A very thorough and revealing press release from the Zeitgeist Movement which is a group for social change. The press release is on wikileaks and the reasons behind all the protests going on in Egypt, the middle east, and Africa. Here- Protests and Activism
Here is an article I wrote on the fatality rate for workers in Alberta, particularly in the oil industry and the tar sands. The funny thing is that the Edmonton Journal was interested and then suddenly stopped all contact with me. I will post those emails sometime soon so you can get an idea of what it is like to deal with editors and so on.
Paying the Price: A Report on the Alberta Tar Sands
"I've been working at a plant in Northern Alberta for the last seven weeks. There have been seven deaths I have heard about since arriving here. That is one human life per week! That is until yesterday, when two more lives were lost at CNRL horizon project. Craziness. NINE deaths in seven weeks. Could be more, that is all I know of for sure. Only three of those occurred at plants, but they are all connected to being up here for the work. People are becoming very aware of the environmental impact of how we use our natural resources. I wonder if they are as aware of the human life also being lost to this industry…"
2.5 trillion barrels total. 1.3 million barrels a day. 100 billion dollars in investments. There are many ways to measure the profits and costs associated with the tar sands. But the one cost insiders don’t want people to tally is the cost in human lives.
In 2008, 165 people lost their lives on the job in Alberta according to official stats. This number is up from 154 in 2007, and 124 in 2006. Industry leaders, as well as people from the government, are always quick to point out that injuries are down during the last few years. They enlighten us to the fact that people are dieing more but getting hurt less. Somehow, this is a point of pride for politicians and industry leaders.
The construction industry and associated trade services, with 59 deaths (36 per cent of 2008’s total), accounted for the largest number of workplace fatalities among all sectors in 2008. Over a five year period there were 253 occupational deaths in Alberta's construction industry. Isn’t that the same industry that’s involved in what some experts have called it the largest industrial project in human history? Could it be that the pace and magnitude of the tar sands development has something to do with the alarming death rate of workers in this province?
Maybe, but lets be fair. A majority percentage of those fatalities were not at plant sites and, unless you’re counting ducks, hardly any of them were at tailings ponds either. Almost one-third of the unfortunate deaths of men and women working in Alberta every year happen in a motor vehicle of one kind or another. Lets look at the province’s breakdown of the top five motor vehicle fatalities by industry : number one is general trucking services (that’s general, could be anything), number two is mobile equipment operations(well, there is a lot of mobile equipment in the tar sands), number three is well servicing with rigs (ok, some oil field stuff), number four is oilfield trucking services (again, not so good), and number five is oil and gas upstream (there might be a few of these in the tar sands). Ok, so maybe a lot of these vehicle accidents have been in and around oil activity with most oil activity centered around the tar sands. From 1999 to 2008 there were 147 fatalities in these five motor vehicle sectors. That doesn’t look good for the tar sands.
Maybe if we look at it by industry we will get a clearer picture of other possible leaders in the fatality frenzy in Alberta. The number one industry in Alberta where people lose their lives is mobile equipment operation. Number two through seven in order are: general trucking services, drilling of oil and gas wells, industrial construction, pipeline construction, woodland operations, metal fabrication, oilfield downhole services, and well servicing with service rigs. It’s actually not a pretty picture for the tar sands when you look at it that way either. All of these industries are related to the tar sands and take place in the Fort McMurray area.
Let’s look by occupation. Who are these workers and what jobs are they doing in Alberta that could be so dangerous? Here are the top eight fatality-causing occupations in order from one to eight: truck driver, construction labourers, other labourers, heavy equipment operators, oil and gas well drilling workers, welders, materials handlers, oil and gas drilling labourers. All pretty run of the mill jobs, if you work for Suncor or Syncrude.
Following are a few fatalities to shed light on some of the unsafe areas or dangers of working in the tar sands. First of all, as mentioned before many times, highway 63 is always dangerous. In 2007 alone, ‘hell’s highway’ took 17 lives; now more than ever with increased construction and constantly increasing traffic it is a risk every time people head home to their families. It is regrettable to bring up the following incidents but I feel it is necessary to remind people of the ever-present dangers that exist for under-trained, overworked Albertans and other workers.
An example of all the mobile equipment operator stats described earlier was an incident at the Horizon project. A worker was operating a floating backhoe when it rolled and sunk trapping and drowning him in a toxic tailings pond. A company spokesman talking about the incident was quoted as saying, "it’s not what I would consider to be one of the things that makes us feel good." They put workers in dangerous situations, but at least now it can be ruled out that they do it for kicks.
Another one that made a lot of press was on April 24, 2007 when two Chinese workers had a roof collapse on them. Five others were injured in the incident. This put the spotlight on the low-paid labourers brought in from other countries who are foreign to the work in every way. It is a dangerous situation for them and all the workers around them.
Some jobs are inherently dangerous and people are aware of that. Jobs where people have to carry guns for example. Fatality numbers in these areas are not as alarming as in the construction and oil industries for a couple of reasons. One, it is more expected for there to be casualties in the army and police than working in the oil field. Two, the fatality number in the police and the army are actually less than tar sands related deaths. Since 2002, 139 Canadian soldiers and four Canadian civilians have been killed serving and working in Afghanistan. That’s less fatalities for all the Canadians fighting a war for eight years than one year of people working in Alberta. I think whether it is soldiers or workers it is a tragedy to be losing so many people. And what do politicians think of all this?
In 2008, Employment and Immigration Minister Hector Goudreau said "There's no denying that 154 workplace fatalities is way too many, one fatality is way too many."
Darina Valentik’s friends and family couldn’t agree more. Darina was working a fairly new job with fairly little training when she was killed by a rail car east of Fort McMurray. Darina is a perfect example of the rushed mentality in the tar sands. She was trained fast friends said. She was unsupervised and unsure they said. Companies are pushing production, contractors are pushing employees to do more for longer periods of time, and law and policy makers are being pushed to keep things in place to allow all of it. When you push too much something has to give and Darina is just one of the many people who have innocently paid the price. One is definitely far too many. When you measure the price of tar sands development in that currency is there anyway it could be worth one person’s life, let alone hundreds?
Here is one of the earlier articles I wrote. I doubt it will appear anywhere so I will put it here.
