THUNDER BAY – As the Idle No More rallies continue across this great nation, I cannot help but think of all those that suffer, either through lack of supports on our communities or through lack of compassion and understanding if they stand off-reserve, or both. But what of solutions? Is it not time for a Think Tank on this topic, made up of … who?
My thoughts today are fueled by my location, and that fact that yesterday I had the honour and the privilege to provide a motivational seminar on the Chapleau Cree First Nation. After the session, my hostess was gracious enough to offer me a tour of this community and to say I was shocked would be the understatement of the year. The community is BEAUTIFUL and I needed to know why. I am no expert by any means, but here is what I discovered:
1) This is a new community. The land claim was only recently settled so the oldest of the homes were constructed in 1992. You can tell, the homes are well-maintained and beautiful. I couldn’t help thinking that a new community, with a newly negotiated agreement allowed this community to “do things right”. It is obvious throughout the community they did just that (in my humble opinion).
2) All the homes on the community are privately owned. Now for my non-Aboriginal followers you may not realize that is not the norm on First Nations. Normally homes are band-owned, with occupants either paying no rent/mortgage or a minimal amount. Now this may sound like heaven to those that struggle to pay such expenses, but think of how well we care for and maintain something so easily obtained. How much would you care if something is broken, if you don’t pay to replace or fix it?
[sws_pullquote_left] Telling us what to do won’t work. Help us instead to find what does … because we all agree things have to change [/sws_pullquote_left]
Here on Chapleau Cree the mortgages are guaranteed by the community but each home owner pays their mortgage. You can see the pride in the homes, in the well-maintained yards. I was excited for the young people of the community, growing up knowing they had a shot at owning a home, an opportunity most First Nation kids never have. Nice goal!
3) There is a public works/public garage on the community. This building has a mechanic on staff and people from the neighboring town can bring their vehicles here to be repaired. A nice revenue stream for the community I am sure, but additionally the building houses the FNs Public Works department. They own all their own equipment, graders and plows and even a portable sawmill. I was told the Public Works building was built from the wood taken when they cleared the lot. Beautiful. And another option, youth can apprentice here, to become a mechanic. AWESOME!
4) Not far from the Public Works building, a moose locker, supporting the traditional hunting of the community. Here members can hang and store their moose meat as it is being prepared, safely, in a cold environment. Again, beautiful.
5) Like many First Nations there is a gas bar on the res but this one is band owned. Again, excellent revenue stream.
6) And lastly, my hostess works at the Health Centre so I began asking her about programming. I was thrilled to hear that members are involved and excited about belonging to Weight Watchers. The band pays all but $50 of the costs, with this program doing much to offset the diabetic epidemic. LOVE!
Bingo is a favorite past-time here too, but here families win fruit and vegetables and the grand prize – all the makings for a stew. LOVE!
There are many things that “work” on Chapleau Cree First Nation including all of the residents (they have that ability thanks to the opportunities of the area) and i am not naive enough to think all of this could work for all our communities but it did get me thinking what if ….
The federal government loves National Task Forces and reports and consultations. What if there was a National Task Force tasked with collecting best practices from our communities, documenting success stories like Chapleau Cree? I would want to see north and southern, isolated and urban communities separated, but I have heard stories of box gardens, and economic development successes even in the far North. We need to know more.
What if home ownership was introduced, even with a minimal payment, or mortgage geared to income? It saddens me when I see the home of an elder reverted back to the band, with no option for the family to cherish that home, or reside there to remember their passed loved one, and that is a common occurrence on most communities. We cherish the things we had to work hard to attain. It is human nature. Would it not be amazing to give our youth the hope of having their own home one day?
What if federal funds were available for TRUE community capacity building, to fund such things as the purchase of equipment and the creation of opportunities like the Public Works building, the gas bar and the moose locker? Again, much harder on a Northern res where everything including the equipment must be flown in but … possible?
At the end of the day I don’t have the answers but I have hope, and I have a voice and a pen (or keyboard). Let’s start talking about what has worked, from the communities that are trying to find a way, from the First Nations themselves. Empowerment is what the First Nations need. Saving us won’t work. Telling us what to do won’t work. Help us instead to find what does … because we all agree things have to change. No one can afford to be “Idle No More” in my humble opinion.
Sandi Boucher is a published author, motivational speaker and a proud member of Seine River First Nation in Northwestern Ontario. For more information on Sandi and her work, please check out http://www.traditionallyspeaking.ca