Kashechewan is located on the south-west shore of James Bay at the mouth of the Albany River. The residents endured two evacuations; (although they are no strangers to evacuations for ‘normal’ flooding) one in October, 2005 because of water quality problems and resulting illnesses; the other a few months later in May, 2006 when flooding and ice damage practically destroyed the community, forcing another, major evacuation; one that was to last three months and scatter the residents over much of Northern Ontario.
The Globe and Mail has covered the problems of the community and four articles are analyzed in this report: John Ibbitson wrote, “The end draws near for Kashechewan”, November 14, 2006; Bill Curry wrote, “Kashechewan natives balk at leaving home.” January 1, 2007; Kate Harries wrote, “Wave of suicide bids hits reserve”, February 6, 2007; and Jeffrey Simpson wrote, “With no economy, Kashechewan is lost, February 7, 2007. Except for Simpson’s article, all were on page A4 of the paper – the Canada section – and all articles were prominent, including B&W pictures. Simpson’s article was on page A19; the Comment section, and he is a nationally recognized writer. His opinion matters to many readers on any issue he cares to write about.
While mainstream media practitioners are good at laying out the specifics of certain conditions, they generally fail to provide a historical perspective of problems in First Nations communities. While they may have the best of intentions, the consistent failure to provide a non-settler point of view in the coverage of FN issues means they do a disservice to FN peoples and the readership of their publications. The articles also rely on a heavy dose of pathos to drive home the seeming hopelessness of the situation. There is no analysis in these four articles, of what life was like before the white settler society began to impact the lives of the Cree people in the James Bay area.
Bill Curry states that residents are often evacuated because of bad water and flooding; (not technically true – some flooding has often occurred, with short evacuations necessary) that there is practically no employment, and homes are falling apart. He continues from the Pope Report that recommends that the Cree abandon their lands and move south which “… triggered a nationwide debate on the sustainability of the hundreds of other remote reserves in Canada.” Curry points out that the value of the lands may be increasing because of the presence of diamonds.
Both Simpson and Ibbitson agree that the community will never recover because it has no self-sustaining economy. Ibbitson flatly states that Kashechewan is “…doomed.” because “The logic of the market is implacable.” From Simpson we are delivered more despair when he admits that, “[y]es, the traditional hunting, trapping and fishing will produce food, but it is unlikely to produce income.” Not the Cree culture, nor any First Nations culture had a wage economy. Capitalism itself, and the required exploitation of land and peoples, coupled with the residential school experience, brought the community of Kashechewan to its knees. No mainstream media will treat a subsistence economy adequately because “[m]uch of the value of the traditional economy is “invisible” to conventional economic analysis.” For Ibbitson and Simpson, there is simply nothing to analyze except misery and failure.
Is it really true that the land is only worth something to the white settler society? Curry writes that Treaty 9 “… allowed Europeans to use native lands for mining and other purposes in exchange for reserves and annual payments of $4 each.” Yet, the diamond mines will be producing wealth not dreamed of by anyone in 1905. The Cree know better than anyone that it is not possible to eat diamonds. Some Kashechewan Cree may be interested in jobs at the diamond mine in Attawapiskat, reports Curry, but Deputy Chief Philip Goodwin says he only knows of a few who will get work at the mine, 90 kilometers away. (Ibid)
The Cree know where the true value of the land lies for them, even if Simpson and Ibbitson don’t. It’s in the wildlife and other resources of the bush, such as“… fur, fuel wood, berries…” A 1994 report in Arctic shows that calls for abandoning traditional lands is just an easy way out for politicians far removed from Cree history and lives. The authors state that harvests of wildlife and other products of the land were worth “… $9.4 million for the region or $8400 per household per year…”
While the authors do say sustaining a mixed economy will not be easy, they conclude saying “ Integration with the economy of the South, and the replacement of the traditional sector by [a] wage economy, as foreseen in the conventional view of development(e.g. Bolt, 1993:228) is not considered by the Cree as feasible or desirable.”
Harries’ article, probably the most sympathetic, simply reveals the results of one culture dominating another, destroying not only an economy, but also the will to live. She alone reports from Kashechewan itself. Her article opens with the evacuations and in the second paragraph; she notes the suicide of a 20 year old man – surely a picture of hopelessness indicating residents aren’t able to survive.
Her report is a good view of why it is not the Cree who are remote from us, rather that we are remote from them. She quotes a Health Canada official who says, “[a]t any given time, there are seven to nine nurses to address the health needs of the community…” The Pope report says the number of nurses are less, and so it goes as the settler society argues among itself, while consumers of news gradually come to accept the community must move because of implacable problems.
The mainstream media serve to close the door on alternatives for the Cree in Kashechewan. While difficult, the possibility exists for a mixed, sustainable and indigenous economy. Yet the mainstream media continue “… to be an all-too-complicit ally for sustaining racism in Canada while normalizing white privilege and power as natural and inevitable.” (Fleras, Kunz, 86). The “implacable logic of the market”, simply justifies genocide and assimilation.
Berkes, F. et al. “Wildlife, Harvesting and Sustainable Regional Native Economy in the Hudson and James Bay Lowland, Ontario.” Arctic. Vol.4. No. 4. Dec. 1994. 350, 358, 359.
Curry, Bill. “Kashechewan natives balk at leaving home.” The Globe and Mail. 01 Jan. 2007. A4.
Fleras, Augie; Kunz, Jean Lock. Media and Minorities: Representing Diversity in a Multicultural Canada. Toronto: Thompson Educational Products. 2001. 86.
Harries, Kate. “Wave of suicide bids hits reserve.” The Globe and Mail. 06 Feb. 2007 A4.
Ibbitson, John. “The end draws near for Kashechewan.” The Globe and Mail. 14 Nov. 2006. A4
Simpson, Jeffrey. “With no economy, Kashechewan is lost.” The Globe and Mail. 07 Feb. 2007. A19.
This article is an edited version I wrote as as an Essay, and this edited version is also posted on Blogs Canada