I read many newspaper comments recently and feel a need to place a few thoughts on paper. This whole issue of Native suicide and disenfranchisement in northern Canada has no short-term solutions. And the stories are getting worse each passing year. In 1967, I had the privilege of working as the sole Ontario Provincial Welfare Officer for Moosonee, Moose Factory Island, and the western side of James and Hudson Bay.
There were approximately 10,000 Cree living in a variety of reserves, and during that year I do not recall any reported suicide by any young person. I spent most of my time in Moosonee, a non-organized territory with 500 natives from many tribes, probably 30, in the whole of James and Hudson Bay.
Too often folks are afraid to express their honest-to-goodness POSITIVE opinion for fear of being ridiculed by ALL SIDES. It is of no value to re-visit the past, which is regurgitated ad nauseum in all the media; such a waste of space and energy. We need NATIVE leaders who are willing to sit down and talk with their brothers and sisters, or uncles and aunts, as all non-family members are called. And the non-native must sit down to LISTEN and stop leading or advising, and LISTEN, LISTEN to what is going on.
In my estimation, natives are very intelligent, ingenious in solving issues and bring a new dimension to any critical discussion on their challenges. They abhor the restrictions of our schooling system with the three "r's." New subjects should be introduced such as Native Cultural teachers coming to class at least once per week, introducing the good points of native art, language, an appreciation of nature, etc.
FORGET the battles of the past, or of the European subjection of Natives, at least during the formative years. We must override the constant reminders of the evil influences the Natives were subjected to, otherwise the same problems today will be occurring fifty years from now.
In my estimation there are far too many reserves causing splintering of culture, limiting skilled population and eking out a comfortable life style in isolated outposts, such as Kachechewan, etc on the western nub of James Bay territory. How can any child find a future in swamp and muskeg? A blending of reserves of less than 500-1,000 persons to a maximum of two thousand would create a better environment with shared skill and person-power. And a chance to work closely together by all Band members could prove to be beneficial.
I believe native reserves should be mentored by a better organized or more successful one. As well, non-native families could mentor one native family. Somehow we must show by example that successful native leaders and educated native persons have skills, which must be utilized. I strongly suggest native and non-natives sit down ASAP and speak with one another. Life is too short to demean each other---we all have faults.
Â Richard L. Provencher
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