Culture as Currency
Often when talking about losses suffered by First Nations, governments and courts talk in terms of money. Have we as First Nations people influenced this trend? Do we now view infringement on treaty rights, or on our lives, as a way to get paid? We are not losing money so why should we be getting money or financial promises to pay for losses? What we are losing is our ability to be Cree, or any other tribe, and so we should be requesting retribution be made in that currency. If you are guilty of taking away our way of life and want to make amends then it makes sense that you should give us back our way of life.
This might sounds like a novel idea that isn’t grounded in reality, but I think it is. We just need to identify what our traditional life entails, what resources are needed to carry it out, and to what degree we are able to continue living it. If we need more of a land base and freedom from restrictions to hunt the way we used to then that is what should happen. If we need greater restrictions put on sport hunters and fisherman to safeguard wildlife then that should happen. For our part, we must truly live with traditional values because resources are scarcer than ever and we must take all measures to ensure they are replenished. We are fighting for dollars while animals and natural habitat are gobbled up and destroyed. If we want to find some sort of balance in the changing world then we must hold on to who we are and use that knowledge to gauge what is happening around us.
It is a hard choice that faces us when making these decisions. Do we take what we can get for our people, who often live in crisis, or do we believe our way of life has value and should be maintained. Right now we think of our culture as part of a living museum, we do the ceremonies and have the powwows but this happens within the context of continuing to allow our way of life to be eroded around us. It is no longer all-encompassing as any culture should be for the people who are of it. We pray to animal spirits before meetings but we allow their habitat to be bulldozed for the sake of one-sided joint ventures with foreign companies. More spirits to pray to?
Whatever the balance is between our culture and the ones that surround us, we should decide for ourselves. Whatever the sacrifices we would have to make in order to take a step back we should make them. We can no longer afford to be halfway Indians as things that we used to consider sacred, earth, animals, air, water, are compromised all around us for the sake of business. Our ways were passed down for a reason and we have the knowledge that we have for a reason. If we do not choose to accept that it is our responsibility to stand up for our hotly contested environment then it is safe to say that it will continue to decline.
This idea of getting back our culture as a form of retribution is one that is beneficial to all parties involved. The benefits for us our immeasurable; you cannot put a price or limit of any kind on the ability to live a sustainable life that will continue for countless generations barring some cosmic event. Our health will improve in every aspect of life. Think of how long your grandfathers or great-grandfathers lived. They were living a lifestyle that our people had been living for, at least, thousands of years. We would be much better off going back to that as much as possible. It would benefit the Canadian government and people by alleviating some of the dependency First Nations currently have on government resources. We could exchange some of this financial support that has been wrongly provided to us for some freedom to live our way of life. The environment would also benefit greatly as we would be back out on the land much more than we are now and we could act as stewards as should be our natural role in this country. The main reason we should head in the direction of reclaiming our culture is that it is good. Simple. Our way of life is healthy and natural and balanced. Look around your reserve. The tools to do better than we are now are just past the edge of your community, in the hills and lakes and land. Let’s go out there and be ourselves.
This is from Nov. 3, 2008. Kropp logging employees came to us and said that they were asked to log right over moose licks despite their protests. They Also dammed up streams. These are very common practices in the logging industry, unfortunately.
http://www.oilsandstruth.org/ -Great website with a lot of info on the oil sands.
http://www.albertanativenews.com/ -Website of the newspaper.
http://albertajasper.com/ -if your family is from Alberta then you can probably find them here. Go to the basic Alberta history part and you will find pages and pages of records from our province. Bask as far as 1800. Great resource.
http://www.firstnationswriter.com/ -Native writer in northern Alberta.
I call it Kinosayo's Band's territory because we all traditionally used it and we continue to. But the state it is in now reflects the dvisions between bands and the misplaced priorities of leaders and people alike. We had the chance to fly over in a helicoptor and this is a sample of what it looked like.
i wrote this to address the problems on my reserve and I figured it might apply to a lot of different places.
I would like to share my thoughts on some of the problems that I see facing our community and also some of the opportunities available to us and ways we can improve things. I think there is so much room for us to improve that we can only go upwards. There was a very low time a while ago that most of us remember when the band first went into third party management and things were looking very bleak, but since then things have improved on that front. Now we are facing new problems, drugs in our community is worse than ever, kids have far less opportunity or encouragement than in the past, our mood as a community seems to be one of ‘barely hanging on’ like we are no longer a family. I think all these things could change and if I didn’t believe that I wouldn’t be able to be here just to watch things get worse.
The little programs that are administered from the bandhall and health center for our people are ok and they do their part but I think this is not the most effective way to do things. We have done these kinds of things for as long as I can remember and it can address specific problems but it hasn’t stopped the negative progression of the state of our community. I think it takes a lot of time and energy to change to a new way of approaching problems but that is what is required in our situation because the current approach is tested and is faulty. We need to think like ourselves instead of mimicking the way other governments do things for their people. We are unique and require a unique approach. This way of doing things that we currently follow comes from all the policies that we live under being developed by outside sources for their own purposes. We can change all that for ourselves and start to do things in a way that falls in line with our beliefs and is suited to benefit us as much as possible.
Swan River is a strong community. When tragedy strikes we come together. When things can’t get any worse we stand up. I know all these things facing our community now can be overcome and I know that we don’t need to rely on anyone else to overcome them. We have a lot of resources here in our own community; we have a lot of people who have certain skills who are never called upon to apply those skills for the benefit of the community. I think this is a huge mistake because those people are left with a feeling of not being appreciated, and it is poor resource management. I will give examples of what I mean about people’s skills in some of the following chapters. The point of writing this is to allow my thoughts on the band to be known and to spark thought in people. If we come together to form a single vision of how we want our community to be then we can work towards that as a whole group rather than struggling against each other. This is the key to becoming healthier and happier. And I think if we approach it as being that simple we can all agree, we would like to be healthy and we would like to be happy. These are not luxuries that we can’t afford; they are the basis of a good life. We can all have that as a community and create a structure where we ensure all future generations have the same opportunities for a good life as well.
