Sunday, 31 October 2010

Bucket full of something ... and it's not water.

Saturday's Free Press included another one of their impressive multi-page exposés. This one was about the appalling conditions in the Island Lake First Nations communities, centering around a lack of clean water. It contained compelling stories about hardship, and heart-breaking pictures of children living in squalid conditions -- all the sorts of things that the obscure journalism organizations look for when they give out awards. However it also contained a bunch of exaggerations and misleading information.

I wasn't planning on writing about this at all, but by chance I happened to meet up with an acquaintance this weekend who works up at Island Lake. It was this acquaintance who told me that the story was exaggerated. For example, we read about these families who have no choice but to haul water by hand in "a used oil or chemical bucket." Not likely, says my acquaintance. Nobody hauls water by hand, they haul it with their Ford F150s. You don't have to take my friend's word for it though. 40 seconds into the video on the Free Press website two ladies put on a show for the camera by hauling water up the hill with their Chevy Silverado in the background:

I don't want to minimize the importance of clean water, but the continual references to third world refugee camps are unreasonable. They refer to the "dirty lake water" as though it were a muddy slough in the savanna. Remember, this is the same land that is so "pristine" that the government is spending over $1 billion to route Bipole III around it. So pure and untouched is this land that it demands the protection of UNESCO heritage status.* A family in Buduburam Africa would kill for this kind of access to water.

I also don't deny that there are serious health issues at Island Lake and Red Sucker Lake. We have seen the reports of TB and H1N1 outbreaks, and the rampant diabetes. But is this really all just an inevitable result of not having running water? People have lived for centuries without running water, and it wasn't that long ago that it was common to have large families crammed into a small house here in the prairies, but yet somehow the floors got swept and hands got washed.

At one point as the author, Helen Fallding, was interviewing a resident, a very young child showed up drinking a can of Dr. Pepper. Helen, applying no critical thinking whatsoever, paints this and the diabetes that is sure to follow as an inevitable result of not having running water. Now I'm not a botanist, but I am pretty sure that the toddler didn't pick this can of pop off a tree in the back yard. That pop was purchased at a store. The same store that sells bottled water, juice, and any number of other beverages. Red Sucker Lake, Wasagamack, St.Theresa Point and Garden Hill all have Northern Stores. Northern Stores, in case you have never been in one, have a grocery section not unlike a Food Fare. Perhaps not as well stocked in these cases, but you can be damn sure that they sell bottled water. If your toddler is drinking Dr. Pepper, is it because of parental neglect, not necessity.

You can't help but wonder what else is due to neglect. One has to tread carefully when talking about these sorts of things, but it is hard to avoid the subject when you hear the same things from almost everybody who spends time on a northern reserve.

Another picture in the paper showed a guy, Gordie Rae, carrying water up his driveway with a presumably broken late 90s Dodge Stratus parked on one side and a late 90s Dodge Caravan or Plymouth Voyager on the other, the later with a missing wheel. What the hell happened? My car is late 90s and I'm planning on driving it for another 10 years. (It's not a Dodge, mind you).


Yet another picture shows Soloman McPherson dumping sewage in a sprawling garbage pile next to his house, with a circa 2004 Chevy Tracker in the background. Would it be possible, maybe, to use that vehicle to take your garbage to the dump? Garden Hill does have one. They all do. St. Theresa Point not only has a land fill, but a full time garbage truck that services all residences. Third world indeed.

Now suppose somebody doesn't have a vehicle to haul water -- which is unusual according to my friend -- but suppose. What about the neighbours? I attended a United Way event recently where the speaker was a very well spoken lady of aboriginal descent. She talked about how sharing everything you had was part of their culture, and about how it was necessary to survive in the past. Whatever happened to that? "Oh your Dodge broke down? Tough shit buddy." Is that the attitude now? When did selfishness become part of the culture? Perhaps around the same time that the chief and council started making six figure salaries? I don't know if that's the case, or if the author is only implying that it's everyman for himself. I don't know what to believe in this story.

What about the location of the houses? I have always wondered about that. The story points out that "No running water means that homes are built without bathtubs." In other words, homes are being not being built where the water is, but off in the bushes somewhere. Sometimes kilometers away. After the home is built they expect the government to pay tens of thousands of dollars to pipe water through the granite outcroppings and forest to these far flung residences. Who decides where these houses go? My understanding, and correct me if I'm wrong, is that the individuals do not own any land. It is all reserve land, and is controlled by the band council. I'm making an assumption here, but could they perhaps do a better job of planning their community in such a way that access to water would be maximized?

