NESKANTAGA FIRST NATION – This weekend Neskantaga First Nation hosted a community Pow Wow. Communities across Northern Ontario, during the winter have access to each other via the Winter Road Network in Ontario.
Getting into communities during most times of the year mean inter-community air travel. The cold winter weather allows communities to visit each other by vehicle.
In Neskantaga, people from as far away as Thunder Bay were able to drive into the community to join them in this weekend’s celebration.
Even though the temperatures with the wind chill were far below -40c, the warmth of sharing traditional culture helped put smiles on the faces of attendees.
Across the North, the winter brings people together. Hockey games, tournaments, and visiting help make the long winter months shrink in size.
In fact for many Northerners, the cold of winter is often seen as more enjoyable than hot summer days.
During the winter people from Northern communities can drive out. Some of the routes are quite interesting. From Washaho Cree Nation / Fort Severn, the furthest northern community in Ontario connects to Manitoba by winter road.
Some communities, like Attawapiskat connect to the rail line. Large items like the mobile homes shipped into the community a few years ago came in to Moosenee, then by rail north to the Winter Road.
While Ice Road Truckers has people thinking that the ice roads are in the far north of Alaska, there are also extensive road networks in Ontario and Manitoba.
The winter roads network across the North also allows some of the goods that are needed for the winter to be trucked into the community. Some items are too big for shipping by air. Mobile homes and some construction equipment just won’t fit in the aircraft.
During the winter, many Northern residents also take advantage of the Winter Roads for extended shopping trips in communities like Kenora, Red Lake, Timmins, and Thunder Bay. Getting access to some of the products, and lower prices in the more southern communities helps stretch the food budgets.
The reality, and often missed reality is that while many Northern communities have problems, that is the same as communities in the South as well. Issues with drugs, alcohol, and addiction are faced in Thunder Bay, Toronto and Winnipeg.
Most people in the North are exactly the same as people in the South. They want the best for their families, and are working to make their communities better places.
Many Northern Communities are working hard to prepare their students for the transition to high school. It is a steep learning curve, unlike students in Thunder Bay, Dryden or Kenora, students in the North leave their home communities. High School means leaving home, and travelling hundreds of kilometres to attend school.
Students face a lot of challenges
The work of building bridges between Northern communities in Ontario, and the major communities of Kenora, Dryden, and Thunder Bay is an important one. The work takes a lot of time.
At stake is the future of young people across the region.
It is work well worth the effort.
Photos by Tannis Smith, Emma Williams, James Murray