As a community who are we? What do we as a group of people stand for? Individualism is good, it fosters creativity and helps people to feel self worth but there is also value in being a constructive part of a society. If you add positive things to the community through your personal skills then you will also be able to take advantage of things that others provide through their skills which are in different areas than your own. We can all make each other stronger in this way. As individuals we have strengths and weaknesses but as a whole we are much more complete. This shows the need to have a common vision. This means a common set of goals and a common idea of what our community should be. If we all focus on the same vision it is very likely to become a reality. It should be rooted in our traditions but also take into account current conditions and the changing world around us. What do we want our impact on that world to be? What do we want our message to people be when they look at us and see how we are living? Right now that message is this; we face bad things and we have in the past and we are still here. So when people look at us now they either think negatively or they think that we have amazingly survived. That is a good start but we must now move past survival and start to revive ourselves.
As far as a vision goes I will share mine specifically with you but as with all things I am rarely ever set firmly where I will no longer accept new ideas on a subject. Once you tell yourself you no longer need to learn about something then you are limiting yourself. You are refusing new ideas. In my thinking this is never a good policy. We do the best we can with what we know now but we can always learn more and adjust our ways and ideas to incorporate this new knowledge. Having said this, my current ideas on direction for our community are very firm and rooted in my belief that our ancestors lived a very good life. When I read elders interviews or interview elders myself they always agree that it was a good life back then. Healthier and happier. To me we should try to maintain and bring back this way of living and thinking for many reasons. One, I believe it is in all of us to live this way of life just like it’s instinctively in animals to follows the patterns of their ancestors. We are already built to live a certain way so if we go back it will be a lot more natural and fitting. Health wise, our ancestors lived a much more natural and healthy life than almost any culture you find today. It is also a very respectable way of life, it teaches to treat nature with respect, to treat each other and all things with respect. If we are doing things as a community, if everyone is pitching in then we will all respect each other’s efforts.
I think we should align our economics with this traditional way of life as well. Meaning the best ways for the band to make money and provide jobs is in lasting, sustainable industries; things that fall in line with our beliefs and our environment. Right now we run a contracting company, an oil and gas company and work to try to get people employed in forestry and oil and gas. All these things are very destructive and short-sighted ways to make money. In these types of industries the only upside is money, everything else is negative. The quality and safety of the work is not good. The health aspects of working around equipment and oilfield areas are not good. The distance people have to go away from home and camp with no life outside of work is not good. All these things that take away from quality of life are not worth money. And that is only looking at how it affects people. Oil and gas has made Alberta one of the largest polluters in the world. We live in a naturally beautiful and abundant place and we are contributing to the destruction of it along with our way of life. We talk about fighting for the land and our rights to hunt and fish but we are not living what we preach. We need to set a firm example of what it means to live a sustainable way of life, and the example was already provided to us in the generations that came before us.
If we want to get involved in industry it should be of great importance that it is environmentally friendly. We should not compromise our beliefs and our natural resources to make money. In fact we can actually do the exact opposite. We can make money in preserving these resources and managing our forests and wildlife. We can create our own proposals and programs that fall in line with emerging trends of eco-friendly government policies and sustainable forest management. We can also get into businesses that promote a healthier environment such as renewable power, solar for example. We can get into recycling plants which will provide stay at home jobs as well as show people that we care about our environment even when it comes to business. Oil and gas is a dying industry as more and more governments and nations realize that the damage done by fossil fuels is far too great to remain a viable source of power. We can get ahead of the trend and help to preserve our hunting areas at the same time.
Another part of my vision has to do with the concept of a community. We have grown to slowly accept foreign models of community and society that have had a destructive impact on us. We are no longer treating each other and our community with the respect that Cree people did in the past. Everyone should read books from early fur traders and explorers and see how admired natives were when they were still living their own way of life. We depended on each other in all aspects of life. Today we do not trust each other and we do not like to see each other do well for the most part. All these things do not apply to everyone but they are signs that we are not living in a healthy community. The actions of other people in a small community affect you and your children’s lives and your actions affect theirs. Because of this we should look to treat each other with respect and help each other in all things. We should be able to trust our children are safe when they leave the house because the community will watch out for them and we should watch out for other people’s kids in return. A strong community will overcome all things that they are faced with. Alone a person might find a problem but be powerless to overcome it whereas if he had the support of his community it might be very easily overcome. This is not something of the past that we have magically lost and it is to never return. If we had it in us at one time then we still have it in us and it is actually much more natural than the way we are living now. As a community we could be a shining example for other reserves and other nations everywhere. We could show people that there are no limits if people are united.
Another part of my vision for Swan River is to live balanced lives. This means many things. We need to be realistic and know that we cannot avoid the future and yet we cannot forget the past so we must balance the two. We can teach ourselves lessons of living a healthy life from the past and apply it to today’s world. We can also reject parts of modern society that go against our beliefs. A lot of things in today’s society are not healthy and do not add to people’s lives. For example, natives used to play handgames; I’ve read stories of people from different tribes playing with each other so it was very well known. So maybe it was ok to gamble for fun and in a social way. But now we have slot machines in our communities and it hurts us in many ways. A lot of Swan River money leaves our hands and goes straight back to the government. A lot of families have less than they could because money is gambled away. People that gamble excessively are often unhappy and cannot quit. When we as a community see things like this we should put a stop to it. Young people in our community and surrounding communities who have passed away have almost always involved alcohol. If kids in our community die and alcohol is involved this should not be acceptable.
Balance also means to better ourselves and our community in all aspects and not just in some ways. Fort McKay first nations has a million dollar bandhall, they have millions of dollars in businesses and prospects due to the oil sands region they live in. But many of the people there do not feel that it is worth the money to be involved in something that is having terrible effects on other nations as well as their own. It is not a balanced situation so they had to give up certain things in order to gain money. As individuals we need to look after our health as it applies physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. As a community we also have to perform a balancing act. We have health, finance, education and all these areas to consider. Unless we are all focused and working together then the things that we do in business and finance can have a negative effect on health and so on. We need to make more decisions publicly so that they can be better, more thought out, and balanced decisions.
