One final post for this blog and I am SO glad that it ends on an absolute happy note! After having been out of Shamattawa for almost a year now (it is crazy how times flies!), Saeed, who was our lovely neighbour and keeper of the dogs, arranged for Aurora and Pirate to be flown to Winnipeg through Save A Dog Network! He also has helped other dogs as well - ones that needed vet care and others whose owners wanted them to find good homes elsewhere.
Saeed was worried because Aurora would give birth and not only have her own puppies, but also took on the care for another few pups that needed her help. Following some struggles with financial support and making sure that Aurora, the puppies, and Pirate were okay, they were rescued! Aurora and the puppies went into foster homes and I am sure that they will all find beautiful homes! Pirate, when left alone, broke out of his crate in the home of SADN's owner and while she was gone...he went a little berserk! She came home to things torn up around her place, items knocked over, items chewed, and Pirate all worried and stressed out. Perhaps it will take him a little while to get used to not being a truly wild 'Rez' dog anymore!
Overall, he is a fabulous dog and very loyal, and when he calms down he will also find a new forever home!I am thankful that efforts are still being made in Shamattawa to help the dogs up there and to learn about caring for animals. So much still needs to be done, but each amount of small effort will make a difference.
Aurora with the pups - look at that smile!! Photo credit: SADN
A few days after I returned to Ontario, I received messages from Katie from SADN that Saeed had put Joy and Spotty Nibbles on a plane to Winnipeg. She was not expecting them and was quite shocked, but they quickly found fosters to take them after they had their vaccines and other trips to the vet!
Unfortunately, Aurora and Pirate are still in Shamattawa. It is possible that they will also get on a plane, but I know that they are true fighters and will survive up there. They are older dogs and the Rez is all they know...
Katie sent me a picture of Joy with his foster - he is quite the lap dog!
Spotty Nibbles in her foster home - She made a new friend!
All of the puppies that were at the Winnipeg Pet Rescue and Shelter, and Kat's Kritters (where Princess, Dame, and Knight were) have all been adopted!! ALSO, Princess has found her forever home!!
Thank you, Kat's Kritters for the photo of Princess. She is a happy girl and will make such a loyal companion!
There are so many animals in communities in need of help and even though I could only help save a handful, I am so happy that I had the chance to do it. All of the hard work paid off and it is a wonderful feeling knowing that the Pack members have been adopted, are now safe and loved!
If you would like to take a look at the websites of those involved in helping the Pack, or donate, the links are below:
Save a Dog Network Canada (SADN)
Winnipeg Pet Rescue Shelter
Thank you again to everyone who helped! You have beautiful souls!
Remember to donate to your local animal aide or shelter, spay/neuter, vaccinate, and help those in need!
We had our suitcases and bins packed. We were ready to fly out of Shamattawa and start our journey back to northern Ontario. The dogs were outside our door. Joy was his usual hyper, excited self, Spotty Nibbles seemed a little concerned, and Aurora and Pirate looked through our door as we moved things out. Pirate looked up, eyebrows curled with that puppy dog lab look. They knew we were leaving...I wonder if they truly knew we would not return, or if they would forget?
Sarah and Amy biked over because they had told me they had to see me again before I left. They brought gifts that they made and things from their homes liked. They came to give hugs and insisted on staying, even at the airport. It was incredibly sweet and made my heart fill with more joy. These two girls truly appreciated what had happened the night before and it meant so much.
I gave the dogs one last pet, gave Aurora and Pirate hugs, and then they quietly walked under the bus and lay down and just stared at me, heads down on the dirt in between their paws. The girls biked to the airport and as the truck I entered started to drive away from the Units, I saw the dogs stand up. They stood in a line, watched the truck go, Aurora howled, and Pirate followed with a small howl after her (he rarely howled), before they all went back to lie down near Saeed's Unit.
Being there hands-on to help the dogs had now come to an end.
Gifts from the girls:
- pipe cleaner hearts for Spencer (black and white) and I (purple and white)
- two charms
- drawings of love and of the puppy's name
- a little story they drew about meeting me, the bonfire, and Spencer and I on a plane
- a small wall hanging that Sarah had in her room
It was an overcast day and of course the plane was delayed. The girls, as bored as they were, still refused to leave me at the airport while I waited for Spencer and his mom. We walked around outside, in many circles, on a small trail. Even after Spencer and his mom arrived and we sat inside, Sarah and Amy still refused to go...even when they admitted to being super bored and hungry. They talked to us about many things and they gave me a piece of paper that was blank:
Sarah: "This one is blank for you to draw us a picture because we didn't get to have you as a real art teacher at school."
Me: "I don't have anything to draw with here in the airport...I will try to stay in touch though and mail you two a picture!"
Amy: "We will try to keep in touch! We want a picture from you. You're our best friend and we love you."
They stayed the whole time until we were about to board the little plane. They gave me hugs, told me again that they loved me, teared up, and I told them both again that they are strong and kind and to let that shine! They waved from the ground as we took off before they rode away on their bikes. Ontario was waiting for us.
The only problem with keeping in touch is that the girls don't have email and rarely go on Facebook, and there are no personal addresses in Shamattawa. I am still trying to let them know somehow that I will mail a picture, as long as they know it will be at the post office! Hopefully it happens - I don't want to let them think I have forgotten about them!
I still have their blank piece of lined paper...
The day before we left Shamattawa was intense. In between packing, Spencer and I were out in the sun almost all day with the dogs to give them lots of attention. Aurora and Pirate didn't want to leave our sides, Joy bounded around with 626 like the happy pup he is, and Spotty slept nearby in the sun. Everything was pretty calm until early evening when I ended up in a situation I did not expect...
