So, in my last Lansdowne House post,
I decided to rename my Northern series
The Lansdowne Letters
instead of the more despairing
Then, I sat down to write today's post.
I was struggling with where to go next,
so I googled Lansdowne House yet again
looking for something, anything, for direction.
There is little information on-line
about Lansdowne House ~
It is invariably described as a remote community
located in the northern reaches of Ontario
with fly-in thrown in sometimes for good measure.
And just try to find a map you can use legally!
Location of Lansdowne House
Look in the upper third of the map.
Follow the Attawapiskat River inland from the left tip of the largest island in James Bay.
Halfway along the river you will see a large, fat Attawapiskat Lake.
Lansdowne House is in the middle of that lake.
Click here for a zoomed-in view.
that Lansdowne House is now often referred to
as Neskantaga First Nation.
But it didn't sink in until I was struggling with this post.
I chuckled as I read about Neskantaga:
still northern reaches.
So, on a whim, I googled Neskantaga
for the first time,
and the results plunged me into despair.
Some things don't change.
Human refuse is still human refuse.
Even a child recognizes
when people are treated like refuse;
and a passionate, idealistic girl
can stir up a lot of trouble
for the adults
peopling her small world.
You can shut someone up,
bury a story,
hide the truth,
but if things don't change,
it's bound to bubble up out of the muskeg
at some point in the future.
You see, today there is a suicide crisis
in remote, fly-in Neskantaga
in the northern reaches of Ontario.
In 2013 twenty-seven young people attempted suicide,
and seven committed suicide in a twelve month period.
Now three more have taken their lives.
Community leaders have said that the suicides
are the result of the fourth world living conditions
in Neskantaga First Nation.
I read the litany of wrongs:
lack of housing, clean water, food security,
and adequate health care.
And I remember.
I remember the nurse Mike Flaherty
teaching us a lesson on sanitation,
while sketching a map of Lansdowne House
on the blackboard in our tiny school.
Indian and white,
we children watched his white lines grow to depict
the long peninsula sticking out into Lake Attawapiskat,
the Father's Island,
the Hudson Bay Post and the nursing station,
the Indian log houses,
and my family's home in the forestry building.
Sketched Map of Lansdowne House
Drawing by Donald Blair MacBeath
© M L (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
as Mike marked waterholes on the map:
those of the Indians and ours,
and with every hard white X he scrawled,
I can still hear Mike say, "Death. Death. Death."
Path to Our Waterhole
Painting by Donald Blair MacBeath
© M L (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
with waterholes now.
No more climbing down
the snow-packed hill
with my two five-gallon buckets.
No more hacking through the ice
with the long-handled ice chopper
to open our waterhole
in the subzero cold.
No more lugging the heavy, slopping buckets
back up the hill and into our house.
No more emptying and straining the ice-chunky water
through layers of cheesecloth into
our twenty-five gallon water barrel.
No more watching the tip of the eye dropper
as I carefully add one drop of Javex to the barrel.
Yup, my harried Mom
trusted ten-year-old, turning eleven me
with purifying our drinking water,
so our family wouldn't get sick
from the bad water in Lansdowne House.
You'd think after half a century
things would be better.
The conditions in the North
are not a new story.
They're an old, grim story.
My chapter was lightened a little
by a loving and fun family
and the incredible human beings we met,
shimmers of light piercing the night.
I just have to wonder.
Anybody going to listen this time?
Northern Lights Near Hudson Bay
wikimedia ~ Ansgar Walk