Another part of my vision for Swan River is for us to be uncompromising. We need to gain the respect of fish and wildlife, RCMP, government, industry; all these organizations that make rules for us and govern how we live but do not listen to our needs very often, if ever. We need to be healthy, strong and united so that we are not individuals who don’t know our rights but instead we are a community who will stand up for each other and what is right for us. We need to get out on our land and use it properly and make sure others do the same. We need to get in our community and clean it up in every way. Make it clean and healthy and respectable physically. We need to make our own punishments for the drug dealers and others who commit crimes in our communities. We should not send them to jails or trust other people to teach our troubled members a better way because it has been proven that this doesn’t work. We need to deal with these individuals ourselves because we know what the problems are. We can make them make it up to the community in some way and then they can still maintain their self respect by having directly paid for their mistakes. We should make firm decisions on what we believe to be our rights out on the land and we should fight for them. We should decide what kind of industry we will or won’t allow in our hunting grounds and we should act on that. We should decide what we believe to be promised and owed to us by government and we should fight for those things. Not to be dependant but to have an honoured agreement between ourselves and Canada, otherwise why would we allow them to stay in our area if they are no longer involved in the treaty? We need to make strong decisions like these and be uncompromising. This means no backing down and no making agreements that aren’t exactly what we believe we are entitled to. If we are a strong community that is taking care of itself we will not have to cave in to pressure in order to get a handout. We will be able to afford to take a hard stance to right wrongs in our area.
These are just some of the base that makes up my belief system. I would never pretend I can sum up exactly what is right for a community and claim to know how we should handle everything. But hopefully some of these ideas make people think and want to add their own ideas. This is the whole idea of a community. Together we can make better decisions and take stronger action in dealing with our problems.
One thing that plagues us, and a lot of native communities, is that we depend on outside people and resources to run our band and to try and better our community. It can be beneficial to gain outside support, but all things concerning the band, every program, every job, every policy, should start from within the band so that we can be sure it is what we want and it is something that will work for us. We have enough experience with most things that concern the band to now do them for ourselves. We don’t need outside people to make policy and bylaws, we can do that. We don’t need outside people to build houses and put in infrastructure, we can do that. We don’t need outside people or programs to help deal with our kids or social problems facing our community, we can do that. We have become far too reliant on others to help us that we have become lazy and dependant. Maybe this was the intention of government in implementing all these programs and things on reserves and, if so, it is working. But we can change at any moment, and we can struggle through any initial hardships that come with changing to break free from our dependence on government programs that are not designed for us or by us. This is the beginning of self reliance. To realize that we have the ability to determine our own fate by taking charge of all aspects of our lives personally and as a community. If something does not work for us we will change it. If something is governing us that don’t fit with our way of life we will reject it. This is how we changing our community can begin. We simply have to make the decision to do things for ourselves.
Another aspect of self reliance is need specific. Once we have made the commitment that we are going to make all the changes necessary to ensure a healthier community we need to start applying that to specific things. First off a lot of discussion needs to take place when facing specific problems in order to make sure we decide on a course that is the most beneficial to everyone. That must be the main goal if we are to work together otherwise our community will continue to fall apart. We will decide things as a community. We will decide what the best course of action to take is and who are the people most able to lead the efforts in any certain area.
What are the needs of a community? There are a lot of luxuries that we can have but our needs are very simple. When we are getting specific in being self reliant we have to address the basic needs first, our community needs to provide itself with all the resources needed for survival before it can function. Food, supplies, shelter, medicine; these kinds of things. Now I know these things are available at the grocery store or the pharmacy and these kinds of places. But in the fundamental need to be self reliant we should be providing these things for ourselves as much as possible. Providing things for ourselves also creates opportunities. In providing food we can see opportunities for our young people to learn to hunt and trap and fish and live in the bush. In providing shelter we can have opportunities for community members trained in carpentry, electrician, and plumbing, to put their skills to work and for others to train in these areas. In supplying our own medicines we can have opportunities for our people to learn about nature and respect all life more. This would also provide opportunities for elders and youth to interact. We can learn how to make things for ourselves. Baskets, blankets, clothing, tools, really there is no limit. Our people used to make everything they needed to live out of natural things. We can still go to school and get an education so that we can understand the world that surrounds us but we should balance that with an education in our own environment and way of life so that we can thrive in our natural environment. The more we can provide things for ourselves the less desperate our situation becomes as a whole. As it stands right now we depend on the government for a lot of things and the support we get is inadequate so we live a lower quality of life then other Canadians. Once we become more self reliant this will no longer be the case.
Justice and Hunters
I strongly believe that the court system, prison system and policing in Canada is all in very bad shape. It is especially hard on natives due to cultural differences but, in reality, it doesn’t work for anyone. To me this affects our community in a lot of negative ways. For one we are turned against each other by police who’s only method of investigation seems to be scaring kids into telling on each other or threatening adults with jail if they don’t also tell on others. There is no investigation or community involvement. They rely almost solely on finger pointing. To me this is a very flawed way to approach things. It’s ok to let people know when you’ve been wronged but it should be done differently than it is now. We should keep our problems to ourselves first off. We should have the system and policies in place to deal with our own members or other people that commit crimes in our communities as we see fit. We should also decide what we consider as crimes, and what we think are fair punishments. There should be people with skills in working with people to help with the justice process. We should truly try to help people who have turned to a bad path. Now of course, sometimes hard consequences are required but there should always be some lesson or feeling of retribution involved rather than just locking a person away for a while. One of the worst punishments might be to ban people for a certain period of time. If we have a strong and healthy community that provides opportunities and activities for its members then banishment becomes a harsh punishment. Other punishment could include maintenance activities so that the offender is directly making up for his crime, cleaning people’s yards or hauling garbage or something fitting depending on the offence.
