In reading the news headlines today I noticed that one of the main stories was about my home community of Attawapiskat on the James Bay coast. The news item highlighted the fact that there is a housing crisis happening on the James Bay coast in communities like Attawapiskat, Fort Albany and Kashechewan. People are actually living in tents and sheds. This is not exactly news to me. As long as I can remember housing has always been in a state of crisis on the James Bay coast.
I grew up in a crowded living space in Attawapiskat. As far back as I can remember, I shared a single room with at least four or five brothers. We had two sets of bunk beds and a large double bed in one room to accommodate us. Our parents had another room to themselves and our sisters had one of their own. Privacy and a space of our own was not available. We shared our home with each other and often many other family members and friends. If we felt like having a bit of privacy we left the house to spend time outdoors.
A crowded home was a normal part of life for me. For the longest time, I thought it was how people lived in the rest of the world. Most of my friends, cousins and relations lived the same way. Nobody had homes with just three or four people living in them as it was more like 10 or 15. It was never easy to share those little houses back then but we had no choice.
The only time I ever felt a sense of having my own private area to call my own was at school. At least in the classroom, I had my own desk where I could keep my books, pencils and anything else that was special to me. There was a sense of ownership and privacy in keeping small keepsakes in one place where they were somewhat safe from so many other hands. School was a break for all of us even though it felt like a very foreign idea.
I remember watching family television shows and seeing teenagers or children with their own rooms complete with a bed for one, a desk and a fish bowl on top of their own dresser. Their homes were large and had so many rooms. I thought that this fanciful lifestyle was how wealthy people lived and it was not the norm. It was a big shock to me when I attended high school in Timmins and North Bay and discovered that just about every family had a big home. In the south I found that children really expected to have their own rooms.
Although things were tight for us about 20 years ago, I always thought it would get better and the promises from our leaders and politicians would come true for more housing. However, the situation has only worsened and now things seem to be out of control for our local First Nation leaders to handle. There are far too few homes for far too many people. Statistically, Native people are identified as one of the fastest-growing population segments in Canada but our housing needs are not keeping up with this trend.
I commend MP Charlie Angus and MPP Gilles Bisson – both of the NDP – for bringing this crisis to the attention of the public and the governments of Canada and Ontario. Perhaps someday soon their party will be in power and things will change for the better for my people.
There was another headline in the paper today that caught my attention and that had to do with the fact that this past October, the world population surpassed seven billion people on our planet. I couldn’t help but think that our Native communities are reflecting now what will happen in other parts of the world in the near future.
Experts are predicting that the world population growth will have an effect on housing, food supplies, transportation, energy use and material consumption. Scientists estimate that our species generates a great deal of food but we waste tons of it every year and we also consume over half of the world’s available freshwater supply. Even though we may be consuming a great deal of the world’s resources, nearly a billion people still go hungry. The distribution of wealth is not fair.
If we can’t offer a solution to over-crowded homes and an insufficient amount of houses for First Nation people on reserves in Canada, how is society in general going to deal with the world-population growth in the future. If our government is finding it difficult to provide a solution to Native housing, how are they going to deal with mass transportation, food supplies, waste management and affordable housing for a growing population? We need an entirely new way of thinking and we need people in power who can offer creative solutions that are geared to making sure everyone has a chance at a good life and not just a small percentage of the powerful elite. I think we will desperately need leaders like Charlie and Gilles to take us to a more peaceful era where the playing field is fair and honourable.