Saturday, October 20, 2012

Dear Sagkeeng, let's talk.

Dear Sagkeeng,

"You're talking like a white man". Ever hear that statement? Lot of people use it when they are upset and want to stop you from saying something. I always wondered what "thinking like, or talking like a white man" was. I believe the answer lies in the actions from those words. Wait, let me explain. Generally speaking Sagkeeng is thinking like a white man. That is, we have adopted the white mans' credo of accumulation. Not cutting up that way of thinking but it is not the Indian way.  Did you every hear an Indian talk about their "net worth". Or how their "portfolio" was doing?  Most likely not. You see back in the day, according to the government, it was a great sin to give things away. That was the whole credo of Indian society: sharing, to give to others in and out of the community. The Indian society had the notion of the whole. That meant sharing with everyone. So a Give Away was part of their being. The government saw this acts of sharing strange. They also felt many other Indian ways were alien to them. So the government did many things to change the Indian.

 As for Today, when was the last time you went out and did something for someone else (other than immediate family members)? Have you went out and cut wood or purchased wood for someone in the community that needs it? Have you killed an animal, gotten fish and given to someone other than family?  It is that simple. Indian thinking and Indian ways are about sharing; about the whole. Europe is interested in the individual. European  Laws reflect the individual claim. So the Laws were enacted to stop Give Aways of the Indian way in the 1800's. These laws were an assault on the symbol of all that is Native. It was one of the tools Canada did to try and kill the Indian. And for the most part it worked in some areas. So today we don't think like that, we don't think of the Share.  It is a shame. We are concerned about our net worth, what ever that means. We are concerned more with what we can get as opposed to what the community needs.

Sagkeeng is in a deep hole of trouble. Just like most Reserves in Canada. We are becoming a cesspool of despair, dysfunction, greed, anger, jealousy, hurt, abuse, and undisciplined behaviour.  Before you jump up and down and say "who the fuck are you to say that, you fucking crook", let me explain. I know Sagkeeng has some great attributes and I do love my community. However, Sagkeeng is part of a picture that is being painted right now. That painting is being changed as generations come and go. We have been in the midst of change for some time. From when the time that the main travel route was the water ways, to the introduction of the produced goods (can goods like Klik etc.), the abandoning of sustenance lifestyle (not hunting trapping to live), the invasion of Christianity (assault on way of life), the Trading posts (dependency of produced goods-products), the flu epidemics (disease in the 1800s changed landscape of Indian people), the Treaties, the Indian Act, the Residential School experience and the introduction of the Chief and Council system (to name of few changes).  Our people, our community has endured all that. You can't expect us not to be affected negatively.

There are facebook pages dedicated to Sagkeeng and Fort Alexander. Fort Alexander was the Indian Affairs name for Sagkeeng.  If you go to these sites, you can see that there are a lot of strong comments and opinions. Not every one will agree to the point that threats are made. Some people have blinders on. They feel that all is fine and that if you criticize the community you are nothing but an arsehole. Others engage in juvenile immature behaviour and postings akin to the school playground heckles of nyah nyah nyah.  The posters do highlight that Sagkeeng could use some help. It can be downright nasty on those sites. An anger comes out from people that is downright visceral. A reflection of what bubbles beneath the being of the Sagkeeng community. Understandable, considering the history of Aboriginal people. Thing is not everyone has a grasp of the history of Aboriginal people, our people included. So how can we change the picture? How can we affect the changes that are happening all around us? When we don't understand where we came from and what is happening to us?

One of the things I think Sagkeeng really has, is a concern. We are concerned about our community and that is a great thing. How can we use that concern to guide us? I think one of the big things we do lack is discipline. We are undisciplined in everything we do and don't do.  It is reflected in our children and our community. We can start at home. We can start with how we conduct ourselves. We can try to exercise our compassion to the community. Discipline our kids. They need that. Not negatively but constructively. We need them to be in school on time, to listen to the Teacher, to the adult. How can they respect other adults when we don't show that respect ourselves. It is just too damn easy to cut each other up. It is not enough to verbalize our respect for others but to actualize it. We need to start with the foundation of being a community, to share. To be good for the community. To think of what the community needs, not what I need.

