It is not an exaggeration to say that all of my life, I have been a runner.
Running in Chateh has allowed me to explore the community, to meet new people, and to be immersed in the natural beauty of the region.
However, running is not without its challenges. When it is dry, the roads are so dusty that I can feel my teeth being polished by the sand particles caking to the inside of my mouth.
This season there has also been a lot of smoke from the forest fires.
Running after the rains means slipping and sliding on the dirt roads while, you tack on several extra pounds to your runners in the form of clay mud. Its a good core and strength workout, I suppose.
The evening mosquitoes are excellent motivation to keep up the pace. As soon as one stops to take in the scenery, or a gorgeous sunset, (or catch their breath) mosquitos bites abound.
Luckily, I have a dedicated running crew that keeps me company. I know we make for a bit of an odd parade through the roads of the reserve, but they are great company. However, I doubt they’ll follow so closely if we run into a bear.
I’ve been woken up in the early morning by songbirds plenty of times but, this morning marked the first day I’ve even been woken up by the sound of 30 wild horses munching on grass just outside my bedroom window!
The recent rains have been a relief – so far no smoky days yet this week! The community garden has benefitted greatly from almost daily, soaking rains. I’ve got a few photos here from about two weeks back, the progress since then has been excellent and beans and peas are flowering. Unfortunately the hot days that proceeded the rains caused the spinach to bolt. We’ve had a few different hands in the garden recently and it has been an exciting learning opportunity. However, some very agitated bees have been displeased with all the activity, and in the last week I’ve been stung 6 times! (4 at once).
In other plant related news – it is Saskatoon season! This week was my first time trying Saskatoon berries and I agree with the general sentiment that they are indeed quite delightful. Raspberries are starting to come too!
A few weeks back, I had to pleasure of travelling to Prince George, BC with some community members to attend the BC Food Systems Network Annual Gathering. After a VERY long drive in a 15 seater van – which included an adventure at 1am in the morning lost on washboard logging roads, in total darkness and pouring rain, we finally arrived. And although the drive was long it was also beautiful – from Dunvegan to Dawson Creek and through Chetwynd to PG. We saw this waterfall en route:
The three days that followed were an incredible opportunity to connect with others who were working in Indigenous food sovereignty (both in Canada and Guatemala), to learn some new skills and get up to speed with developments in food movements both in BC and across Canada.
The fire bans were recently lifted, and shortly thereafter dry lightning sparked several forest fires in the region. Alberta is experiencing one of the worst fire seasons in the last half decade – already this year there have been double the number of fires than there were in the entire 2014 season (Robb, 2015). There are 127 forest fires burning in Alberta and approximately one quarter of those are out of control (Robb, 2015). Last Saturday alone – 73 new fires were ignited.
Robb, T. June 28, 2015. Alberta experiencing one of the worst fire seasons in the past five years. Edmonton Sun.
In recent years I have lived in Ontario and British Columbia, so coming to Alberta I had much to learn about the provincial context of health care. I lived in BC during the transition period when the First Nations Health Authority took control of services delivered in First Nations communities that had previously been the jurisdiction of Health Canada. Now in Alberta, I am finding that health services that are formally delivered in Chateh (I’m excluding traditional healing and healthcare, for this discussion) are delivered by a combination of Health Canada, Alberta Health Services, Dene Tha’ and North Peace Tribal Council. It is possible that this is not a complete list! What follows in this post is an attempt to understand the complex web of health care service delivery in Alberta First Nations Communities.
It does not escape me that while I am feeling out of place due to my move to another province, I am living with a First Nation people whose traditional territory runs deep into present day British Columbia and the Northwest Territories, far beyond Alberta’s borders. According to the Dene Tha’ First Nation Aboriginal Knowledge and Land Use Study, Dene Tha’ traditional territory extends as far into BC as Fort St. John and Fort Nelson. As provincial and federal governments have tried to regulate and control the people and their land, crossing these relatively newly established borders has been a source of serious issues for Dene Tha’ people in the past, as explained in the study.
That being said, as it stands now I am working in the Alberta context. Here is what I think I’ve learned so far, but acknowledge that I may be mistaken. I welcome being kindly corrected!
