Things are not looking good for remote First Nation communities in northern Canada. In particular, there are serious problems developing for communities up the James Bay coast and much of this has to do with global warming and changes in weather patterns.
My people, the Cree of James Bay, could always more or less count on food, products and fuel being shipped up by barge in the summer and by the ice road in the winter. Although air transport has been available for many years, it is reserved mainly for passenger travel as the cost is very high to move goods by aircraft.
Very rapidly, over the past few years, it is becoming obvious that the great changes in weather are affecting the movement of goods to remote First Nations. Weather is playing havoc with the winter ice roads. When I was a boy a few decades ago the winter road was built from Moosonee to the James Bay coastal First Nations in late December and it lasted until April on average. Now, with the great changes in weather the ice-road construction has to wait until late January and it melts much earlier in March. This means fewer necessities like food, fuel and consumer products are delivered to these remote First Nations.
As a child I recall the importance of the barge arriving in Attawapiskat. Even back then when weather conditions were more stable and predictable it took the great expertise of barge captains and local Elders to make sure these huge watercraft could navigate the shallow James Bay and make it into landing ports at our remote First Nations. With global warming we are seeing changes in the water levels of James Bay and that is causing great concern for the continued transportation of goods by barge.
The warming trends in the Far North also affects road construction that is being considered in all of these remote First Nations. You have to remember that much of the coastal area around the great James Bay is made up of muskeg, which is more or less like sponge, and it is very difficult to construct anything on this type of surface, such as rail or roads. That is primarily why there are no roads or rail lines north of Moosonee.
I find it strange that our federal and provincial governments seem to be caught by surprise and little has been put in place to ensure that these remote First Nations will continue to get the necessary goods and fuel needed to provide for their people. As a matter of fact, rather than assist First Nations governments, tribal councils and communities with proactive support and development, they are doing their best to tear apart Native organizations all across the country by cutting their funding in many areas.
Obviously, as things go from bad to worse for First Nations, our governments want to sweep everything under a rug and are doing their best to smother the voice of First Nations people. However, this mean and nasty strategy will not work in the long run. First Nations organizations, government, tribal councils and communities will organize across the country to develop a stronger voice. We are masters at survival.
Long after the various ruling governments have faded into the past, my people will still be living on the land as our ancestors have done for thousands of years. We will still be honouring our connection to Mother Earth and taking care of each other.
As resource developers plan huge projects on traditional First Nation lands in the north, we will be insisting on being at the table as productive partners. We will be doing this at a time when our own development on our First Nations will be depending on a fair share of the wealth as resource projects take place. We will also be actively planning and participating in any roads or rail line development to make sure that in the haste of searching for treasure Mother Earth and our traditional way of life is respected.