You know the ills of the community are not to fall on the shoulders of one particular Leader(s). It is a compounded affect of years of pressure. Pressure to change into a material culture. Pressure to want the next best thing. We can blame all our woes on poor governance, corrupt officials, but in the end we need to be that action.  Our leaders must understand what their role is in a community. They must understand the underpinnings of how the role of leadership has been corrupted by years of control by colonial thinking - white man thinking; You know, control and power. Reserves, even though technically had Chiefs and Councils, were in fact fun by the Minister of Indian Affairs through Indian Agents. And that is a fact. However, the reigns of the Indian Agent are no longer there, but we still behave like the people have no control. Any way...

You know questioning our leaders is a good thing. They need to hear the people. But not just for our wants and needs, but for the whole community. I don't want to go to the Chief and ask for a house, a loan, a new door. I want to go to the Chief and talk with him/her about the direction of the community. How can we get people to rally around the community. It can be done. Just look at those young boys (Sagkeeng's Finest) that won the Canada's Got Talent television show.  It was that Aboriginal community in Canada that helped those boys. The Aboriginal community rallied around and made things happen.  I need our community leaders to ask themselves, "am I here for the benefit of all"? To ask themselves, "am I able to help the community, do I have the skill sets to make a difference"? "Can I truly listen to the people"? "Do I have the guts to face the tough questions and can I make the right decisions"? I think that is a hard thing to look yourself in the face and see what you are and what you are doing.

I don't see change happening in the community for the good. We are trapped in a mindset of white thinking. We want what we want for us and only us. Many will give lip service for the "good of the community". But is only lip service. Ever single elected official wants to do good, but they are incapable. So they just get engulfed in the system. Pacify the whiners, criers and complainers. Give them a soother and they will be happy. Happens to every single leader we get. Of course we have had exceptions. Late Dave Courchene Sr. was one of those few who thought of the community first. Not as many since then. My Dad says Late John Thompson was one of those few leaders that looked after the whole community as well. Some leaders have tried but they too are over run with the white mindset of the Sagkeeng community. Too bad. It is not really their fault, they are just too ill equipped to deal with the onslaught of greed, pettiness and jealousy of a whole community. The Councils have good hearts and the people take advantage of that. So it is not solely the Chief and Council that have failed but rather it is the nature of the community and the push for selfish gain.

You know what Sagkeeng is much more than that, much more than greed, pettiness and jealousy.  My Mom used say that Sagkeeng has some of the most generous people you will ever meet. Sadly, you meet those people only when a death occurs. We should be those people every single day.

Sorry Sagkeeng for saying bad things to and about you.

Actually I was quite reserved (:d) in my voice.