Aurora, my pretty girl. She took a smiling selfie! Also, pictures of Spencer with Joy, 626 and Spotty, and Aurora and Spotty Nibbles lounging.
The last pictures taken of and with Aurora and Pirate...Good ol' pup hugs!
COMFORT AND A TINY PUPPY
While Spencer was out to collect wood for a bonfire, I heard Saeed talking to a couple of his grade 5 students outside. I looked out the door to see a girl sitting on the step, crying, looking at the ground, holding a very tiny puppy (a white and black spotted one that was maybe three pounds, with a puffy tail like a Pomeranian). She had blood on her hands, her friend was beside her petting the puppy, and Saeed gestured for me to come outside.
Saeed and I went to his place and he explained that his student had been more depressed in his class. She had come by with her friend to see him and the dogs, carrying the puppy they had found, and he tried to talk to her about what was wrong. She refused to speak to him and tried to cut her wrists with broken glass that was on the ground (broken window from our door). He asked me to talk to her and see if she would speak to another female because he was at a loss. Saeed is a wonderful teacher, his students adore him, and he was very worried.
I sat down beside them and introduced myself - they only knew me as "Mr. Rice's girlfriend." For the sake of privacy I will call the girls Sarah and Amy. Amy was more talkative and asked me questions about being up there with Spencer, all the dogs, her plans for the future. She explained that they had found the tiny puppy near a ditch with a small cut on her face, and the pup started to follow them. Sarah wanted to bring the puppy home because her parent's old dog had passed away and they had been thinking about getting another one. I told Sarah that was a very sweet thing to do and to take good care of the puppy.
I went inside to get some milk for the puppy to drink, and we sat out in the sun. The first 10 minutes or so Sarah was quiet and scraped her wrists with another small piece of glass. I gently put my hand on hers and convinced her to put the glass shard down. Amy, being young and having grown up in Shamattawa, seemed almost oblivious to how her friend was hurting herself. I asked Sarah why she was doing it and she said, "It's the only way out. I don't know how else to get out." At that moment I went inside and grabbed paper towel with warm water, soap, tea tree oil, and bandaids. I returned with them and helped her clean her hands, along with the puppy's scratch that Sarah wanted to clean. It made her feel more relaxed and she started to cry as she held the puppy close. I told her it was okay to cry and it was not a sign of weakness, that I cared about her, and that she is a sweet girl who now had an adorable puppy to bring home. She named the puppy Sweetie Ann.
A SAFE PLACE
I asked her if she wanted to talk about anything and that's when I was no longer just a Stranger in Shamattawa...I felt like a kind of Guiding Light.
Sarah: "Will you come somewhere with us?"
Me: Where would you like to go?
Amy: "Our safe place. It's where we go to talk or when we're scared. We don't bring anyone else there."
Me: I would love to see this safe place. Your puppy can come with us as well!
As we walked the girls opened up to me. They talked to me about how depressing Shamattawa is, how they want it to change, about the violence and murders, their friends doing drugs, those who had committed suicide and those who want to, how their friends want them to drink home-brew and smoke weed when they don't want to. They talked about the homeless dogs, animal abuse, their family lives, how they want school to be over quickly so they can leave and go to college, how they want to travel and go to Europe but are worried they'll never get out.
Behind the back Units and near trees, we came to a small row of what seemed to be old sheds and transport truck trailers on large pieces of concrete, the back doors chained shut with rust covered locks, moss on the edges, and piles of garbage underneath.
Sarah: "This is our safe place."
Me: Oh!...Do you sit on the logs beside the trailer?
Sarah: "No...it's inside. C'mon."
We ducked our heads underneath and there it was: a small, jagged, hole in the floor. We crawled under and I poked my head up in the hole, the edges against my shoulders, and my emotions felt heavy. To think that their safe place was a dark, windowless rectangular box filled with tarps, old school desks, stoves, chairs, among other things, made me feel sad. Their safe place wasn't anywhere along God's River where you could hope there might be some peace, but instead it was a cold, dark box. I moved a large metal pipe out of the way and pulled myself up. Sarah handed me her puppy who I kept on my lap to sleep, and the girls shuffled up.
We sat on old chairs and desks in the silence with an eerie energy around us. They talked to me about how haunted Shamattawa is, about how a girl had been murdered right near their safe place and they think her spirit was still there. They asked me about spirits and what to do to make them feel happier, about bad dreams, the ghosts they had seen and their curiosity with Cree culture. Luckily, I have had experiences with such things and could lend my advice and support with how to help spirits. They told me about their grandmothers who used sweetgrass to smudge and help clear bad spirits away, but that they could rarely discuss it because to everyone else there (the Christianized-Cree), it is thought to be witchcraft and the girls had been told they would go to hell. These kids were told they will go to hell...A scare tactic to bury their culture and ancestry, to prevent them from feeling complete.
Sarah talked to me about her family and how she would prefer to be in Awasis Child Care because her parents drink all night, come home at 6am, sleep until the afternoon and then drink again, and Sarah would be left alone with her siblings. She felt guilty for saying anything because she cares about her parents, but wished often that things would change. We talked about bullying, how she and Amy stand their ground for what is best for them. We talked about travel and things they enjoy. After long conversations in a cold box filled with laughter and tears, we crawled down the hole and back into reality.
A BONFIRE AND A BOND
I invited Sarah and Amy to stay for our farewell bonfire and get-together. We walked to Sarah's and asked her parents if it was alright for her to stay out late, and brought them the tiny puppy. Her parents talked to me, were very excited to see the puppy, and gave permission for Sarah to come back to the Units. Sarah and Amy spent time with me inside while I made dinner and we talked more before we headed outside to the bonfire.