If the names of these reserves sound familiar, it might be because of an event last year during the H1N1 outbreak when the government sent dozens of body bags to the Island Lakes First Nations. The chiefs were outraged. So much so that one of them flew himself and a small entourage down to Winnipeg to express their outrage in front of the TV cameras. (You may also remember would-be mayor Judy Wasylycia-Leis getting on board calling it "the ultimate expression of incompetence.") Of course as it turned out the reserves' own health care workers ordered the body bags, and in fact they were sent fewer than they asked for. Yet the cost of that one trip alone could have bought everybody in the community a clean pail to haul their water in ... assuming it were needed. But these are the kind of grandstanding buffoons that we're dealing with here. Judy was right about incompetence, but she was talking about the wrong people.

So here we are: people surrounded by pristine ... oh sorry: "dirty" for the purposes of article ... freshwater lakes, with grocery stores stocked with various beverages including water, yet nobody can wash their hands or clean their floors, and kids have to drink pop. That's how it is, apparently. Helen and her crew sought out the most appalling houses and woeful people of the 10 thousand or so that live in the four communities, exaggerated their hardships, and portrayed this as the victimization of a hard working people by a negligent government. I have no doubt that they will win awards for outstanding journalism for this masterpiece, but perhaps the Giller Prize would be more appropriate.

*These communities are not actually in the proposed UNESCO zone. They are to the north-east of it.

20 comments:

Mr. Nobody said...

Incredible to think that millions and millions of immigrants and refugee's sought this "new " land and were able to make due.

Yet, somehow, First Nations are incapable? I don't buy it.

Good post Cheren.

Anonymous said...

Great post

I lived in Northern Ontario
(Pickle Lake) and the Reserves are the same there.

The only problem with the First nations is that they have become spoild children always looking to mom and dad to look after them and clean up there mess.

Our problem is some have made it fashionable to do so.

RM said...

Bravo

One Man Committee said...

There is a letter to the editor in today's Free Press from a Joyce Keating in Carman expressing a similar sentiment. You can find it here .

redronnie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
redronnie said...

Let me be clear, I am First Nations, I have running water, I don't run to mom and dad, I'm not spolit nor am I incapable. Making wide sweeping statements on a group or generalizations is foul at best. I don't need anyone to clean my mess, nor do I consider these issues fashionable. What is fashionable is making statements under the cover of anonymous.. hate is becoming fashionble, undertones of hate is fashionable.

Anonymous said...

you are right red ronnie

so I will apologize for my broad overview. but it does go out to those of whom the shoe fits.

I am personaly not offended when someone generalizes on how the white man supresses the native because I do not.

The hate door swings both ways we as a society should not be made to feel guilty for something that happend hundreds of years ago.

The First Nations are given many oppourtunities that the general public is not and many see these oppourtunities wasted and yet are still blamed for others situations in life I for one refuse to be blamed for others laziness.

Maybe they should look to thier leadership for where all the money and oppourtunity has gone


As for anonymous my name is Justin Brown if it matters that much to you.

redronnie said...

Thank you Justin Brown, you are correct in a number of your statements. However, I don't hold racist views of "The White man" considering I married one, nor do I hold the opinions of others as an indication of who they are or whether or not they are racist. Rather, I look at the source of information they have been provided with and how these judgements have been made. By the way it wasn't a few hundred years ago..many of the social issues which plague these communities were compounded by the residential school system which the last one closed it's doors in 1996..I am not defending, rather pointing out a reality..and I am far from lazy or looking for a handout..I am however looking for that winning Lotto 649 ticket..so I can retire from my stressful job and live a quiet life in the south of France where the sewer system is hopefully is in good condition

Gustav Nelson said...

Excellent post Peanut!

Native peoples have no one to blame but themselves for the conditions they live in. There are no fences around those reserves.

The one huge difference between reserves and mainstream society is property.
Anyone living on those reserves doesn't own anything, except the luxuries they have, like the satellite dishes, vehicles and video games.
Otherwise people there don't own the land and they don't own the houses. Why take care of what you don't have value to.

And just for clarification, I am of native descent. My mother is fully Cree. I have been to a reserve far north past Thompson from where she was from. There they don't have running water either, so they have their water brought into each house from a water truck. Each day someone has to dump the poop bucket.

It was very odd because there, no running water, but another town I worked at called Norman Wells, which was way further north was able to develop running water and sewer.

Anyway, my point is that they don't have to live in such conditions if they choose not too. They'll have to abandon the collectivist mentality though.

cherenkov said...

Thanks for the comments, all. I admit I was expecting some less positive remarks for some reason.

unclebob said...

Aside from the comments on the issues described I am terribly annoyed at the journalism tactics of the freep in pandering to the voices of entitlement without at least a cursory look at governance issues which are crying out for attention.

DriveGoddess said...

I lived in a remote cabin with no electricity or running water and raised our son in that environment. Yes, we had a house in the town up the road but we preferred being out in the woods. We used an outhouse. We dug holes in the lake ice to get our water by the bucket. We had a sauna where we "bathed". In the summer we had a small motorized pump to bring water into the cabin and our power was a combo of solar and jenny.