Now, in order to do all these things normally a community would have to get the police and possibly the court system involved to a degree to make it all legal and enforceable. Now if the police and courts are involved then it is really just a glorified version of what we have now. We need to police ourselves. We need to sentence ourselves and have people to oversee the sentences ourselves. Maybe there will be some special cases, such as murder, where it is out of our hands but for the most part the things that happen within our community can be handled internally. If we are, as I said before, hunting for ourselves then we will have young men who are disciplined and strong hunters. They will know how to handle guns and they will already have a certain level of dedication to the community through the praise and honour they feel from being providers for their own people. These young men, who presently have no such outlet to apply themselves, will be vital in keeping our community safe for everyone. They will be our modern day warriors and I think this is something that would work very well. Young men in our community respect each other because most of them are tough and most of them have lived through the same hardships. If they are the ones doing the policing then it is more likely that other young people who might potentially commit crimes against the community will not go through with these kinds of things out of respect for our hunters. Young people will look up to these young men who at present are looked up to as drug dealers or guys who drink and fight. If we dedicate ourselves to helping this influential group then it will be so much easier to prevent the younger kids from going down the wrong paths, they will still want to follow the same guys only now they will be following them onto a more righteous path. To me it seems like a lot of people try to help young people but the best way is to give them the tools and self-confidence to help themselves.
Now this form of justice might seem scary or dangerous to people but that’s because they are looking at it from our present view where a lot of young people have no discipline and a lot of older people have not got involved to help. I am looking at it from the view that if we work together these things seem very possible. If we act as a community we should have less crime and less need for a justice system at all. In fact if we are a busy community with a lot of healthy, positive things going on for people of all ages then most policing will be for outsiders doing things on our reserve or hunting grounds that they shouldn’t be. And in these cases it should be enough to have a group of hunters tell people our rules and the consequences. If you come to our community and try to sell drugs you will be off for six months (just for example), do it again and it will be a year, again and it will be for life. If we act as a community it will be easily enforceable. Our hunters can lead the way but everyone can help them by being diligent in making sure people are not coming back or breaking other conditions. If we have to rely on the police than we always have that option but we should try to avoid it whenever possible. We should show people what kind of community we are so that others wanting to do bad things will consider Swan River a bad place to come and try it. Imagine the pride in having our strong young sons, nephews and brothers taking care of our community and going out and getting meat and medicines for our people. And if we ever have to make a stand against a company or government or whoever we will have some considerable strength behind us.
Now how can we make the change from the way the worst of our young men are now to the hunters I have drawn out? For one, I think a lot of young people in general are misunderstood. There is no such thing as a person who is just pure evil by nature. And young people are definitely less set in their ways and are still only trying to figure life out for themselves. If you give them opportunities they will respond. Positive opportunities positive responses. Right now there are mostly negative opportunities available because of what we’ve let our community become and therefore they have responded negatively. We should build hunting camps. No garbage or generators or bacon and chips or anything like that. They should feel like Cree people out there surrounded by nature. If they need bags or baskets or tools they will learn to make them. If they need wood they will learn to get it, what kind, and what trees to take and which to leave. No vehicles, our hunters will work with horses. This works to further bond with nature and also requires a great amount of respect and patience. They will learn to respect guns and how to use them extremely efficiently. These things will all help them to develop and live healthier and be stronger physically. It will turn some people who could potentially be our worse problems into our biggest source of pride. This will be another way in which these hunters will learn about community. People will treat them with respect, especially elders when they see young people going back to our ways. This respect and admiration will encourage them further to accept a role as protectors and providers in our community. It all works very circular, the more they do for people, the better people treat them, and the better people treat them the more they want to do and so on.
Now I haven’t mentioned young women very much but I definitely do not overlook their importance. In my way of thinking there is no measuring the importance of certain people over others. We all have roles to play in a healthy community. The reason I haven’t mentioned young women is that I believe it is the role of the women in our community to do for the girls the same kinds of things I have suggested for the boys. They should teach them to do things for the community that also help to fulfill needs. They could take part in gathering berries and medicines, learning to care for sick people and learning to make clothing and other vital things. The role of women in a Cree community can be better defined by someone other than me but the importance of those roles is no less than any.
There might be some young men who maybe have a young family started or maybe for whatever reasons do not want to be hunters in the way I have described above. There are also a lot of other people who will need to help out with other important work to provide for our community as well. One role that is also important in my vision is that of agriculture. I don’t see it exactly as we’ve come to think of agriculture today although a lot of the tools and techniques will apply. First off the livestock raised today is not natural to our diets and has caused, in part, very adverse affects to our health. Diabetes is the main one that comes to mind. Scientifically it takes many generations for a group of people to become accustomed to a new diet and we have barely even begun that. Our elders living today grew up on and still maintain a traditional diet. So we have only suffered for maybe two generations what we will have to suffer for quite a few more before we are accustomed to this new way of eating. In that light, it actually seems a lot more beneficial to go back to eating our traditional diet as much as possible mixed in with the best nutrition currently available. I will get more into nutrition in the health section. So my vision of agriculture includes buffalo, which is a healthy alternative to beef, much leaner and not subjected to generations of unhealthy chemical processes. Buffalo are harder to work with in some ways and easier in some ways. It would be advisable to take down some of the fences and divisions of our reserve in order to raise buffalo. Now this probably sounds like a very controversial idea to many and I will get into that further in following sections. The point is if we raise stock like buffalo as a community for the community as a whole then they belong to everyone. That is the best way to prevent jealousy or mishandling of resources.
Other animals can be raised as well, such as chickens for example. Small animals like these that aren’t dangerous but require some attention are a good opportunity for younger kids to get involved in community affairs and to learn from older people. I need to make a point here even though I will probably cover this again. All of these jobs and positions I am suggesting we have in our community, they might not all be paying jobs, or they might be. Either way the goal should be to make sure everyone has everything they need. If we have everything we need for our families and we know we have earned it and have helped others in the process that I think we should be content and a lot better off that most of us are now. So I can’t say exactly how that part would work though I might make suggestions on how it could work later on. Anyway, back to the chickens. One thing about raising animals is that we have to see the mistakes current farmers make out of the desire to make as much money as possible. We do not have that problem. If we are raising animals for our own consumption than our main concern will not be money but health. We want to raise healthy animals, not unnaturally fattened or genetically altered. People do all kinds of things to animals to try and make as much money as possible off of them and because of this a lot of new sicknesses have developed. These practices are not natural. We should have large areas to allow animals a variety of habitat. Natural areas to graze, for shelter, to calve and so on.