The girls stayed until midnight and Sarah finally talked to Saeed. He gave her a small gift to remind her of the strength and love she has. She cried when he hugged her, and when she hugged me, tears streamed down her face and she told me she would no longer cut her wrists. Spencer gave Sarah and Amy cedar to put under their pillows, in their shoes, and on the walls in their house to help keep bad spirits out and to ground their energy. The girls discussed smudging with Spencer and other things they could do.
After they went home, Spencer and I sat on the couch we had brought outside to watch the bonfire and talk to our friends. It was an emotional night - We were a team. We not only helped the Pack, but also some students. I sat beside Spencer, thought about all that had happened, and pet Joy and Spotty until they decided to join the rest of the Pack inside of Saeed's place.
That night filled my heart and mind with so many emotions. I was saddened, determined to help, calm and positive, I felt worried and strong. That evening started with a hopeless girl who was contemplating ending her life, yet the rescue and sweetness of a tiny puppy gave her a reason to stop for a moment and reconsider. She had a new pet to take care of who needed her help and depended on her kindness. I was a stranger who became a counsellor who became someone the girls looked up to. That evening was meant to happen for one reason or another. If I had gone with Spencer to gather wood for the bonfire, I would not have made a connection with such kind hearted girls who truly needed some light.
Sweep the branches aside
Let the light beam down
You are stronger than you think
You are worth it
You are loved
Time for some heavier topics and a long post. Feel free to take a break between pictures!
Things were complicated while I was in Shamattawa and these aren't even all of the issues that I experienced or witnessed in great detail. It's a haunting and broken place with some souls who try to make it brighter.
Like the dogs, majority of the community is in distress in one way or another: depression, substance abuse with alcohol (making home-brew since it is a 'Dry Reserve') and drugs, or violence. We had already experienced more upset from the Pack when the puppies were flown out with Princess, them being sick with worms among other things, and also something that we did not expect not long before we left. Saeed, Spencer and I were at Jack's to have homemade pizza and play cards. The Pack was inside of Saeed's Unit because there was word that dogs were going to be shot. Following a relaxing night we went back to our Unit and Saeed came by and asked us to come over...
PIRATE IS ONE TOUGH PUP
There was evidence that people (most likely kids) had been trying to break into Saeed's place and had thrown rocks at the windows. Spencer and I walked into Saeed's to see Pirate sitting in front of the door with a bleeding cut on his nose, covered in drywall powder, chunks of the wall in a trail up to him, and insulation puffing out of the wall. Blankets on the couch were ruffled up, and Pirate had torn out the floorboards, door frame, and drywall from around the window where they were being terrorized. There were also things knocked off the kitchen counter where the dogs had jumped toward the window above the sink...they were very troubled.
Pirate is one of the most calm, down to Earth dogs I have met who is loyal, protective and never disturbed anything inside - he is also a tank as that night showed! Joy was hiding around the corner with Spotty, Aurora was near Pirate in the living room, and he sat quietly staring at us with a look of sadness and shame while his body shook. We did not get angry at Pirate because we knew there must have been a good reason for him to have been so distraught. We helped Saeed clean up some of the mess and placed the boards back up where the nails had been torn out, and Saeed cleaned off Pirate's nose.
I did not get any pictures of Saeed's place inside or of Pirate's hurt nose, but here he is, the loyal tank!
A couple people were banging on Teacher Units trying to get help because of a fire at the old school, behind our Units. No one else paid attention...many were sleeping since it was late, or did they think it was someone crying wolf? Spencer and I heard them, along with his mom. We had an idea of the kids responsible for it.
People had tried to get in touch with the RCMP with no response. Spencer's mom and I ran to the RCMP office, pounded on the door and we yelled at them to help. The lights were on and they were in there but did not pay attention. They had locked up a gate which I tried to crawl under to get to their back door, but I couldn't fit. We pounded more at the front door, as we could hear them inside, and I said loudly, "So, I guess you don't take abuse, rape, and death threats seriously, along with fires?! There is a fire by the Teacher Units! We need your help!!"
No RCMP came and we ran back to the burning portable. A few members in the community helped throw buckets of water scooped up from nearby puddles to put the fire out. Actually, we didn't even have real buckets. One was part of a broken chair seat, another was a drawer from a small plastic cabinet someone threw there. Garbage for the win?
A man went to get a fire extinguisher but it did not work. Members of the community came together and the fire was successfully put out.
SOME OTHER THINGS
School vehicles had been damaged, someone shot a gun toward our Unit, there would be shadows of people lurking around the windows trying to find a way in, to break down locked and nailed shut doors. Kids would try to crawl in the kitchen window and the front door, which was broken and had no glass...I kept the metal pole near it in case. Troublemakers would kick and bang on the back laundry door to get in. Luckily that door was completely nailed shut and we had a large freezer in front of it.
The Pack risked being injured and killed by having sticks and rocks thrown at them if it meant warning us, protecting us, themselves, and the puppies when they were inside. I went out so many times to help the dogs, clean them up if they were injured, and ultimately try to teach people not to be violent.
WHY DON'T THEY JUST LEAVE?
I know there are many people who generalize saying that "First Nation communities do this to themselves and should just move and get help"...unfortunately if it were that easy it would have been done long ago. When you experience it, even for a short while, only then will you understand. There are reasons why teachers quit and leave so often, to a point where students are surprised if a teacher stays from September through Christmas. They are used to being abandoned. Shamattawa is one of the most dangerous reserves in Canada (I still can't believe I went there as my first one to live on) and they are stuck in the past with Colonial and Missionary type thinking, great loss, no community support, an unhealthy water system, a black and white way of thinking with being Christian or Cree because you can't have both, suicides and murders, domestic violence and rape, no education for how to feel compassion and love with taking care of oneself or animals.