We burned our garbage, what little we created and took anything like cans and such off-premises to a proper dump site. Our grey water was carried out of the cabin to a distance far enough from our lake.

Our son never drank soda pop nor was fed other junk foods. We lived on fish and wild game but also ensured that we had a varied diet.

I say this if anything to prove that bush living does not have to mean bad living....and no, we did not own the land under our cabin either being it is on crown land.

So what the hell are the excuses in some of these communities? I do not understand as I grew up without running water. What gives people?

cherenkov said...

Good question..

DriveGoddess said...

As well I can further comment to having lived in at least four other countries where my residence did not have running water. We had to go outside, fill a bucket of water to flush our toilet, do our laundry and dishes at outside sinks, save the grey water for the plants being that our area would go through dry seasons....

My water tank got cleaned out towards the end of the dry season every year.....then I would await the rains.

I keep thinking of the term "elbow grease"....quite appropos methinks after of course folks are EDUCATED as to home maintenance issues.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post Cherenkov! Why is it that critical thinking seems to be only in the realm of the blogger?

(Whoops! Rhetorical question... I'm sounding like a Free Press journalist :-)

Anonymous said...

My huisbands first reaction to the article was - we didn't have running water at our farm and we dug a well. Where are their shovels?

Good commentary on an ongoing issue though.

cherenkov said...

Thanks, anons.

Anonymous said...

Oh man some of you are just dumb. Yea how about they go dig a well, and have it freeze up in the winter, on top of the the land is SO dry up there that grass wont even grow there. DriveGoddess, thats good for you that you can live like that.. but clearly you had the MONEY to actually live like that, when the majority of the people that live on reserves don't.

Now I am not saying that the Band is so good at spending money, because they're not. They actually suck so much at spending the LITTLE money they get that school has to close down from time to time because teachers don't feel they get paid enough to live on a reserve and teach. On top of low money and teachers needing more money to want to work on reserves, there is also a huge shortage in teachers, and teachers that do work up there don't care. Kids drop out of school so quickly because why go to school when you don't have any teachers.

So if the kids have no school, and no activities to do like oh i don't know SPORTS or malls, or anything else your kid in the city does! What are the kids on reserves gonna do play video games till they're 50? No they're gonna turn to food, drugs, and sex.



Yes people up there do have vehicles, but many of them don't last long... Why you ask? is it because of neglect or laziness to go clean and look after there vehicle? NO it cause of the roads up there shouldn't even be called roads because they aren't.

I've lived on 5 different reserves,for a total of 8 years.

cherenkov, yes there is grocery stores up there, have you ever shopped on a reserve? not all have Northern stores! So how about we go pick hamburger up at one of the stores...? Oh there is none, ok what about milk? Only if you feel like spending $6-8 dollars or $12 for choc. milk... OK lets forget that and get some veggies! oh there's none of that either. But you know what there is? A can of pop for $1... choc. bar for $1, same with a bag of chips... Waffles $6, Pancake mix $7. Your thinking why don't they go to a town and get groceries? Good idea they will use they're beaten up vehicles that wouldn't be allowed to drive in Winnipeg to get there. Why don't they get someone with a good vehicle to drive them or pick up foods they need!? Well they can't why? Well have you ever heard of a vehicle that could carry 1500+ people or that much groceries. You ask one person and everyone thinks you'll do it for them.

Oh why don't they just eat the fish they catch, um cause thats they're only way of getting money!

Anonymous said...

Oh man some of you are just dumb. Yea how about they go dig a well, and have it freeze up in the winter, on top of the the land is SO dry up there that grass wont even grow there. DriveGoddess, thats good for you that you can live like that.. but clearly you had the MONEY to actually live like that, when the majority of the people that live on reserves don't.

Now I am not saying that the Band is so good at spending money, because they're not. They actually suck so much at spending the LITTLE money they get that school has to close down from time to time because teachers don't feel they get paid enough to live on a reserve and teach. On top of low money and teachers needing more money to want to work on reserves, there is also a huge shortage in teachers, and teachers that do work up there don't care. Kids drop out of school so quickly because why go to school when you don't have any teachers.

So if the kids have no school, and no activities to do like oh i don't know SPORTS or malls, or anything else your kid in the city does! What are the kids on reserves gonna do play video games till they're 50? No they're gonna turn to food, drugs, and sex.



Yes people up there do have vehicles, but many of them don't last long... Why you ask? is it because of neglect or laziness to go clean and look after there vehicle? NO it cause of the roads up there shouldn't even be called roads because they aren't.

I've lived on 5 different reserves,for a total of 8 years.

spiritedmom said...

one man committe...i LOVED Mrs. Keeting's comment in press the following Saturday, thanks for reposting the link...

 
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