I just returned from my second trip with ArtsCan Circle, an amazing charitable organization that sends volunteer musicians and artists like me to remote Indigenous communities to do arts projects with school children. We spent the week in Pikangikum, an Ojibway community of 2,400 people in Northwestern Ontario.
At last I boarded another tiny plane to Pikangikum. I’d never been on a plane so small – most schoolbuses are bigger – and I couldn’t remember if I’d ever been able to watch the pilots for the duration of the flight.
I was already getting the feeling that it was time to leave my ‘southern’ sensibilities behind. It was time to forget what I thought of as the ‘real’ Canada, and open my eyes to a different reality.
The school’s friendly vice-principal was waiting for us at the airport, and he drove us to the hotel.
At first it didn’t look so bad.
But sometimes the closer you look the worse things become.
I gazed out the broken window at the OPP division across the street, the police trucks left idling 24/7, as the cops inside wait for bad things to happen without having to worry about starting up a frozen engine.
The worst thing about the hotel was knowing that it’s probably the most luxurious place to stay in Pikangikum. I had been told that we shouldn’t drink the water, but what I didn’t know was that most of the town doesn’t even have running water.
This is Canada. A highly developed and relatively wealthy nation in the year 2011 - yet there are more than 2000 people in this community – in my very own province - who are living in third world conditions. They cannot have a shower, cannot turn on a tap to wash their dishes, cannot give their children bubble baths, and they have to trudge to their outhouses in extreme cold.
And I was shocked by a busted toilet. Shame on me. Shame on all of us.
|Snowmobile outside a school portable. I love the paper snowflakes in the windows.|
On our second night, we trekked across the frozen lake to reach The Northern Store, the only retailer in town, that sells everything from food to furniture. A former Hudson Bay Company trading post, it holds a complete monopoly. A bottle of water costs $5. And this is the totality of their produce section:
But I wasn't there for the vegetables, either. I was there for the kids. Oh, the kids, the loveable, adorable kids. Me and my partner in puppets, Marty Hamer, approached the classes with gusto, creating both shadow puppets and sock puppets with hundreds of children.
Did I mention how awesome these kids are?
|The view from backstage.|
|Carol Teal (right) sings with two students; shadow puppets flank the stage.|