Shamattawa, along with many other reserves in Canada is a Third World area in a First World country. Why do people ignore this? Everything cannot be ignored and looked through rose-coloured glasses. There are large numbers of suicides or water crises in a place and the Canadian public pays attention for...a couple weeks? Then when a group goes in to help all seems to be forgotten. Are suicide rates lower? Did they get the help needed? How long did help stay there? Is their land being saved under the Treaty Rights? Who knows because the news stops covering such topics. Canada is a huge country and there are plenty of situations that get overlooked - People have their priorities.
You can't just send someone from an isolated community to a city like Winnipeg and expect them to flourish with no issues. If it does happen it is wonderful, but not all have that result. If they have an addiction and get flown to Ontario for rehab, become clean, and are flown back to Shamattawa where there are no therapists, guidance counsellors, or support system put forth by those in charge there is a huge chance they will fall off the wagon again. Family and friends have addictions and push them, or they are envious that the person is clean and has learned traditional cultural practices once more, they feel that the person is now "too good" for the community. Either the recovering addict gets pulled into the same routine of a tornado again or they leave. They go to Thompson or Winnipeg where there's a chance they will be associated once more with drugs or alcohol, or they will receive help to better themselves and find work, go to school (finish high school or go to college), discover ways to help communities like their own, or raise awareness through music or art. However, they may feel guilty for abandoning their home community when they know others are trapped.
It's a vicious cycle. Yes, the Canadian government can and should do more to help when it comes to health support, emotional assistance and reconciliation and respect for land. With a very limited connection to the land and nature like their culture originally had there is a part missing and it is difficult to feel a connection to anything, people or not, if one does not feel complete. There is an immeasurable amount of damage that has been done and cannot be patched up by being ignored, and it is the younger generation that is speaking up even more.
Yes, the community itself should take responsibility to move forward to better themselves, take violent situations and drug abuse seriously, have the drive to create businesses, make a positive name for themselves, take care of their community, environment and animals, have funds spent appropriately to benefit the community. It's a two-way street and it takes both sides to make a difference. There are young people in Shamattawa who are kind-hearted and want change and I hope that they are ones who buckle down and try to find ways to make positive changes happen.
You might be thinking, "Katy, this has gone in a different direction from helping adorable dogs and puppies!" Yuppers! This is a post about issues that should be known about and like I mentioned at the beginning, this isn't even close to everything.
THE ROYAL CANADIAN MISLEADING POLICE.
WELL, SOME OF THEM AT LEAST.
Similar to numerous cities and countries around the world that suffer from poverty, insecurity, and war, there are many dark aspects to living in Shamattawa. I don't like to admit that there are far more darks than lights. A lot of the time while I was there I felt like I was in a dungeon of evil spirits and nothing positive whatsoever - angry ancestors and ghosts of those murdered and forgotten or never found. I was nervous to walk anywhere alone, even sometimes with a walking stick (the metal pull-up bar) and the Pack. I felt like I was trapped all day while Spencer was teaching, the house normally darker because of having garbage bags over the windows. I felt my heart pump behind my ribs when I would hear drunks yell and bang on the house, and when I would walk to the store (the only store) and be yelled at by men who wanted to break my bones and f**k me because I was nothing, to have them threaten to have their dogs attack me and the Pack because I was "a bitch and a c**t," when kids would throw things at the house, climb and try to break the roof, when they would abuse the dogs that I wanted to protect. I cried when I was threatened with rape and to have my throat slit among being called horrible names, and that they would come back with an uncle to "f**k and kill (me) because (my) boyfriend wasn't there to protect (me)" and not have the RCMP officer take me seriously. The worst part being that this one incident was done by a group of students, the oldest being 13 years. A group of kids that had increased in mischief, break-ins, and violence.
The Officer laughed.
I was so angry and felt like a dust particle that was swept aside to be blown elsewhere. That form of emotional ache happens so much up there, like in other places. Women in particular aren't taken seriously. Why should someone pay attention to a cry or bruises or broken bones? Why wait until someone is actually raped or murdered? If a body isn't found then they can just be forgotten about, right? The officer only cared enough to speak to me because I am white and not from there. He giggled as he recorded me and I looked at him in disbelief and shock. I did not know what to do, how could I when I myself was in shock over the incident? He then tried to go off topic asking me where I'm from, why I was there, what I like to do, and that kids and adults will say a lot but might not act. "MIGHT" not act?! When you are in a place where violence is more common than it should be you should not say something like that to someone who is clearly upset, when those exact people had done horrible things before. I am aware that people will say things to scare another, but when it is mixed with cruel acts and there is no emotion or compassion at all in someone's eyes, a sociopath, that is something that should be addressed properly.
Another officer was supposed to come back that evening to write an actual report.
No one showed.
Two weeks later someone came by to talk to me. He shouldn't have even bothered coming by that long after! At least he was slightly more professional than the previous RCMP officer, but he only asked the same questions, in no further detail. Nothing had been done to the kids other than the principal was thinking of having them expelled from school.
Um, what? What kind of bullshit is that? If anything they should be picked up and forced to be in school because they keep skipping and that's when they terrorize the Units! That is not a punishment especially if their parents won't be at home or won't enforce anything. I told the officer they should send the kids somewhere to receive counselling and help. He agreed.
IF YOU DON'T LAUGH, YOU CRY. I DID BOTH.
Following multiple disturbances at the Units during the days when I was by myself, an RCMP officer was supposed to be a guard to ensure that kids did not do any more damage, to catch them again if they tried to break into places, and to see who continued to skip school/who should have been at home because they were expelled. However, this did not happen.