Another aspect of agriculture is gardening and growing plants. The healthiest foods in our traditional diet or any other diet are fruits and vegetables. I will go into that further in the health section but for now I will just say that these foods are vital in getting all the vitamins and nutrients to be healthy. Gardening also can be done a lot differently and more naturally than is currently the case as well. The best idea I have seen for growing gardens is to create a forest of edible and healthy plants. By that I mean instead of having cleared land and having to cultivate and turn the soil and all of these things you allow them to grow as they would naturally. Gardening as its done now works to erode topsoil and is not the most respectful of the earth.
Now if an edible forest sounds unrealistic I will explain the idea further. First of all you gather a list of all the plants, whether it is berries, herbs, fruits, vegetables, that grow in our area that we can eat. Out of that list you say what grows the highest and can act as the roof of the natural areas where they currently grow. If this is trees like chokecherry trees then we plant choke cherry trees as our garden roof. Then we look at what plants grow in a medium range and which grow as roots or close to the ground. If we combine the plants in this way we will have them grow naturally as they would in the wild with very little tending needed. You plant some strong plants that act as weed fighters and bug repellents. A lot of people around the world use this very technique to grow all the fruit, vegetables, and other plants used in their diets. There are things you can do to make sure they will grow again and this can be done in very large areas. Plants naturally filter the air we breathe and a having a variety of plants is always a bonus. Some people might be very interested in these things and can research them and work in our community’s gardens.
Between hunting and agriculture outside sources of food will no longer be needed. There may be very healthy items from outside sources that will not grow on our land and in our climate that we may want to continue to eat but even without those things we would still have all our dietary needs being met. These concerns are what led a lot of nations and tribes to do the things they did and settle in the places they settled. We are fortunate that our ancestors settled where they did and we can use it to our advantage.
Fishing is another source of healthy food available to us. The extent to which fish are vulnerable to pollution is greater than land animals and therefore we need to monitor and study toxicity levels in our fish to make sure they are safe. Fishing is a year round activity for the most part though it must be done differently and in different places depending on the season. We have a lot of people who are experienced with all forms of fishing and it is very realistic that we are able to fish communally enough to have it as a mainstay in our diet. There would be a lot of concerns with the amount of commercial fishing and illegal fishing in our area that we would have to address in some way. We currently do struggle with these laws and some nations or native groups do try to stand up and fight for these things. Just as with hunting or the other things I’ve discussed, if we are actually using our waters and fish to live then we have a much stronger position to argue fishing rights and these kinds of things. We would be the number one group on the lake that is concerned with fishing. In order to further strengthen our position we must use fishing methods that take into account sustainability and conservation.
I sometimes ask myself whether administration is necessary in the form that we have now. Does it take up extra money to have all the bandhall staff who administer programs to people? This is a touchy subject, for one I work at the bandhall. But in reality I think if we start to make our own programs that are in line with our vision then we will still need people to oversee and administer them. Will it be exactly as it is now? I don’t think so. As it stands now people who are supposed to be the ones benefitting from the bandhall and band staff don’t always know about programs and help available. A lot of programs are not as effective as they could be. The channels between the bandhall and the people are too few and people are not as informed as they could be. A lot of times when some training or opportunity comes along people are just rounded up quickly or just happen to stumble upon things by coming to the bandhall. But most of these problems wouldn’t exist in a community that was together in all things. The communication would be there and people wouldn’t miss out.
I think we should try to eliminate as much as possible the disparity between our people. What I mean is there is too much of a gap between those who make the most money in our community and those who make little to none. We don’t want to be a miniature version of the United States or Canada. We don’t want to have to compete with each other to get ahead because even in the richest societies this becomes a competition for survival. It’s no wonder we don’t agree on a lot of things when there are a very limited amount of jobs and opportunities to get ahead. I think if we are all pitching in to help take care of each other’s basic needs as I have outlined above then staff could afford to get paid less as the burden on their pay checks will be less. By doing this we could afford to hire more staff and do a better job delivering programs as well as cut down on disparity between people. We don’t need to be rich, the need to be rich and collect a lot of wealth is a manufactured want made by the same people who will sell you stuff once you do get rich. It is not a requirement of a good life to have lots of money. In fact in many cases it can actually bring a lot of problems and isolate people from everyone including friends and family. Only about 5 percent or less of the population of any society is really wealthy so it’s easy to see why they are set aside in everyone else’s mind, they are a huge minority. We could have incentive programs instead that might be more effective. If everyone is pitching in and the band is prosperous then we could start to send people to different places as a reward. As long as this doesn’t happen only for a select group it might work better than a steep pay scale where some people are left extremely poor. This is what the current financial system and thought process does; it leaves some people behind. It works like this, if there is only so much money or resources and we are allowed to compete for them then the more certain individuals’ get the less others get. So if only a few in our community make most of the money then a lot of people live with less. This needs to change if we are ever to start working together. Everyone must feel some equality in order to feel obligated to help each other and this is a much better way than doing the capitalist thing of competing with each other.
It doesn’t make sense to me that we have a school that is being threatened to close down when we have enough of our own kids for it to stay open. In the most basic way of looking at it the benefit of having a school means that the money we get for tuition stays in our own community. This is even more of a benefit if we are to hire our own members who are educated as teachers and/or have knowledge to offer our students. I understand some people’s concerns with a lack of discipline at the band school and things like this but again I find that this is a community problem. For one thing, if our children were disciplined to begin with then we wouldn’t have to wonder why they weren’t attending and so on because they would be. It is pretty much a lack of effort from everyone involved including the kids and they learn it from us. We need to set better examples and take more interest in the school and in the work that they are doing. There are a lot of things that they learn that we could also learn if we were more involved. Further concerning our school, it is the Swan River band school so I’m sure if there are things that need to be changed we can change them. I will keep coming back to working as a community because this is the main element of my vision. If we are working together we can have a unified idea of what our school needs to run like and then make sure it happens. If we do this we should feel comfortable in sending our kids and therefore the school should be successful.