The health and wellbeing of Inuit, Métis and First Nations people are generally poorer than those of the average non-Indigenous person in Canada. As a consequence of several centuries of colonization and the reality that current health care services most often operate within the dominate settler culture, indigenous people may face significant barriers to care2.Furthermore, in western medicine there has been a tendency to focus on treating disease as opposed to the holistic view of health that many indigenous cultures hold where “the inter-relationships between the physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional aspects of being are integral to individual and community health” (NAHO, 2008).
However, in most provinces, health services on First Nations reserves are provided and/or funded by Health Canada. In Alberta First Nations and Health Canada have an agreement of co-management of governance of health care services1. According to the Minister of health, the guiding principles of the agreement are equity and fairness, transparency, accountability, accountability to programs, timeliness, appropriateness and legality1
The First Nations and Inuit Health (FNIH) Alberta Region funds on reserve local health programs and services.
Their stated goal is to improve the health of all First Nations people and Inuit and they have outlined how they plan to do this through a mission statement:
The programs that are overseen by the FNIH are:
AHHRI – Aboriginal Health Human Resources Initiative
CHR – Community Health Representatives
MCH – Maternal Child Health
HSIF – Health Services Integration Fund
NIHM – Non-insured Health Benefits
CDC – Communicable Disease Control
The federal government has developed the Non-Insured Health Benefits Directorate to assist First Nations and Inuit people, who do not have other private medical coverage, with costs associated with medical, dental and vision care. The stated intention of the NIHB is to reduce health disparities.
Interestingly, in a guide on to accessing non-insured health benefits, jointly created by Health Canada’s First Nations and Inuit Health Branch and the Assembly of First Nations, there is a paragraph that explains the “It is the Government of Canada’s position that current health programs and services including Non-Insured Health Benefits are provided to First Nations and Inuit on the basis of national policy and not due to any constitutional or other legal obligations. First Nations assert that health benefits are an Inherent Aboriginal and Treaty Right and are constitutionally protected” (page 2).
Coverage includes prescription drugs, medical equipment, medical transportation, ambulance, community vans, dental care, vision care, mental health services for crisis, and a program called the Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program (RHSP)1.
The RHSP includes emotional and cultural support and counselling1. The cultural support is to be provided by traditional community healers. This position especially is dependent on the availability of a healer from the community.
Homecare nurses are available to help people stay in their homes rather than needing to live in a facility that provides care. This is important in a remote community where moving into an assisted living arrangement means leaving one’s community and support network in order to access services that are available in larger urban centres. This physical distance makes it more difficult for family members to remain in contact with one another, and increases transportation costs to visit one another. It can be culturally isolating and disrupt the roles of different generations of family members.
Community Health Representatives deliver a wide variety of health care programs and also perform duties such as collecting water samples. The Minister of Health states, they have a role as cultural liaisons to better connect the community with health care services1.
(please excuse the haphazard referencing format)
1.The Minister of Health. (2010). First Nations and Inuit Health. Alberta Region Programs and Services. Health Canada.
Earlier last week, we accompanied the kids from the school on a quick afternoon fishing excursion. On both the drive to and from the fishing spot at Habay, we were lucky enough to see buffalo, including some buffalo calves. The wood bison are considered a species at risk. I was surprised by how quickly the 1000 to 2000 pound animals can run! According to the Canadian Bison Association they can reach running speeds of 48 KPH!
Unfortunately, this past weekend there was a large fire at Habay. Two cabins were burned down, one of which was used by the school for camping excursions to teach the kids out on the land. Despite the size of the fire, thankfully no one was reported injured. However Habay is a place of great popularity and significance to the community. Smoke was visible in the distance on the weekend and fire crews were still on sight yesterday evening.
Habay is very close to the Hay Zama Wildlands. This area has been designated an internationally significant wetland under the Ramsar convention. There are 37 Ramsar designated wetlands in Canada, encompassing an area of 13 million hectares (Ramsar.org). Under the convention Hay-Zama has been twinned with a wetland in northeast China, Dalai Lake Biosphere Reserve. The Hay River runs through Habay and Hay-Zama, and the water level is quite low this year compared to others. Hay-Zama is the only location in Alberta where efforts have been made to reintroduce wood bison and today there is a population of approximately 500 bison (Alberta Tourism, 2007). Other animals in the area include black bears, deer, fox, coyotes, and wolves (Alberta Tourism, 2007). It would be incredible to see a wolf – from a distance! The Hay Zama wetland is also home to American avocets, which is a bird species that I’ve never heard of before, let alone seen. I’m hoping to spot some this summer. There is some oil and gas extraction that is occurring in the wetland but according to Alberta Tourism, agreements were negotiated to limit oil and gas development in the region so that once the reserve currently being tapped was depleted, there would be no further oil and gas exploration (2007).
