Tomorrow morning I’m travelling to the remote northern First Nation community of Pikangikum.
I’m not quite sure what to expect. I’ve read extensively about the reserve of 2,400 people, and its past troubles.
A 2011 report by the Ontario Coroner, following a spate of youth suicides, states:
“Pikangikum is an impoverished, isolated First Nations community where basic necessities of life are absent. Running water and indoor plumbing do not exist for most residents. Poverty, crowded substandard housing, gainful employment, food and water security are daily challenges. A lack of an integrated health care system, poor education by provincial standards and a largely absent community infrastructure are uniquely positioned against the backdrop of colonialism, racism and social exclusion arising from the historical plight of First Nations people including the effect of residential schools. These all contribute to the troubled youth, who appear to exist in a dysphoric state, caught between the First Nations traditions and cultures of their forefathers, and contemporary society which they are poorly equipped to navigate and engage.”
In advance of the trip, the chief gave me a stern warning: “We don’t want any more negative media coverage.”
I hope I can fulfll both the chief’s request and adhere to my journalistic integrity at the same time. I’ve a feeling it might be difficult.
But I’m not going to look at the negatives. They’ve already been widely dissected. I am going to witness the work of a group of people, mainly engineers, from Toronto who’ve taken it upon themselves to raise money for the community and help them to help themselves. They are installing water systems, looking to set up a portable saw mill, and a range of other initiatives.
Progress is slow, but vital. They’ve already installed water system into 10 homes. That’s ten families who no longer have to trek to water points for everyday basic needs, or go outside in sub zero temperatures to go to the bathroom.
Tomorrow I get to travel to Pikangikum, a rare opportunity, and see for myself what the community – and those trying to help them – are up against.
Watch this space if you want to learn more about some of Canada’s most vulnerable and isolated people.