Now my idea of education is also a little different and is in line with my goals and ideas of a healthy community. I think kids in school should start interacting in the community in positive ways that are going to familiarize them with everyone as well as give them the same sense of community that I think everyone should have. People from the community with different skills should be part of the education process. The hunters, farmers, fishermen, that I have described should also take part in educating our children. Every person is free and every child should have the option of going to college and getting a western education or staying here and getting a traditional education. But while they are here in our community and our school they should be introduced to both. They should be taught history that will make them proud of who they are. They should be taught skills that will allow them to live good lives if they chose to stay here. Also, we should read the textbooks that they have to study. What are they teaching? If the view of textbooks approved by the government do not portray an accurate picture of history according to us then we shouldn’t accept them. We should suggest alternatives even if they only apply to our kids. This way when our educated children go out into the world for college or jobs our views will be represented and made known by young people who are strong and proud and come from a community that is the same way. You hear a lot of people talk about the importance of education but don’t often see anyone really take part or think to check what ‘education’ actually consists of these days. There are trends that students in Canada as well as other countries are being taught less than before and are at a lower level of education than kids from certain other countries. We shouldn’t allow that to apply to our kids. I agree that education is important and we need to be a lot more involved.
I think most people could look around and say that we are very unhealthy. How many members can you think of who have a very high level of physical fitness? How many can you think of that are very active? How many are very balanced? I think we have a lot of work to do on our health and this is so vital that nothing else works without health. We need to take a balanced approach towards health.
Mentally we need to challenge ourselves and strive to learn all the time. Be mindful and pay attention to what’s going on around you. A lot of us are so into our own little worlds that we have a false shelter against the bad things going on around us. We need to wake up from this state and take part in solutions. Mentally we need to maintain a balance between honouring our own beliefs and being open to new ideas. We should not limit ourselves or be ignorant to what goes on around us as a whole, but we should still hang on to valuable teachings and beliefs from our history. Mentally we should strengthen ourselves with games, and challenges and interaction. Social activities like spelling contests and stuff for kids, community movies with educational themes, crib, poker, and handgames, discussion groups, and a community newspaper would all allow us to grow mentally. It is important to gain the mental capacity to be able to have the problem solving skills to deal with issues facing us as a community or individuals as they arise.
Physically we need to be able to complete tasks that we don’t now take part in. This is a big part of being self-reliant. Our dependence on others has allowed us to become lazy and avoid the hard working nature of our grandfathers. I am not saying we need to all lift weights and work out. We just need to be active and eat more nutritiously. If we have roles in the community and take part in activities it might be enough for most individuals in terms of physical activity. Also we are made to think so highly of self-image that other areas of health greatly suffer when we are physically unhealthy. We become emotionally and mentally low. We need to stop thinking so much of what we look like, but we also need to get in better shape as well. Physical health is to be able to do the things we need to do and to be able to enjoy the things we like to do as well. Nutrition is a big part of this. We can get rid of diabetes very easily with proper nutrition. If certain things really threaten our health and serve no real purpose we should get rid of them. We can make our own, or buy healthier snacks and treats. If we are able to keep drugs out of our community we will then be in the same position, and it should make the same sense, to keep other harmful items out of our community. More and more foods are being identified that have huge health benefits for preventing diseases and degenerative processes. A lot of this kind of knowledge is already known to us and has been used for generations. We need to once again incorporate this knowledge into our lives.
Emotionally we suffer from tragedies that affect whole families and often the whole community and we are even becoming numb to these things as they become more frequent. Our children are going through the phase between childhood and being adult with almost no guidance at all. It takes a lot more time to mature this way and even then it’s very hard to be totally healthy emotionally. Our adult population is often dismissed and they feel it. They feel so hopeless because of the lack of opportunities and attention for them. This doesn’t mean to baby a whole generation; it means to give them roles in our community, to place some importance in their lives once again. A lot of our elders are very angry and they have a lot of reasons to be. They are the only ones standing up to a lot of things and it shouldn’t be that way. Our elders should be free of most duties and therefore allowed time to interact with community members and oversee activities. Their role is mostly to make sure everyone else is doing the right things, right now not many people are so the elders are overloaded. This also applies to elders as well; some of them are not fulfilling their roles either. This is an infectious emotion that a lot of us share. We see people not doing their part and so we decide it is unfair for us to help out if they don’t have to. All attitudes and emotions are infectious. So if we start to build a wave of positive thoughts and emotions it will gather strength just as the negative ones do.
Spirituality is a little more difficult to be able to say clearly what is healthy and what is not. Some people in our community strongly believe in Christianity or Catholicism and swear that it is the right thing to do. Some people go to sweats and pray in our traditional way and find peace in it. Some people hold other beliefs and some maybe hold no spiritual beliefs at all. I think for all the unexplainable thoughts or feelings or happenings we have and see there is spirituality to answer for them. Some things are beyond our understanding but they are still there. These things become much clearer when we apply spirituality to them. So I feel the need does exist to take part in these things.
A lot of religions or belief systems have some rituals that are environmental in nature and involve paying a lot of attention to detail and demand a lot of respect for your surroundings. I think these practices are very helpful in remembering where things come from and placing an importance on natural things. We have come to unconsciously accept western views that things that occur in nature are gifts for us to use as we wish. This is obviously wrong and even western society’s smartest members are saying they need to slow down and start having more respect for their environment. We have the advantage of already knowing these things and living in areas that are still not over-developed. We need to maintain these areas and spirituality is a big part of this. I do not agree with following one religion and having the attitude that I now know what’s right and wrong because of my religion and my religion is the only way to truly live a good life. I think religions that look to tell people absolutely how to live are too constrictive and will limit your life. If you never experience something because your religion tells you not to can you really say you know that it is wrong or not?
Now there are some basic truths that most all religions agree on and that are helpful in any society. Do not kill, do not steal, treat people as you would have them treat you. All these kinds of things are very helpful in a community. Do we need a religion that we are all united in? Or are spiritual beliefs too personal and we should allow ourselves the freedom to believe what is true for each of us? I think we should maintain a balance in these ideas as well. We should openly teach all that nature has to teach, meaning the lessons in nature. A beaver building a tall dam means higher water levels coming, and so on. These are practical and useful to know but also create a spiritual connection to your surroundings. Religions have condemned our ways before, we should know by the damage that has been done that this is not the way to do things. We should not build ourselves a rigid system of beliefs where we condemn those who are different. This would mean we have been changed by those who believed we were uncivilized and needed to be changed. I encourage every person to read and learn what every religion has to say. We should all have some kind of relationship with god, the creator, the universe or whatever each person chooses. It helps to make things not seem so critical all the time. We can still work with a purpose and dedicate ourselves to things but we will also have peace in our lives and the ability to accept that some things are beyond our control.
