We live in a world where we depend on services such as electricity and natural gas. Everything we do seems to involve turning something on. We keep our food stored cold in coolers, preserve food for future use in freezers then cook our meals with the help of microwaves and stoves. At the same time we live in a home where our world is lighted with electric bulbs or halogen lamps. At work we spend time on the computer, phone and fax to complete our tasks or communicate with others. When we are sitting quietly and resting, electricity powers our televisions and entertainment systems to comfort us and most homeowners in the south use natural gas to stay warm.
Life up north on the James Bay coast is also dependent on electrical power. Our situation is much the same as the south when it comes to power but people are more comfortable when a blackout occurs. It is common in Attawapiskat to have regular power outages due to the use of a diesel generating station. It wasn’t too long ago when electric power did not exist in the far north. I am the first generation to live with all the modern comforts of today. My parents and others from their generation grew up in a world where there were few conveniences. As a matter of fact that was only a couple of decades ago.
Imagine living a life without any electricity. I shared a glimpse of this lifestyle with my brothers and sisters when our parents took us out to visit the land on regular excursions. Both my mother Susan and my father Marius were perfectly comfortable without any electrical power. Everything seemed more relaxed and comfortable without the blaring of a television set and its hypnotizing commercials or the sound of modern music playing in the background. Our time was spent around the warm glow of a fire at night and under the sun during the day.
Mom grew up north of Attawapiskat on the James Bay coast on the Nawashi River just south of the Polar Bear Provincial Park. She has told me many stories of what it was like growing up back then. She lived with her brothers and sisters, as well as uncles, aunts and grandparents who all worked together for the survival of the whole family. In the spring, men and sometimes women hunted for geese that were brought back to their camp. The birds were then plucked, gutted, prepared and cut to smoke over the fire. They lived in a log home that accommodated their large extended family. In the winter they kept warm around a large wood stove they used for cooking and heating. I can imagine mom as a young woman, by the light of a dimly lit lamp spending time with her sisters and brothers recounting their day of adventures on the land. This all took place in the 1960s and 70s.
Dad was born and raised on the Attawapiskat River and also grew up with a large family. He lived his early life on the banks of the Attawapiskat River. As a child he lived a life that depended on the land and the food it provided. People tried to store away food for future use but this was difficult during the warmer months of the year. He experienced many times of famine along with his other family members due to the fact that food had to be harvested on a regular basis during the summer. There was no grocery store around the corner. If the food was not available, there were few preserved meals to turn to. People had to work every day to survive on the land.
Most people take our modern conveniences for granted and we all expect that they will not fail us. During the blackout this past month, living without electricity became a reality for a short period of time. I think it was a wake up call for me and I think for many people and made me realize just how dependant we are to the perpetual flow of electrical power.
What would happen if we lost most of our electrical supply and our natural gas flow? Wow what a thought. It would be a real horror show if it were for long. Strangely enough I am very happy that I was raised without having to depend on any of these luxuries and I know it would be possible for me to survive without them. However, it would be the utter chaos and panic of modern day people that would cause the real problems. Life in Attawapiskat would simply revert to what it was like 20 years ago. I guess being ignored by progress all those years kept us close to the land and dependent on mother earth. When the lights go out, we will survive.