There was a run of spawning suckerfish in the Sousa Creek which was interesting to see. The fish we saw looked to be about 30 to 40cms in length. One young kid told me that if you were to stick your finger in a sucker’s mouth it would suck on your finger like a baby – but she has yet to test this out for herself!
Due to the fires, there are fire bans in place, which can impede some important activities such as smoking fish. People are already speculating that the threat of fire may disrupt planned summer activities. The youth spring camp has unfortunately already been cancelled as a result.
I planted some seeds earlier this week and a community vegetable garden is in the works! I’ve been told that magpies have been spotted picking around where the seeds were planted, so there may not be anything left to grow!
Finally, I would like to end this post by acknowledging that a community member unexpectedly passed away last week, and my thoughts are with their family, friends and community during this difficult time.
Alberta Tourism. 2007. Alberta Parks Hay-Zama Lakes Wildland Park…a wetland of international importance.
Canadian Bison Association http://canadianbison.ca/producer/about_bison/faq.htm
Insects of Alberta http://www.insectsofalberta.com/flatheadpoplarborer.htm
I would like to thank the Dene Tha’ First Nation for allowing me to spend the summer living on their territory.
For the next several months I’ll be in Chateh, Alberta working on community health projects directed by the Dene Tha’ First Nation, as a fellow with Engage North and IC-Impacts.
As a graduate student in Community Health at UNBC, I’m currently researching seasonal food access for people during times of homelessness in Northern BC and the intersections with Indigenous Food Sovereignty.
I am a vegan who is strongly in support of traditional food access for those who desire it.
and thus we begin…
After a whirlwind week and a half of training in Edmonton, on Thursday we loaded up Janelle’s car and made the long drive to Chateh. Along the way we were able to stop briefly in Rocky Lane to connect with the Engage North Fellows there and see how they were settling in. All was well, but they reported there were lots of bears wandering through in the community.
Later that day, upon arrival in Chateh, I was struck by the amount of Dene Dháh that was spoken! The first (and thus far only) word I’ve learned is the word for buffalo. I’m hoping I see some buffalo soon and have the chance to break out my new vocabulary! The majority of adults in the community are fluent in Dene Dháh and most younger people speak at least some of the language. Although the majority of the curriculum is delivered in English, children are taught Dene Dháh as a subject in school. In her thesis on Dene Dháh use, Daria Boltokova found that the youth she interviewed were enthusiastic about speaking and learning the language and were keen to have more resources for language learning, including the development of apps for use with mp3 players and smart phones. Before coming to Chateh, I downloaded a Dene language app which seemed very promising – unfortunately for me it was the wrong dialect! I will however be investigating the possibility of language lessons for the summer and we’ve already had the names of a few potential teachers suggested to us. Boltokova also explained how Dene Dháh was spoken exclusively in the Dene Tha’ communities prior to the opening of the Assumption Residential School in 1951. It was at that time, under policies of assimilation and colonial control, children were first made to speak English by the school teachers.
Exploring Chateh over the course of the weekend I’ve seen ducks and horses. The horses wander freely through the community keeping the grass trimmed! It looks like there are five horses altogether and two of them are foals. Now is the time that people have also gone out to collect some duck eggs. I’ve been hearing lots of stories of good fishing the last few days and some people have been busy smoking fish. I’ve noticed many plants that I’m familiar with from Ontario and BC, such as plantain, raspberry, and wild strawberry. I was surprised by the amount of birch in the forests here- and I find that the landscape reminds me of both parts of Manitoulin Island in Ontario as well as southern Ontario . The soil is very sandy and it has been quite dry so far this season. Although I am enjoying the beautiful clear blue skies and bright sunshine, fire bans are already in place throughout Alberta and it is predicted to be a bad season for wildfires.
We were loaned a book of Dene Tha’ stories and I am excited to crack that open tonight and get reading. References: Boltokova, D. (2009). Intergenerational disjunctures in the Dene Tha First Nation of Northern Alberta: Adult’s nostalgia and youths’ ‘counter-narratives’ on language revitalization. MA Anthropology. University of British Columbia