Tobacco, alcohol and drugs
All of these substances that people abuse were at first made for useful purposes. Tobacco was used as an offering and in prayer. Alcohol has many applications, medicine being one of them. Many drugs were also used for spiritual purposes or for medicine. It’s strange how people stumbled onto something making them feel different and then it caught on from there. Anyway, the use of alcohol, tobacco, and illegal and prescription drugs in our community is out of control. It is very crippling for us as a whole. Almost every unnatural death that we’ve had in the last few years has been alcohol related and most have been drug related as well. A lot of the poverty, malnutrition, and abuse that go on in our community are at least in part due to drugs and alcohol. People can, and do, argue back and forth that there are other problems that lead people to drugs and alcohol, or about how bad it really is and that’s fine; maybe it’s not so bad and maybe it is. But that fact is that we would be better off without any of it and that’s a fact that it’s not so easy to argue. Alcohol kills people’s liver, it impairs judgement and coordination, it leads to birth defects and so on and so on. In my thinking there is no such thing as a social drink because there is no link between drinking and being social. People are social at church gatherings and powwows and there is no drinking involved. We drink publicly at parties and all over and show our kids that it’s ok. This is not acceptable because they are the ones who die or get hurt while drinking for the most part. And if some people are not in a position to care about their own kids and the example they set for them, then the rest of us should step in and take care of things.
Prescription drugs have been a major problem for years and often these drugs are the hardest to quit because people aren’t willing to admit it’s a problem since they are prescribed. A lot of prescription drug habits are not the users fault directly. If you trust your doctors then you are likely to take whatever they give you without looking into the drugs for yourself. This is a big mistake that leads to misuse of medication. I was prescribed a drug for anxiety and I took it whenever I felt symptoms. After a while I only felt calm when I took a pill that day. When I read about the pills I saw how powerful and damaging they were and I stopped taking them. This was hard because my body had grown accustomed to them. Coming off of the pills was actually worse than the original symptoms. It is always better to take care of yourself and remain healthy through preventative measures rather than treating sickness as it comes up. A lot of times we will be given pills to fix one thing that are harmful to another part of our health. We need to have a health staff that checks people’s medications and explains them and maybe in some cases administers them. We also need to control symptoms and conditions naturally as much as possible. This field of health, natural treatment, is growing very fast. It comes from the belief that everything we need is somewhere in nature and therefore we don’t need to make up medicine when they already exist.
Illegal drugs are a touchy subject too. For example, some smoke from illegal drugs is less harmful than cigars or cigarettes. So why are these things illegal and smoking is not? For me, the degree to which illegal drugs are harmful varies and can also be argued. But again I think they all do some damage and therefore we would be better off without them. I have done pretty much everyone out there and I don’t believe any of them made me smarter, stronger or a better individual in any way. I actually did a lot of stupid things on drugs and to get drugs. There are a lot of serious drugs that have very bad effects on people in our community. There are also a lot of other inherent dangers that come along with these drugs. It is an illegal activity so there are the dangers of violence and criminal activity that we do see some of in our community. The only upside to drugs is money and even then the money usually is spent on other drugs or weapons or alcohol. A lot of young people who deal drugs would rather do something else if they had the opportunity. Often these are the smartest, most respected young people who have the influence and resourcefulness to be drug dealers. By losing these guys to the drug trade we are losing some of what would be our strongest and smartest members. We need to offer these people something much more appealing than a life of anxiety, violence, and abuse. We also need to help people come off of these drugs and become a productive part of our society again.
I don’t have much to say about tobacco. In the form of cigarettes it is among the biggest causes of death anywhere in the world, as much as wars or natural disasters. They don’t have any upside to anyone except the government who makes a lot of money off of the taxes along with alcohol. To use tobacco in ceremony is a tradition and it is symbolic. As something that you smoke for pleasure or just because of addiction it is not necessary in our community.
We would be better off to get rid of all these substances. I have sometimes taken part in the debate of whether some legal drugs are worse than illegal ones or whether all are bad or good or whatever. In the end it is very easy to conclude that we are better off without any of these things in our lives. Do people have fun or enjoyment on drugs that they couldn’t have otherwise? I think people have enjoyment without drugs that they couldn’t have if they had a drug habit. This is my feeling and I have tried life both ways. I would say, to have a productive life where you contribute to your community and family then you will have to be active and drugs and these things will get in the way of that. The kind of life that comes with the drug world, the abuses that come with alcohol, all these things sort of creep into our community and we slowly just accept them as things that will not change. But if we do not accept them they have no choice but to change. If we create a community environment with no place or time or want for these things then we won’t have to dedicate extra time and resources to fight against them.
Obviously I have an opinion on a lot of things. I could go on and on. But the main point is that we can do better than we are now, as individuals, as a community. We could live better lives and ensure better lives for our children. We could have a positive impact on the world around us and be a part of changes for the better. We could have a home that is always a safe place for members to come back to and for people to come and visit. Everything I’ve said may not be the best way of doing things, but at least its discussion so that anyone with a better idea can feel the need to speak up. There is no time limit on hope; we have not run out of it. We can spark it any time we want and allow it to lift us up. I think it is now a good time to do that.
As a community we have artists, hunters, geniuses, warriors, scholars, and leaders. As a community we are whole, we have no weaknesses. So if we work together in that way I don’t think there should be any fear of anything. Challenges facing us become things we look forward to as we want to see how we will overcome them. To me, these thoughts are genetic. They were there before I could understand them. Now that I try to make sense of them I think it is just a part of being native. We take care of each other and all things around us. We respect all things around us because we can affect them and they can affect us. The more caring and compassion we put out the more we will receive.
I wanted to cover a few more things but I am just writing this on the fly and I don’t want to lose my train of thought. Basically, it all comes down to whether we want to change or not. We can commit to it and we are on our way or we can dismiss it and continue the way we are. I think Cree thoughts and I would like to live a Cree life. What does that mean in today’s world? I was hoping everyone could help figure that out. I think it’s worth looking into.