ATTAWAPISKAT – This summer I have had the pleasure of being visited by some of my family members. It has made me realize how things have changed back home in Attawapiskat. I see those changes in smiling faces of hope. My nephew Philip visited to show me his new truck. It really is an amazing vehicle and it was good to see him at only 24 years of age on a break from work and cruising around on a road trip. My nieces Brianna, April and Julia also dropped in to say hi on their way to North Bay for college. The girls were hilarious and really brightened up my day. It was fantastic to see them in their new Jeep and heading off for fresh adventures in the city. My brother Paul and his daughter Lynniah also made a point to pause on their trip south to Ottawa to join his wife Theresa and son Liam who had to be transported to the hospital there.
Earlier in the summer my brother Lawrence stopped for coffee and brought me all kinds of healthy treats he and his wife Christine had prepared.
These visits with my family members made me realize that things have improved in so many ways for my people back in Attawapiskat. There are still a lot of problems, drug and alcohol abuse and family violence. There is a lack of housing and a lot of young people feel lost in a community that is changing rapidly. Still, I see the benefits of my family, friends and neighbours back home having good, well paying jobs and taking advantage of the opportunities in getting an education. That is a huge change over the past 20 years.
In the past there were very few employment opportunities in the community, no running water, no indoor bathrooms and drinking water had to be hauled from the river. That was only a couple of decades ago. With the coming of De Beers and the Victor diamond mine a lot of things changed. For the most part many of those changes have been positive. People now have better lives and opportunities for real work. They are working at the mine, running companies associated with De Beers, starting up new businesses, getting training opportunities and living lives like non-Native people do in the outside world. Things are not perfect but they are getting better.
I have had the good fortune over the past two decades to watch what can happen when big resource companies work with First Nations at the table in terms of development on traditional lands. In northeastern Ontario, I have witnessed the Wabun Tribal Council of First Nations improve the lives of their community members. They did this through their involvement in all kinds of mining, forestry and hydro agreements. These opportunities were not available to First Nation people in a big way even only 20 years ago. Today, we see resource companies working together with First Nations to make sure that major developments go ahead that benefit everyone.
There are still many concerns from First Nation Elders and leadership in terms of caring for the environment, the land, the water, the air and all of the creatures that share our space with us. However, I have seen good agreements made between resource developers and First Nations that honour the land and put in place procedures and policies to lessen the impact of development on the environment. We will always have those few people who want to stop development at all levels but most of our First Nation Elders and leadership realize that it is better to join developers and government at the decision table. Our people need to make sure that opportunities in resource development go ahead while addressing our concerns for the environment and that we share in the benefits in terms of employment, training and community improvement.
Currently De Beers is considering a new mine site, the Tango Extension that is not far from the current Victor site that will be closing down in 2018. The company has invested over a billion dollars in developing the area and it makes sense that rather than closing up and leaving they stay on and mine the Tango Extension. Many Native people are counting on a future that provides jobs, training and a life in general with care when it comes to the impact on the land, water, air and wildlife. If the community and its members work together with De Beers good things are possible. None of us really want to go back to the days where the only opportunity to make money was to apply for the few jobs in the community or get onto the welfare system.
Things need to improve and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s federal government has already made commitments to make changes that will improve life for my people right across the country. We need to stay on track and make sure our future generations have hope for a better life. We can not do that alone or in isolation. We have to learn to work together with government and industry to make sure that we we are benefiting far into the future.
by Xavier Kataquapit