Sagkeeng First Nation Community.
An open Discussion

How is our community? Can we say it’s good, it’s fine?
In some ways it is fine, it is good. In some ways, it does have challenges.  The thing to ask about our community starts with these 3 simple questions: Where are we, where do we want to be, and How do we get there?   Each of these questions lends to more questions and actions.  I don’t have any more knowledge than the next person but like you I have an opinion and questions.  So let’s start this discussion.
Private land: I hear people speaking up about the privatizing of Reserve land. They have their reasons for the move. Sadly this type of thinking leaves no options for the children, grandchildren, great children and so on. If the land is sold off where does it leave those yet to be born?  No land for them and this is fundamentally wrong.  It’s wrong for a whole lot of reasons. The big fallacy is we will have access to cash re: mortgage and leveraging of land for cash borrow.  How are our financial management right now? How are FN’s doing who don’t live in the city now?  Also the notion of collective Rights?  Do we know what it means? 
Communication:  Sagkeeng should develop a communication strategy. Band meetings are not effective means of communication. Far too many self-interest are high jacking the opportunity to hear what is going on in the community.  Not to say we should abandon Band meetings. We could supplement the communication to add more information.  Staff of the Band should be active in providing information.  Perhaps news bulletins. Facebook is not really a viable option. Sure there are couple of councillors on facebook but the information is superficial and of no real value. It’s okay to vent and say you’re doing all this work, but information should be concrete.  It’s about substance versus style and superficiality.  As Councillors you may have the best intentions and be really active but it should be conveyed to the public.  If you are too busy or not sure of what to do, you have staff to work with.  You have to ask yourself what do the directors of each department do? They are all under the auspices of the Chief and Council whether they believe so or not. In addition the CEO should be active in the communication strategy.  There could be an active use of the local radio station for local initiatives and a news letter for broader actions. In any case it is the lack of communication which gives a lack of transparency to the Band Council.  Maybe each councillor could have their own activity reports for community members off and on Reserve.  The lack of information leads to negative gossip out there.
Education: There has to be a real change in the education administration and implement new challenges to the old rule of system. The lack of discipline in the hallways, in the classrooms and in the yards is evident. Having teachers smoking cigarettes with students in front of the buildings?  No regard for the roles of Teachers. The lack of participation from parents is disheartening. Teachers going through motions of teaching. Administration not thinking creatively or supporting teachers and programs. It trickles down to the students. Blindly following old programs and teaching curriculum.  Is there a measurement of how many make it from k to 12? What is the ratio of high school students going directly into post secondary and succeeding?  What are the measures taken to assist them in transitions? What are steps to maintain and increase language retention?  How is the school system reviewed? What is working and what is not working in the system?
Housing: What can be done to increase the life of a house? What new innovations are out there than can be looked at? Sustainable housing?  What of private ownership of houses? There needs to be a mind-shift in how home ownership is viewed. People say “my house” but don’t want to take on the up keep of owing a house. The first thing you see (or saw) entering the community is a house with paint on it saying “need new house – mold”.  Let us think about that and what message does it send or foster? We have a mind-set of “give me”. This is a very selfish mentality in the community. At a Winnipeg meeting one of the “Elders” just complained of not getting a house. No ideas of how the community can function in bigger terms it was just me, me. That is a sign of a sick community. Many of the people will say it’s my Treaty right to get a house.  Really?  So how can we make the dollars transferred to the community stretch for housing?  How can we get people to care for the homes provided to them? It is a bold move but social housing for many to be cut out. New housing strategy to be made.  Its community money and should be community property. So if you are abusing community property you should be removed and given to someone who will look after it. Instead we have people who burn down a house in the hope of getting a “burn out” home. We have people who have signed up for CMHC homes and stop paying. The burden of “their home” is now the burden of the community. The people who have done this and are doing this should be made public. We should get people to mortgage to the Band for homes. If you get a Band home the person should be made to pay for it. Simple. You will see homes being kept and the lives of the home being extended.  A housing strategy to determine how housing is selected, repaired etc.
Departments: There should be more accountability with the various departments. They should be active participants in communication strategy with the Band. Let the people know what they are doing in the community. How they are working together. Not trying to be Queens and Kings of their little islands/domains.  The combined resources would capture efficiencies which will have a multiplying effect in services provided.
