CM . . .
. Volume XXI Number 35. . . .May 15, 2015
Much has been said and written about Chief Teresa Spence of the Kattawapiskak First Nation. Her hunger strike to call attention to the deplorable conditions at Attawapiskat brought on both praise and condemnation. While her motivation and personal integrity were attacked, there can be no denying that her cause was just and there is much to be done in Attawapiskat.
In The People of the Kattawapiskak River, Alanis Obomsawin again allows the people of the area an opportunity to tell their stories. At 700 kilometres north of Timmins, Ontario (my home town!), Ottawa seems content to ignore the fact that the community is in need of much assistance. Those interviewed talk about living in houses for two years without running water, no washroom, and their electricity provided to the house via a single extension cord. Because of the distance, the freight on materials to build or repair homes is prohibitive.
Initially, the people of this area lived in the bush, but as land was taken away, they moved to the village. In “1970, the population was 600; now there are 1700”. This rapid population growth and inadequate housing has left many without homes. There could be “20 to 30 people living in a small family home”. The houses built in the 1960s and 70s are mould-filled and need to be rebuilt. This poverty exists despite the village’s proximity to the DeBeers diamond mine 90 km to the west.
Instead of assistance, the call for help inspired the federal government to accuse the band of mismanagement, and they appointed a third party manager to take control of the finances. When the local Bingo money profits went to the purchase of a new Zamboni for the rink, pseudo pundits like Ezra Levant cried that “such money should have been spent elsewhere”. The arena is used “until 11 pm each night”. Area MP Charlie Angus states that the arena is essential in giving the local youth somewhere to go, and he “challenges anyone who sees this as a frill”. In interviews, the locals are allowed to show how substandard their living conditions are, but they also show how much they love the area and will not be driven from it. There is family and community here, and they are willing to fight for it.
The rest of the film shows the battle between the band and the government over the appointment of the manager who was making “$1300 a day”. The band challenged, and the government backed down. However, the band, not satisfied, took the government to court. Much debate is presented as to whether this is necessary since the manager had been removed. The matter went to court anyway. In August 2012, the courts deemed the appointment of a third party manager, “both illegal and unnecessary”.
While I normally have nothing but praise for Obomsawin’s work, The People of the Kattawapiskak River is pulled down by the court proceedings that seem to go on forever. Many questions linger about the situation in Attawapiskat, and no solutions are put forward. Perhaps that is not her intent. The film could simply be a presentation of what is happening there.
This film would not work in a classroom as it is just a bit too long for one period. For a Law class, the court challenge would be interesting, and the interviews with the residents of Attawapiskat could be used in a Social Justice, Ethics, Politics Sociology, History or Native Studies class, but, as a whole, the film is not as captivating as her other works.
Recommended with Reservations.
Frank Loreto, now retired, was the teacher librarian at St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School Brampton, ON.
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