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.