Complacency:  The problems with the community is its state of inertia. People especially the workforce is comfortable in its mediocracy. It takes work, real effort to create change. So people are afraid of change because they are either comfortable just riding the pine or benefit from the status quo. They don’t want change as it may mean looking at their incompetence or having to make an effort at their jobs. How does that change?  A workforce that never changes?  Never gets reviewed or evaluated? Is never measured for performance or outcomes?  How can you know you are doing a good job, a bad job, if you never ever know the outputs and deliverables. This is true for every department in the community.
Chief & Council: The key to providing leadership is to act and behave as leaders. This is not the same as management. Managing the poverty of the community is not leadership. We have to really look at what governance entails.  Is there a role for C & C in resource management? We are killing all the moose in the area and are letting the province do the heavy lifting when it comes to conservation. We have no idea of what FML and other mineral licenses are out there in our Traditional territory.  We want to engage in giving monies to people and call it “discretionary funds”; hero funds it’s also known as. What benefit does this have on the community. First question we should ask; how does this benefit the community and the community’s future?  As individuals in the role we look at the actions and behaviour. We can’t imagine the toll the constant pressure takes on you and your families. A thankless job as everyone seems to be only interested in their own interests. However it’s not limited to the community members but the council itself. Let’s look at the gossip out there. This is where a communication strategy would help eliminate some of the gossip. For starters Johnish Courchene. It is known he has sued the Band when he was out of office. He took his loss badly and was vocal in putting down the Band. The court action was part of the Sagkeeng Alliance to stop a second vote on the Hydro Accord. Now it seems there is a conflict of interest where the funds of the hydro trust are to be used to pay off the legal debt of the individuals who hired a law firm to sue the Band. It means these individuals went on their own and sued our Band. Now they want our Band to pay for their decision. If this in fact true, there has to be something seriously wrong here. How can you represent the people, sue them and then use their money to pay for your decisions?  The other gossip is the bedding and food bank stuff. Many a rumour out there, but the note of contention is why do we have an elected official picking up beds and other items?  Sure that is a nice gesture and good for the community, should it not be an employee to do those errands? The other council member Mark Courchene is seen as just being an angry individual with only interests in his personal business. It is said he made a loan to his brother for 15 grand. Not sure if that is true. But that is the nature of gossip. And if it is true, there is a conflict or at least the impression of one. Not begrudging the loan, it seems to have been common practice with previous councils, the only thing is we need to be have transparency. So if loans are given at least make it public, rather than let the rumour mill spin it out of control. The other issue is just common respect for other elected officials and the public. Name calling is beneath an elected official.  Councillor Marilyn Courchene is very active in the community. However her strength is also part of her weakness.  Her emotional outbursts are entertaining but the messages get lost when that happens. She is seen as hostile to various departments in the community. However she is also seen as committed to the community. So it could be a question of balance. Joe Daniels is seen as not being seen.  There are a few who say he doesn’t engage with members. I think a communication strategy would eliminate that perception. Joe really needs to let people know what he thinks and sees in the community. His strength is that he holds no grudge and will tell you straight on what he thinks.  Derrick Henderson is seen as weak. It is said he is afraid to commit and make a stand. He wants to be liked. Being liked is a good thing but can be harmful to a role in leadership. He needs to be more forceful in his stance with colleagues and the community. Being a peacemaker is a good trait but sitting on a fence is not good for anyone.
So that’s the scuttlebutt of gossip. A communication strategy will go a long way in slowing gossip. It won’t eliminate everything as the community has some deep rooted sickness in it. 


  1. Well written well said. Thank you for sharing your thoughts

  2. I agree, well said. Though I have no experience of what things are like up there, I'm afraid the patterns you're talking about are way too familiar in a lot of communities. Where I come from (Virginia mountains) the sharing was never actually outlawed, but I can see a difference from even 35 years ago. Just telling people for long enough that they need to "get ahead" by squabbling over crumbs can cause a lot of problems. I know that some places (thinking of Qualla Boundary in particular here) people have been organizing official "Days of Caring", to help fix people's roofs and dig their gardens, etc.--but, I don't know how much this has helped with getting people back to doing more sharing than standing back and criticising on a day-to-day basis. Where I come from (Virginia mountains) the sharing was never outlawed, but I can see a difference from even 35 years ago.

    It really can get frustrating sometimes. Particularly when a lot of people don't even seem to see that they're also hurting themselves with this stuff.

    1. Sorry, I somehow got the same sentence in there twice-lmust have copied instead of cutting and pasting--and can't edit the comment.

  3. I really like that idea of "days of caring". That is a good thing. We should do that back home too.