Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Attawapiskat - Take 3

(For a preamble to this post, you can read this first, and then this one.)

Attawapiskat is still in the news almost daily, and for that I am grateful.

How many of us had ever heard of "Attawapiskat" before the end of November?
I hadn't.   I'm guessing most of you hadn't either.

Now it's a word that most Canadians that follow the news will recognize.
And for that, I am grateful.

Can I be honest?

When I first wrote the blog post about our family focusing on Attawapiskat for the Advent season, I knew that my some of you would have a hard time swallowing it.  It's not the kind of story most of us like to hear about.  Suffering, substandard living conditions and children living in squalor don't exactly make for great Christmas reading.

But even more than that - I knew that the fact that the story was taking place on a remote First Nations reserve would make some of you uncomfortable.

As a general rule, we don't like to talk about how we as a society relate to and feel about First Nations people.  It makes us uncomfortable.   "We" don't understand Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) and the way their funding is dispersed to the Bands.  "We" don't understand Band politics and how different communities govern.   "We"  don't understand pictures where a family lives in a tent but has a big screen T.V. in the middle of it.  "We" don't get how a community builds a new hockey rink but has no funds for a school.   Something rises up in us.  "We" want words like "accountability" and "work ethic" to come into the conversation.

Anyone who knows me well, knows that I've never backed down from a good political debate.  I'm a news junkie, and even though most of my news of choice comes through our national broadcaster, I like to think that I approach issues and stories with a healthy dose of open-mindedness and realism.  In all of the things that I've written about the crisis in Attawapiskat, I don't think I've ever laid blame solely on one part of the equation.  There's plenty of "blame" to go around.  And as I've mentioned previously, the Chief and Band Council of Attawapiskat have an abundance to answer for.  I've never disputed that.

Let us not forget, however, that when INAC passes out funding, it's not a blank cheque.  The powers that be have to sign off on expenditures and approve projects for the community before they come into being.  Surely some of the blame belongs there too.

What we're not talking about is how most of the people in Attawapiskat have become so voiceless, and powerless that they weren't able to stand up and insist on better action and results from the Band and Council.  Ask yourself what has happened to people to result in them giving up their ability to call out corruption.  When you are sitting alone in a tent covered in black mold with your four children while your leader sits idly by,  what makes you feel so invisible and hopeless that you can't demand and expect something better?

Silenced voices... powerlessness ... invisible beings ..... hopelessness - those are the issues in Attawapiskat that make me want to do something.

You can call me a bleeding heart Liberal or a "left-coaster", and I'll wear those badges with honor if it means that I'm standing beside the silenced ones.  That's where I want to be.

In the last week, some family members have emailed me the link to a SUN media commentator named
Ezra Lavant and his take called "Understanding Attawapiskat".  While those family members might have felt that they were enlightening me to the issues - pointing me in that direction really wasn't necessary.  You see, I already knew the issues.  I'm not naive and rarely put on rose-colored glasses.  Listening to commentators like Lavant only achieve one thing for me - they agitate me.  A little agitation is mostly a good thing.  So often, it gets the ball rolling and makes us act one way or another.  What agitates me about pieces like Lavant's rant is the tone.   He's the Canadian version of Glenn Beck.  The "Beck-like" tone smacks of arrogance and if there's one thing that makes me tune out, it's that.  Thank you for kindly trying to point me in the "right" (literally) direction, but I think I already found my destination.

I'm making myself at home where the invisible sit.   I don't so much care how they got there - but I want them to find their voice and be seen.  There are enough others out there who will trace their steps right up to their present situation, that much I know.  I only hope that some of the people tracing their steps will come and ask the voiceless ones to show them  their stories too.


  1. Karla. I've always admired your commitment to the daily news. But its more than that. What you're tuning into is injustice for the most easily forgotten and dismissed. The ones that are SO EASY for us to dismiss for a myriad of 'reasons" or impressions. Your questions about what makes someone silent, or unexpectant of justice, housing, fairness, a half decent life.... these questions give me pause. It's so complicated to care... when it "makes more sense" to dismiss and ignore. your heart is what I'm hearing. love you, kid.

  2. Brilliantly put, Karla. One who questions the heart that cares, has forgotten their own deep sense of purpose. Judgement and condemnation are all we have left when we abandon our responsibility to share and care. Keep speaking your truth so that we may all hear the silent voices, including our own.