Most people I meet who are non-Native have a false perception of who my people are. I find this is even more so with European or Asian people as I travel through Spain.
For those of us who were born and raised in a First Nations community, life has not been a bed of roses.
It is not easy to live in a land that is so far from the rest of civilization. The climate in our northern remote communities is extremely harsh. If life were perfect and we Crees on the James Bay coast still lived the natural nomadic lifestyle of our ancestors, we would be more happy.
The reality is that most remote First Nations communities are very poor, with few employment opportunities for community members as a result of a couple of centuries of domination by other cultures.
Many of my people have lost hope.
There are many drug and alcohol problems in our remote First Nations communities and this is tearing apart the hearts and minds of our young people.
Thankfully, there are people who are trying to make a difference, but they are few and they have an uphill struggle.
It has only been a decade since my community of Attawapiskat acquired running water, hot water and modern indoor toilets in most homes. I remember during the 1980s most people had to use outhouses and there was a series of ditches that ran through town that reeked of sewage and water waste. Alcohol and drugs flowed freely into the community. We only started to construct decent housing for my people over the past decade.
Thankfully, our Elders are now living in more comfort.
It is very difficult for people to leave their remote community and move to live in the south. Most people achieve this by going to school or through the help of family or friends on the outside. There is little support from family and friends in the community when a community member decides to leave. Many people criticize the person who is making a move and declare that life on the outside is dangerous. This is strange to me considering that some of the most dangerous places in Canada to live are probably remote First Nations communities. Our incidents of tragedy and suicide are very high and we do not have doctors in the community in case of emergencies.
One key to success in living on the outside is to find and then to maintain sobriety. Although I believe very much in preserving our First Nations traditions and cultures, I also believe we should be able to live anywhere we choose and to travel and see the world if we can.
Anyone who is living in a remote community who wants to venture further south and experience other cultures and ways of living should do so. However, they must realize they may get very little support from their family and friends who cannot or do not want to make the same move.
I am grateful for the moves I have made and my community is still very important to me. My hope is that many more of my people will have the opportunities I have had and that our combined experiences will make our culture even stronger.
This past week I made friends with a Korean and a Japanese man. I met them while traveling and spent some time sharing our cultures through stories. I have a much better idea what the Korean and Japanese societies are about through this sharing with my two new friends. Many of the myths I had held about these cultures have been cleared up. I am sure they also have a better idea of the James Bay Cree culture as a result of our meeting.
Not surprisingly, we found we had more in common than not. I am reminded of the words of John Lennon in my recent travels, “You may say that I am a dreamer but I am not the only one. I hope some day you will join us and the world will be as one.”