There was no RCMP nearby. The Reserve is not large at all and there could have been someone to stay at the Teacher Units for a couple hours in the afternoon when more happened. I assume they wanted to just stay inside their homes or the station to talk and eat food. They seemed to be too busy doing that to answer their one phone line if something happened (I could only call through an app because there was no landline), or to gear up for when they would laugh or try to strike up a conversation.
It was normally faster for me to send a message to Spencer through Facebook while he was teaching, for him to then tell the Vice Principal which kids were causing issues at the Units, and to have him drive to see me and catch the kids because he knew who was who better than I did. I would go out, sneak up to the kids, take their pictures to show who they were and what they were doing. A couple times the Vice Principal even chased kids down on foot through brambles to catch them before the RCMP got to them in their truck, when they have a shorter distance to drive. I had to laugh sometimes because it seemed like a complete joke. It was always the same group of kids and I am thankful that Spencer and the VP (Rylee) knew the kids I could describe and show pictures to; they knew who skipped. Having Rylee on my side made things a little easier.
After this happened too many times in my opinion, I complained that an officer still would not be close by. Instead of doing what they said they would, one of the older teachers from the school (whose unit was broken into) chose to stay on his prep from 12-2:00pm to be near me in case the kids or adults came by. Only a few times the kids decided to try to cause issues when he was there. That's right, Officers, a teacher volunteered to help protect his own house along with the others! He, along with others thanked me for being around, even if it was frightening at times. I was like a spy.
Is that a little embarrassing, RCMP? It should be. I'm sure they have their excuses.
It wasn't until that same boy who threatened me also threatened a couple other people, including a student's mother in school, that he was finally sent out of Shamattawa to receive help. Family members had refused to have him sent away before but would not give him any guidance at home. He was expelled from school which meant that he could go about the Reserve as he pleased, with his followers who skipped classes, to break into houses and threaten. The family members were forced to back down eventually and their son, along with one of his friends, were flown out for counselling. Outsiders tried to help the kids but what is the point if the community does not want to?
I understand if the Officers there lose some sensitivity after a while seeing high amounts of violence and destruction. It's a sad place. They are only allowed to have so much control themselves because of rules set forth by the RCMP and Chiefs. Rules are not the same on Reserves. Some officers believe in the overall "Natives are drunks and are awful" mentality - sensitivity training must be done regularly to ensure that issues are not left unnoticed...Such as the hundreds of missing and murdered. However, with their job title they should do things properly. I quickly saw no point in trying to speak to them. I lost a lot of respect for them. Again, I know that they aren't all crooked and horrible at their jobs, but many are. There was one officer I met who was kind and seemed to care more, but maybe that was only because Rylee had just showed him up by chasing down kids...It was badass.
When I would see officers at the store, the one who laughed me in particular, I felt a ball of angst build inside. How many other people have they mistreated and failed' there? I lost a lot of respect for them.
WHAT SHOULD WE DO?
Again, it is a complicated situation where things need to be solidified. Crimes and threats need to be taken seriously by the community and RCMP. Kids should not think it is normal for people to commit suicide or be murdered. Those in charge of the community need to fly people out to get the help they need to recover from addiction, or before the person commits a horrible crime. A troubled person should not be continuously kept in the community because the Chief feels that there will "be more bad press for Shamattawa." No, there will be better press overall because differences are being made for those seeking, or being made to seek assistance that is NOT available on the Reserve. Children and teenagers need that guidance - the earlier the better - before they do something that truly ruins their life or someone else's. It should not be normal for kids in grade 2 to say that they are no longer going to go to school, that they need to take care of their younger siblings, that students are high multiple times a day and drink home-brew similar to many of the parents. So many of the parents there drink heavily, do various drugs, and smoke while pregnant and as a result those kids are affected while they are growing up witnessing their parents, as well as endure physical and emotional abuse, and sometimes become the caretakers of siblings and other children because the parents are incapable or die.
Prevention and education, regaining traditional Swampy Cree practices, and having more to do on the Reserve (such as extra-curricular activities, art classes, community gardens, ect) would reduce the fiascoes that occur there. Perhaps the violence, environmental damage, drug and home-brew abuse, the skinning of dogs' backs and killing of adult dogs and puppies would decrease more and more over time. Shamattawa is maybe a bit better than it was 10 years ago, but there's a long way to go. Maybe the younger generation that wants to care for the dogs will be the change makers. More questions will be asked about their families, ancestors and the land, where they came from. Maybe they will demand answers.
Those are my thoughts anyway.
The last days I spent in Shamattawa were busy. Aside from spending many, many hours helping to fly the dogs out, I still taught some painting classes. I wanted to leave a positive mark on the community by helping the dogs that I was able to, and allowing kids to paint something bright and beautiful as a contradiction to a lot of the life in Shamattawa. With the loss of culture and confusion, suicides and deaths, sickness from unclean water, gangs and violence, many of the students there and young adults are trying to figure out who they are and to find a sense of belonging.
I am Cree?
What does that mean?
With the struggle of discovering who they are within a difficult and 'lost' place to live, when I encouraged kids to paint it gave them a chance to create for themselves. They got to choose colours and I would guide them. They could create something bright and cheerful, they could day dream and learn what colours can teach us - to show emotion! They hadn't had an art teacher in such a long time that they craved a creative outlet. Some of the kids that I taught were also the ones who were interested in the dogs. They were able to feel a sense of belonging and love with different activities, and in return began to learn to give that back to the dogs. I can only hope that they have continued that giving of love even though we are no longer up there. Maybe whenever they look at the paintings they created they will be reminded of that creative and positive discovery and will bring that energy forward.
I think about it often.
