutually beneficial development and the stewardship of port lands.
The Ridley Island Road, Rail & Utility Corridor presented a unique opportunity for local First Nations communities to participate in the construction of a major infrastructure project over 24 months. The bands of Metlakata and Lax Kw’alaams (through Coast Tsimshian Enterprises) partnered with JJM Construction Ltd. and Emil Anderson Construction Inc. to form Prince Rupert Constructors (PRC), a joint venture firm that was successful in bidding on a majority of the work for the RRUC. The Gitxaala Nation (Kitkatla) collaborated with ICON Construction to form Coast Industrial Construction (CiC), which completed the remainder of the work on the project. Together they built $75 million of the $97 million project, one of the largest First Nation joint ventures ever seen in Canada.
“Through this partnership, we were able to train a number of our local band members in Industry Training Authority certified programs to operate heavy machinery and equipment,” said Harold Leighton, Elected Chief of Metlakatla First Nation. “It is was a positive experience for the many members of our community that were employed on the RRUC project, and the Coast Tsimshian look forward to building a strong future for our communities through our involvement in port-related developments.”
Colin Robinson and Elaine Leighton
Throughout the course of construction, employees of PRC and CiC received hundreds of hours of on-site training with various pieces of equipment, including excavators, bulldozers, rock trucks, graders, and compactors.
“The project was really beneficial to all parties concerned,” said Cameron McIntosh, General Superintendent with JJM Construction who oversaw RRUC construction on behalf of PRC. “Our partnership with Metlakatla and Lax Kw’alaams provided a local workforce for the project, gave them proper trade experience, and built a significant piece of port infrastructure. It was amazing to see most of our labour with little to no experience when we began the project become as good as anybody in the field at what they’re doing.”
Between the two contractors over 100 people were employed throughout the 24 month construction phase, many of whom reside in their respective villages and the Prince Rupert area.
“It was amazing to be a part of this project,” said Elaine Leighton with Prince Rupert Constructors. “I used to have to go to Vancouver for work, so it means a lot to be working alongside friends and family so close to home.”
Suicide rates among First Nations are six to eleven times the Canadian average, and since the creation of Nunavut in1999, suicide has accounted for more than one in four deaths in the Northern Territory. In the recent Attawapiskat suicide crisis more than 100 of 2,000 members of the remote community have attempted suicide in the last several months, including 28 in March, prompting Chief Bruce Shisheesh to declare a state of emergency.
Regional, provincial and federal governments sent support and crisis workers to the community in response, but as things calmed down, several workers left.
Attawapiskat is very isolated and access is limited to air travel for most of the year and an ice road for a couple months in winter. This results in many citizens never leaving. Overcrowding is rampant and homes are run down, and at $22 for a12-pack of pop cost of living is extremely high.
Map of James Bay showing Attawapiskat – Wikimedia
However, these conditions are not unique to Attawapiskat, many reserves share similar socio-economic situations as well as high levels of suicide. Bill Yoachim, a member of the Snuneymuxw First Nation on Vancouver Island and executive director of Kwumut Lelum Child and Family Services explains in an interview with CBC that his community once experienced the same issues. “Unfortunately, I’ve witnessed one too many suicides in my backyard as well.” he told the CBC. “It’s scarring. It’s very painful…. You carry it for your whole life. You carry it every day, sometimes every hour,” he says.
Snuneymuxw First Nation is very different from Attawapiskat. It is urban, located within the city boundaries of Nanaimo, B.C, but like many First Nations, Yoachim’s community experienced clusters of suicides. In addition to his mother, he lost many cousins and says it was devastating not only to families but the entire community.
Snuneymuxw has been suicide-free for five years now. Yoachim credits the significant change to a determination to include youth in reviving traditional Snuneymuxw culture and to offer athletic programs to youth. “Connecting the community and culture is our main template… and we’re having some positive results.” He told the CBC.
A Chipewyan woman and child set out to hunt muskrat in Garson Lake, western Saskatchewan. – Wikimedia
Health experts are agreeing with Yoachim’s explanation of culture and community being a more important factor than housing, employment or finances. In a recent interview with The World Post, Dr. Rod McCormick, an indigenous mental health expert based in British Columbia’s Shuswap reserve and professor of Aboriginal Child and Maternal Health at Thompson Rivers University, explained some of the reasons why suicide rates may be high, “Young people may not feel like they belong anywhere or that they’re contributing to the community. They might not be connected to the culture or spirituality, and their only real connection is to their peer group. If their peer group is obsessed with death and dying, then to belong to that group they have to be immersed in that culture of suicide.” He continues, “There isn’t the possibility of going to movie theaters or driving fancy cars, or those things kids see on TV. There’s the living conditions of feeling like a second-class citizen when one watches TV and sees what other people have that they don’t. In addition, most isolated reserves have very few facilities. There really is next to nothing for mental health services. “
One doesn’t have to look far to see this sentiment echoed. In a widely shared Facebook post, a 13-year-old Attawapiskat youth, Amy Hookimaw, wrote “I didn’t know that people cared about me. But people do care,” after she was taken to the local hospital for experiencing suicidal thoughts.
Healthy community, healthy people
Research by University of Victoria psychologist Christopher Lalonde, also shows the key to tackling suicides is a community-based approach rooted in indigenous culture and values.
One of Lalonde’s most surprising revelations is that suicide rates aren’t actually linked to the “usual constellation” of socio-economic and psychological risk factors that plague many First Nations such as high unemployment, low education levels or inadequate housing, he told to the CBC. Instead, Lalonde’s research suggests, communities with epidemically high suicide rates tend to have one major thing in common: They’re the least “culturally healthy.”
