During my childhood there were many challenges that our family had to overcome. We had no running water and the high cost of food forced our parents to work very hard to make enough money to support our family of 11. Life was a lot harder for my parent’s and grandparent’s generations. People did not have much to survive on. They roamed the land in a nomadic lifestyle that the Cree people had followed for countless centuries. The people moved with the wildlife and left an area whenever food became scarce.
People had to adapt to the hardships and understood what it was like to have nothing or very little. Families learned to depend on each other in order to survive through periods of famine. This was essential in many ways. A group of people could easily come together to learn where the best hunting or fishing areas were located. They could collaborate for a hunt to bring down large animals that could feed whole families. This was even more important during the summer as there was no refrigeration. The meat from a large moose or caribou could spoil easily in the summer heat so it had to be used up quickly. The large quantities of meat were divided evenly amongst several families and in doing so this fed a great number of people.
Everyone knew what it was like to be hungry. Travelers who passed by a relative’s camp were offered food, drink and lodging to help them on their way. It was important because those same people who received the help could some day offer their own assistance in the future. It was a network of mutual benefit to ensure the survival of everyone.
I remember many times traveling out on the land either on a boat or on a snowmachine and stopping at camps along the way. We were always invited in to rest during our travels and offered hot tea and some food and shelter from the elements. In return we left valuable food or necessities to those who helped us or for others who needed our assistance. It is not the same in the non-Native world.
The other night I watched The Nature Of Things, which highlighted the work of Stephen Lewis who is working to raise awareness of an HIV/AIDS pandemic that is taking place in Africa. The story I listened to was horrific and unimaginable. There are 26.6 million people between the ages of 15 and A9 living with HIV/AIDS in Africa, of which 50 percent of this number are women. More than two million people die each year and by the year 2010 over 20 million children will be without one or both parents.
I was shocked to hear this story and it made me want to find out more. After some internet research I realized that the situation seems to be getting worse every year with no sign that it might slow down in the coming years. I was also saddened by the fact that worldwide assistance for this situation is slow. Countries with poorer populations have people who can not afford the most basic treatment for the disease. These treatments allow a person to live with the infection longer and with healthier lives or at the very least alleviate the suffering that people with HIV/AIDS endure before succumbing to this disease.
It made me think of what my ancestors and many other aboriginal cultures around the world had to do to survive through hard times. To ensure that everyone could survive people had to help one another. My ancestors understood that if they made the mistake of ignoring the plight of other human beings, they did so at their own peril. They saw the world in a more holistic way with a realization that all life was connected.
I think this survival instinct applies in the same way when looking at the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa. As people in some of the hardest hit countries die by the millions every year, it has a direct affect on the population, society, development and economy. When this happens in a large area affecting a whole region of the planet it can have devastating and unknown consequences that can affect us all. Disease and anger have no borders.
We should all try to play a part in trying to ensure the survival of fellow human beings who are suffering. You might wonder what you can do? A very valuable and direct approach would be to assist Lewis in his work by donating to the Stephen Lewis Foundation. You can do so by visiting his website at stephenlewis-foundation.org. You can send him a note of encouragement too. He needs all the help he can get as our governments are ignoring this HIV/AIDS scourge.