Below, a couple of the students I guided to paint a waterfall scene. They loved painting and it was an emotional release for them. One of the girls in the class said, "I will show my mom and put this in my room to cover up a hole. We don't have anything colourful. It will make me happy to look at every day. Maybe I can paint more to cover up the holes! Can I paint the northern lights one you have?! "
I felt a great sense of relief when all of the puppies and Princess were off the Reserve and would be on their way to loving foster families and forever homes. Helping the dogs while up north made me happy because I was making a difference...However, I felt a sense of loss at the same time. Here I was super pumped about having been the link needed to get those puppies out of Shamattawa when no one had paid attention, yet I wanted to keep doing so much more! I grew up with animals...My parents and sisters have always adopted cats and dogs, taken in strays that have made their way to our farm, adopted horses and even ducks, so I have always had such a fondness for giving animals loving homes. I feel it is SO important to give homes to those who are already lost and forgotten. I was going to be leaving Shamattawa in a very short amount of time and it was so strange to feel that my work was now done there when so much is needed.
Like I mentioned in my last post, Saeed had been talking to me about getting a few others of the Pack out as well before he left Shamattawa. I would still be in touch with Save a Dog Network and Infinite WOOFS to make sure that things would run smoothly with those other moves while I was back in Ontario. I was hoping that Joy and Spotty would get out, and I also hoped that Aurora and Pirate would make it out, but it seemed less likely. The Pack was no longer "truly wild" and I felt responsible for them. I would do all that I could to help get them out if possible.
A couple days before leaving Manitoba I made sure to spend as much time with the rest of the Pack as I was able to - along with exploring a little bit near God's River with Spencer and our friend, Jack. The Pack would never go with us all the way to the river because of other dogs in the area (some chained and very aggressive and unfriendly), but they always enjoyed the attention and being around us anyway.
Below are pictures of Aurora and Pirate sharing a box to sleep in, hundreds of goose feathers from when they were hunted, and Spencer, Jack, and I along God's River finally enjoying a sunny and warm-ish day out in June!
Here are some of the last photos of the Pack I took.
Joy and 626 sleeping (looking very comfortable) beside some garbage. I always told the kids to not litter!
Pirate and Aurora looking for food. The weather was getting warmer and the dogs were able to eat left over goose and caribou meat found outside, however, that meant worms...the dogs were still joyful but not as perky. They still enjoyed eating left over rice with egg and chicken as seen in the tin dish.
Even in a desolate and often depressing area, riddled with worms, other parasites from contaminated water, fighting for their lives (literally), the Pack soaked in the warm sun upon the dirt. They stayed close together at all times right near our Unit...Also to get their daily belly rubs!
Shortly before Princess would be on the plane with the other two puppies, I took some photos of Saeed with her and his 'Baby Princess' who would be his. These are some of the last photos I took in Shamattawa of the Pack with the two puppies to fly out, Baby Princess, and a puppy that a student wanted.
Baby Pirate and Baby Princess playing with the other pup with Spotty, Joy, and 626 not too far away. At the bottom Saeed holding his pup and giving Princess one of her last hugs before her journey.
A couple days after the first group of puppies began their journey, Princess and the last two pups were on their way to Winnipeg! It was a lot more difficult to get Princess into the carrier to go to the airport and she was quite nervous when we were there. Saeed was with me and our friend Jack (also a teacher) to help and see them on their way. I signed the other papers and had my Note of Surrender ready.
The puppies were in the Tupperware bin, but once the SADN crate came in, the three of them were all comfy and together. Of course Princess was very antsy - it was her first time going anywhere! Princess would get the treatment she needed to rid of her worms and to make her healthy, and she would receive more love in a new home!
The pack was smaller now and even though I was going to be leaving before the other teachers, I still wanted to make sure that the other dogs had a chance to get out. Saeed had also been talking to Katie and they were arranging to have Spotty and Joy flown out to Winnipeg.
Princess and the pups (named Dame and Knight) were picked up by Katie Powell in Winnipeg and it did not take them long at all to feel comfortable and safe! Katie sent me these pictures of them in her home all happy and clean, and Princess got her first real collar!! The last picture is the one pup calmly sleeping beside one of Katie's dogs. Thank you, Save a Dog Network!!
Over the months I had emailed Katie some of the 'glamour shot' photos of the Pack for her to see. She loved them and asked to use one of Pirate for one of her posters! Pirate is famous! He may still be in Shamattawa, but he is a sweet dog and I hope that his poster helps raise more awareness for dogs in need of help and homes!
Princess, Dame, and Knight ended up going to Kat's Kritters Rescue (Pet Daycare and Boarding) in Winnipeg to find foster families and to find forever homes! I talked to Kat Gyo, founder of Kat's Kritters and the pictures she sent me of Princess and the pups...THEY LOOK LIKE NEW DOGS! Princess had her first real bath and they were all SO happy to be in loving care! Dame and Knight were adopted almost immediately and Princess has stayed with Kat - she was even at Pet Valu to help raise donations and awareness for animals in need of homes at Kat's Kritters!
Princess with her pretty pink collar and tag! She, Dame, and Knight were so clean! Happy dogs! Thank you, Kat!
Princess even "killed" a ball!
The stress levels did not go away so quickly but excitement and joy came through knowing that puppies would be on a plane! It was June 3rd and the first 8 puppies were ready to be brought to the tiny Shamattawa airport, reminiscent of a large garage. Two of the puppies (one from Spotty's litter and one from Princess's) were staying in Shamattawa to go into the care of two of Saeed's students, and one of Princess' puppies was Saeed's and would travel with him back to Toronto. So, 8 pups were to be on one flight and the other two would be on the next with Princess!
We only had one pet carrier to put puppies in to bring to the airport...which made it difficult with squirmy, growing puppies under two months old! Princess and Spotty knew something was happening as their puppies were being shuffled into different spaces with the truck nearby. I told them that their puppies were going to good homes, would be taken care of and loved, and that they would be on their own journey soon.
