Before large hydroelectric dams, transmission lines and power stations were even heard of, we depended on the wood stove. The occasional house had electricity and even fewer had running water. Institutions or the Hudson Bay Company owned these houses and the best thing about knowing someone who lived in one was that you could take a shower or bath there. This was not that long ago and many children who grew up today never will use a match to start the wood stove and never will have to wield a pail to get washing and drinking water. It was those days when a young man with semi long hair and glasses arrived in our class at Fort George.
He said “You’re the highest level class in all our communities and next year you will leave to finish your education in the south. You are our future leaders and I want to know what your future will look like.” And then, to our amazement, he explained how the great river and others like it will be cut off and then massive areas of land flooded to provide electricity for southern cities and even the United States.
“I want to know what you can see in the future so that I can go and negotiate for these things so that you can have them when you return from your education.” Wow, we thought, anything we want, eh? “Anything” he replied.
This was better than trigonometry or that blasted French language class with all the passés composés. We talked among ourselves and some decided that skidoos would be needed in the future because his dad wanted ont to go out when his dogs were sick. And then I realized that this young man who asked us all these astounding questions and nearly scared us with what would happen in our back yard, what he was actually asking us. He wasn’t asking us for things, he was asking us to describe our future.
Free electricity and free education, I thought, running water included. New homes and roads with a vehicle in the front. An airline to call our own. As the results were read out loud to us, the young man seemed to be pleased with our requests for our future and commended us for our imagination. That young man was Billy Diamond, who we never thought was going to be a big chief in the future.
Alas, these days, the young are left out and the leaders in that classroom seemed to have forgetten that fateful day, when the young were questioned and taken seriously for a change. Now, the backroom negotiations are commonplace with agreements to settle for this or that land, to sell this or that resource, to pay or not to pay for deficits and somehow, swallow any profits into some large hole.
All the things we imagined to be a part of our future have come true except for the free electricity and all the things we never thought would happen as a result of the James Bay Project have become a part of this present day – alcoholism and rampant drug abuse (however, this is a world wide phenomenon and we are not alone), the loss of wildlife and the selling of natural resources and our own wild game which we worked hard to harvest in exchange for money to buy bingo cards, the general disregard for our own children’s future and the lack of respect for our elders. The television has replaced the great outdoors as entertainment and any bad weather system is greeted with our inability to step outside and enjoy the wonders of nature. Our legs seem to have grown wheels and an ignition switch or key only wears out our wrists, once capable of wielding an axe and splitting wood.
Perhaps our leaders should realize that the future is dependant on our children’s capacity to live in a world that is real and not artificially comprised of cartoon characters that are indestructible.
Although this column is supposed to be funny or humorous, I still think it’s ironic that for some sad strange reason, we have grown to accept a world that has grown and changed in leaps and bounds, a world that we often say is not real or could not happen to us, but wake up buddy, this is no dream or comedy. This is the real world where leaders sometimes come back to our communities to show their faces only to return to the glamorous communities of the south to wage battle with the enemy in a war that is now being waged in our own homes. I say, let’s come back to the drawing board and ask the young what they want in their future and perhaps they will surprise us with a vision that we could never imagine.