“What we found is when communities have a sense of their collective past and have the tools and resources to navigate toward their future, those are the places that support youth health and well-being better than others.”, he explained to the CBC.
Lalonde has monitored youth suicide rates in 196 First Nations in British Columbia for 21 years, and is now working with First Nations in Manitoba.
His findings show suicide is not a universal epidemic amongst First Nations. Rather, a tiny fraction of communities seem to have the heaviest risk. Amongst First Nations in B.C., more than 90 per cent of suicides occur in only about 10 per cent of communities.
“The solutions to youth suicide in Attawapiskat or any other community are not going to come from Ottawa,” he says. “They’re going to come from communities taking ownership.”
This truth is reflected not only in First Nations communities but in tribes and communities around the world. Scientists have coined the term ‘Blue Areas’ where they have discovered the healthiest and consistently oldest living humans. These areas have the highest population of centurions on Earth.
Found in places such as Panama, Costa Rica, Ecuador and an ancient island off of Italy called Sardinia, these communities all share several things in common. Along with a diet in healthy fats, vegetables, low in meat, and an active lifestyle, the most common characteristics of these healthful people are their low stress levels and deep connection to their communities. They maintain a sense of purpose and participate in cultural, spiritual and communal activities daily. They also found many other communities that share a similar lifestyle, but do not have such a healthy population, and it is believed this was due to the missing “ strong family and community” link.
Changing The Tides
Examining what the Snuneymuxw community did to drastically lower rates of suicide is helpful in the pursuit of change. One obvious addition can be seen Nanaimo’s Departure Bay, where young Snuneymuxw men and women can be seen pulling 11-person canoes.
According to CBC, Mike Wyse leads the Island Brave crew, men all under age 20 who practise every day and compete as a team in indigenous canoe gatherings across British Columbia and the US. Wyse revived the youth paddling program at Snuneymuxw a decade ago, after his mother urged him not to let the sacred tradition of paddling fade. “Canoeing has given our young people an alternative to look to a better life,” he told CBC.
Wyse credits the lessons the youth learn on the water to be part of what helps them to gain employment or pursue higher education. “You never get on a canoe when you’re angry or upset. That’s one of our strong teachings that are passed down from older people. Canoe ain’t gonna react the way you want it to,” Wyse says. Canoe clubs aren’t the only healthy option for Snuneymuxw youth: basketball, lacrosse and soccer programs are also popular. The community is planning the grand opening of its new gym next month, a $4-million recreational facility that Snuneymuxw First Nation built mostly with its own revenue. “We need to create space, whether through sport or culture or recreation, to make people feel alive,” Yoachim says.
While there are several Aboriginal Support and Crisis Intervention Response Teams in British Columbia, whom Yoachim praise for their continued help, the best method is prevention. “The communities know their own people. They know their own culture,” explains Emmy Manson, the mental wellness advisor for the Vancouver Island region of B.C’s First Nation Health Authority, “The capacity is in communities. They’re able to provide follow-up support, and they’re able to create a relationship of trust and safety for people who are really vulnerable.”
The Ontario government has pledged $2 million over the next two years for health support and a youth centre for the Attawapiskat community. But Manson reminds, this support must go into sustainable skill-sharing and building stronger communal programs, “Our communities are building a foundation of our own skilled people. It has to be our own people who bring us out of the darkness.
The 40th Annual BC Elders Gathering was held this year in Williams Lake from July 11th to the 14th. More than 2,000 Elders were there to celebrate the event and it was the most successful Gathering in four decades by all accounts. The Theme this year was “Keeper of the Land and Water”, a very accurate description of our people who have always watched over the environment and very timely considering our current environmental issues.
Elders at Williams Lake Elders Gathering
The passing on of history may be one of the Elders true missions but the intuitive and cultivated instinct to defend Mother Earth has always been one of our great strengths.
The Gathering underwent preparations for months, Cecil Grinder chair of the organizing committee told the WIlliams Lake Tribune, “A highlight has been people getting together to make a difference. It’s not just our Native communities, it’s the city of Williams Lake. I’m very impressed with the outcome and everyone’s interest in what we are trying to do here.”
Cecil Grinder, chair of the organizing committee of the 40th Annual BC Elders Gathering. Image Credit: Monica Lamb-Yorski Photo
There were several events including the rodeo that kicked off the Gathering, as well as entertainment on different stages and traditional feasts were served every day. One of the keynote speakers included Dr. Evan Adams.
Also featured was a Tent City, which was a reminder of time gone by when First Nations attending the Williams Lake stampede would camp near the grounds. This year Pow Wows, cultural activities, Sweat Lodges and Healing Circles could be found near Tent City along with a convoy of motor homes.
Kudos to the organizers who seemed to have forgotten nothing and ensured everything ran smoothly. Cecil Grinder was thankful for the volunteers, “We had the local volunteers and people coming in from all over. I think we are looking at 4,000 to 5,000. And I thank our volunteers because they are the ones that have made this possible,” Grinder added, “Even the vendors at the arts and craft venues were surprised when I thanked them for being here. I told them that’s who we are as Tsilhgot’in, Shuswap, Carrier, St’at’ imc and Nuxalk people.”
The success of the 40 Elders Gathering in Williams Lake came as no surprise to Grinder, “Williams Lake is made out of mining, forestry and Native people. That’s what supports the economy. We’re just trying to get more recognition for the part we play and what we bring to the economy. It’s all about building bridges for the Native and Non-Native communities to get together.”