The agitation from Spotty and Princess truly hit and even Aurora, Joy, and Pirate felt concerned. This was (and still is) one of the most emotional things I have witnessed and proves just how much care and love these dogs had for their puppies...like ALL mothers. Animals really do feel so much and I wish that more people would truly understand and believe that.
After scooping up four pups to put into the carrier and having the others in a large Tupperware container, Spencer and I placed the purple container on the back seats and the carrier on the bed of the pick-up truck with us. We held the edges of the truck and onto the carrier as we drove away from the Teacher Units. As soon as we slowly drove the curve toward the road over bumps and potholes, Spotty and Princess began to run after the truck as quickly as their little legs could carry them. The rest of the pack barked as they ran after us. We could hear the puppies on the back seats bark and attempt their tiny howls, and the ones with Spencer and I in the bed of the truck did the same. We talked to them while they howled and patted at the carrier door as they saw their mothers race after us. I felt tears want to stream down my cheeks as I yelled to Spotty and Princess that I was sorry and that we would be back. Spencer and I shouted to the front to see if we could slow down and bring the determined and distressed mothers with us. However, the truck sped up and they continued to run faster and faster to catch up while gravel, dirt and dust flew into the air. It wasn't until we turned in the direction of the airport and the Northern Store, an area the Pack normally did not go on their own, that Spencer and I saw Spotty and Princess slowly disappear into a cloud of dust. Their bodies began to fade as we continued on until we saw them stop and heard them howl. Spotty took a few extra steps and then stopped beside Princess. They stood in the middle of the dirt road, completely still, watching us as they howled, until they turned into small specks in the distance surrounded by floating dust.
We could hear them howl even at the airport and it felt like my body was sinking. I knew that the puppies would have a longer, healthier life out of Shamattawa but seeing their mothers, only left with a few puppies at the Units, run after us "caretakers and thieves" made me feel slightly sick.
My heart felt broken - Spencer and I almost cried. I'd be lying if I said my eyes did not well up with tears that time in the truck and in the airport...
After we unloaded the puppies we brought them into the waiting area of the airport...which is one room. The entire airport is pretty much one room with only a couple small storage and administrative rooms. Saeed, Spencer, and one of the teacher's sons, Desmond, sat with the pups while I signed the papers for them to go in the cargo section Perimeter's plane. I wrote a Note of Surrender for Katie to be sent along with the crates - the Rez puppies would now be in the sweet hands of Save a Dog Network Canada.
Once the SADN crates were brought into the room we assembled them and put cozy blankets inside for the pups to stay warm on their flight to Winnipeg. We carried them outside and watched them putter away on a metal wagon and lifted into the cargo section. We said our goodbyes to the puppies and wished them a safe journey to their new homes!
It's a bird! It's a plane! A plane full of pups!
Spotty's and Princess's puppies were all ready to go! When the plane took off I messaged Katie to let her know they were on their way and would reach Winnipeg within 2 hours. It was sad to see them go but reassuring to know their new life off the Rez would begin with love and care from her and other volunteers. Spotty, Princess, and the rest of the Pack were outside of our Units when we got back, the mothers with their heads down upon the dirt, nuzzled in between their paws. We sat outside with them for a while and gave them pets to help them feel better, and when the remaining puppies were brought outside they got to play with them and nap in the sun. It was obvious that they felt loss and we continued to give them attention to help them feel better.
When early evening hit I received a message from Katie along with a picture of the puppies in Winnipeg! They had finished their trip and were ready to have their check-ups and much needed cuddles before going to the Winnipeg Pet Rescue Shelter, due to needing more space. They were doing well, although, unfortunately I heard some sad news from her a couple days following their arrival...
One of Spotty's pups (picture above, sleeping on my arm) had difficulty swallowing liquids and solids due to a throat problem and could not keep anything down. The Rescue worked with veterinarians for a few days but were unable to help the little guy and had to make tough decision to put him to sleep. I had realized that the puppy (who was my favourite) was more tired the night before and day of the flight, but was unaware of something that was critically wrong. It was sad news to hear but I know that the Rescue (which is a No-Kill shelter) and the vets did all they could to help the pup. He was a sweetie and although he's with Patches across the Rainbow Bridge, his other brothers and sisters were still on their journey to loving homes.
* The Winnipeg Pet Rescue Shelter named all of the puppies, starting with "W" and the puppies have since been adopted! A grim beginning turned into light! *
Until the second week of June (and even since I've been back in Ontario), there were many group messages going back and forth regarding the dogs leaving Shamattawa. Alberta's Infinite WOOFS worked on fundraising, receiving donations, trying to connect more with Winnipeg rescues, private pilots, airlines (including Westjet), and volunteers to drive from Winnipeg to Infinite WOOFS in Alberta.
After speaking with my friend Niki and her Infinite WOOFS colleague, Nina (among others), we became in contact with Katie Powell, the founder of Save a Dog Network in Winnipeg. After a lot of back and forth we came to realize that moving the dogs from Manitoba to Alberta would be quite the challenge and would take too long to fund for, especially since I was going to be leaving Shamattawa in early June. Save a Dog Network was now the main connection with getting the puppies and the dogs off the Reserve, and Katie Powell, along with her team of volunteers, became some of the most important people I would come to know (long distance) concerning the well being of our Pack. Katie was willing to help in any way she could and was determined to get the puppies and at least Spotty and Princess out. I sent her descriptions of each puppy and mature dog in the Pack, their weight, along with photographs to use to scout out foster parents in Winnipeg. Even though she has a full-time job, manages Save a Dog Network on the side (amazing!), and was having difficulty finding foster parents for the dogs once they would arrive, she did not give up once and for that I am forever grateful. Without her, who knows if I would have been able to complete what I was set out to do - to save the dogs.
