The Cree world is never one you can stand back and fully understand. It is like the many rivers our ancestors used for highways. A wise man once said a river is a place where every step you take is new. I guess that’s the rushing water and all that.
It’s not that simple though when you look at the problems First Nations face in Canada. Our children are more likely to end up in jail than get a high-school diploma when one looks at Statistics Canada’s figures. It shouldn’t come as a surprise when you consider that one in four children in First Nation communities live in poverty. Hungry children can’t learn when their minds are focused on food. Sometimes there isn’t even the opportunity to access education easily. Some 40 First Nation communities are without schools here in Canada.
Poverty is to be expected when you consider the average unemployment rate for on-reserve First Nations average about 25% (2006 Stats). The same stats showed the average household income was $15,958 and when you consider the population boom the results are frightening. On top of this, the Feds have changed the food-subsidy programs for the Northern communities. Given limited employment and economic opportunities in remote areas we can only wonder at what the future fallout will be in terms of further widening the gap between Natives and non-Natives in Canada.
An opportunity for change though exists for First Nations. Yes, we are Banana Republics in the sense that all we have are natural resources and the frontier of exploitation is moving ever further north. One only has to examine the Plan Nord to understand that the desire to occupy the North is more than politics, it’s also profit driven. Look at the potential mines and the new roads Cree will see encroaching deeper and deeper into Eeyou Istchee. I’m sure the forestry companies will enjoy the benefits of easier access.
Companies, such as Cree Crown corporations like the Cree Construction and Development Company and other individually owned Cree companies, can create jobs, make profits and gain expertise and experience. We know that the Banana Republic economy can’t last as some mines will only have a life of 10 or so years. Counting the building time of five years and the shutdown and reclamation period, we might add another seven years.
If we look at the example of Cree Construction, though, our potential growth is greater. They have shown us that the dollars can flow back to the North. Right now money from resource exploitation for the most part goes to the South. Every Cree who is employed or has a company buys in his or her community. The dollars fuel our needs and ensure more people work whether it is in stores, restaurants and supply-and-service companies, for example.
Our youth need to understand there are opportunities and a future, but you have to have the education and training to make it happen. Our quality of life can improve while affirming our rights. All First Nations must become involved to ensure a fair and equitable future that not only means participation but decision-making in what the future will be for them and their descendants.