As the month of May sped by, Katie and I messaged each other multiple times a day, even until after midnight, discussing how we would get the puppies out safely and with cost efficiency. Thankfully, Save a Dog Network has connections with Pilots N' Paws, but unfortunately they were booked. Katie contacted Perimeter Airlines because she had used them before and they agreed to send kennels up for us to use at a lower cost (Perimeter is the airline that flies to and from Shamattawa). Things were starting to look up and even though the stress levels and pressures were high, I knew at least some of the dogs would be saved and on their way to loving homes!
Me with some of the puppies - giving them pets and making sure they were doing well!
Baby Pirate who was a Houdini puppy! The only time he didn't try to escape was when he slept on my lap.
Spotty Nibbles enjoying some sun and relaxation time while the puppies were in their outdoor pen
Princess hiding right outside of our unit, not feeling well...She enjoyed pets and I told her she would be okay.
I still talked to Niki and Nina to keep them in the loop with the puppy plans, and Katie sorted out dates for puppies to be flown out in June. It was like a full-time job for me to help plan everything out, ensure that the puppies were doing well, while I also taught some painting classes on the side to some students. The puppies were growing bigger and while they seemed to be doing well, Princess's condition was dwindling due to being sick and having worms. Naturally she did not want to be near her puppies and we tried to keep their distance from the rest of the Pack to help prevent them from also getting worms. We were careful with Princess and limited what she ate to try to clear out her body. After a week of her diet being small and her only wanting to eat the occasional raw egg, Princess perked up and seemed more like herself again. It was then that we decided she definitely needed to be flown out with the puppies.
Katie and I also contacted Manitoba Mutts, the Winnipeg Pet Rescue Shelter, and Kat's Kritters Rescue in case more help and space was needed to house the dogs once they arrived. Things were working in our favour and now the only things to finalize were times for the flights, and which dogs would be leaving.
Our neighbour and keeper of the Pack, Saeed, with the puppies outside in their pen. My lovely boyfriend, Spencer, at the bottom with Baby Patches! Baby Patches was just like his dad.
Princess and Spotty Nibbles gave birth to their puppies near the end of April. I was the only one at the Units during the day while everyone else was teaching, so I sat outside and checked on Princess while she was in labour. Princess, from what we know, was possibly a first time mother and gave birth to six puppies, however, one did not make it. The remaining five were healthy and we made sure to bring Princess inside as soon as we were able to to ensure their safety. The small runt was buried in behind the Units and a little prayer was said for her.
Spotty Nibbles had eight puppies shortly after Princess and I am sure that she enjoyed losing that extra weight! Our very sweet neighbour (Saeed) definitely had a full house with the pack staying in there during the nights and with the 13 new puppies. There were plenty of very early mornings and tiresome days, but with us working together we managed to keep all of the pack happy. Throughout the day I would go in and check on Princess, Spotty and their puppies to make sure that they had water and food, and to keep them company. Spotty was definitely pleased whenever she got to go outside for a break from her eight following her around once they could walk.
Princess with her puppies in the laundry room, cozy and warm compared to the snowy outside.
Spotty Nibbles with her puppies in the spare bedroom. She definitely had her paws full!
Aurora and Pirate were even more protective of the pack and the puppies, Aurora had sadly lost some of her own litters due to them being taken away or their lives cut extremely short, so her motherly instinct to help protect Princess' and Spotty's puppies kicked in. Joy seemed confused overall by the puppies and was not sure how to think of them most of the time. He eventually got more used to them, even if he would try to hide behind us from the "scary" puppies!
Aurora and Pirate waiting outside of our door before going out to check on the puppies. They were also not impressed with more snow...I don't blame them! Small treats of egg and toast followed!
Now that the puppies had arrived I was working hard communicating with rescues to try to figure out a way the puppies could be flown out of Shamattawa. As soon as I knew the dogs were pregnant I worried about all of their futures and safety, feeling responsible considering all of the time we had put in to gain the pack's trust and now having the 13 pups in our care. There are residents in Shamattawa who want to do well and are kind-hearted, but due to the poor living conditions and the area, many do not have the means to care for an animal...It's difficult to have all of that when your own living situation is grim compared to off-reserve areas of Canada, and culture has been lost. If people do not know who they truly are, like the Swampy Cree in Shamattawa, it is difficult to take care of other living beings especially with their own struggles on the reserve (contaminated water, isolation, alcohol, and more). Many do not understand how to take proper care for an animal although they would like to, so dogs become wild, many dying well before the age of one. The dogs that do live to be at least a few years old are survivors and have to fight to live. There is also no vet clinic on the reserve, so unless one has the money and will to fly their dog to Winnipeg ($400+ one-way) to get vaccinated or treated, there is no help for them. Worms and rabies are the main threat and it is a continuous cycle. Our pack had worms and there was nothing we could really do except try to limit how much they ate and what they ate to help flush their bodies out.
Education and assistance truly are key, as I wrote in my previous post, and unless more people become aware of the living conditions for residents and animals throughout Canada then there will be a standstill. It became my mission to save the dogs I would be able to in Shamattawa and I knew I could not do it alone. I contacted my friend, Niki, who has been involved with Infinite WOOFS animal Rescue as a volunteer in Alberta to see if their team had any connections in Winnipeg, and if there was a way to get the puppies flown out of Shamattawa. In no time we had a full group conversation happening via Facebook for me to give details about the pack, the puppies, the care they had, where they would have to fly, and how they would get to Alberta. Yes, the plan was to fly and drive the puppies to Alberta! There was only one problem...funding.