Category Archives: Aboriginal

Wawatay News – Celebrating beaver’s history at Mattagami

Wawatay News published out of Thunder Bay is one of the biggest Aboriginal weekly newspapers in the country — and this week, they published my story on trapping beaver with Leonard and Larry Naveau for Mattagami First Nation’s annual Beaver Fest.

Read the whole story here.  Or take a look at my pictures from the expedition on my flickr page.

Want some tasty, tasty beaver?  Go to Mattagami’s Beaver Fest this Saturday, April 24, 2010.


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Susan Ouriou wins GG award for translation

Perhaps the most humble translator Canada has ever seen, Susan Ouriou is dedicated to the words and meaning of the texts she translates. I had a chance to see her in action as part of the Emerging Aboriginal Writer’s program in Banff this September. She worked with one French speaking student in particular, taking care to make his words heard to us and ours to him.  She translated all of the French writer’s works for presentation tackling perhaps the most literary of literary forms with flair: poetry.

Susan told me she absolutely loved the young adult novel for which she won the English-language translation award: young adult novel, Pieces of Me, a translation of La liberté? Connais pas by Charlotte Gingras.

Ouriou, who studied at the Sorbonne, is also a novelist and is working on her second novel after penning Damselfish.  Perhaps another reason for her dedication to preserving the author’s intent in translation.

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Take 5 News: Voice for missing Aboriginal women under threat; Toronto tap water now with extra bacteria; Jarvis now Ted Rogers Way; Tory Senator ties to Quebec funding scandal; All-day kindergarten costs another $400 million in Ontario

apple_pickingDon’t turn out the light on missing women
Federal Liberal critic for women’s issues, Anita Neville, is calling on the Conservative government to guarantee a renewal of the five-year mandate for Sisters in Spirit.

The national organization has become the main voice for the epidemic of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada.

Neville’s call comes after a funding crisis threatens to kill the $5 million dollar program.

530 native women have vanished across Canada in the past 25 years.

Neville, also repeated her standing call for a federal inquiry into why a disproportionate number of Aboriginal women go missing.

Ted Rogers has his Way
And it will run on Jarvis Street between Charles and Bloor Streets.
Toronto City Council is renaming that section of Jarvis to remember the late communications mogul and head of Rogers Communications.
Rogers died last December at the age of 75.

I’d like a glass of tap water with extra bacteria please
University of Michigan researchers are finding bacteria in Toronto tap water that is resistant to some antibiotics.\
While researchers stress the water is safe to drink – the drug-resistant bacteria has scientists worried about genetic pollution.

They think human forms of bacteria or viruses could copy the drug resistant genes of their water-borne neighbours, making it even tougher to treat infections.

Researchers don’t know the exact type or source of this resistant strain.

$400 million dollars more
That’s one of the changes Premier Dalton McGunity will announce this morning to the government’s full-day kindergarten plan for all four and five year olds in Ontario.

The government now wants teachers to be in charge all-day – instead of the original proposal to have teachers in the morning and early childhood educators in the afternoon – costing Ontario $400 million dollars more than forecasted.

To help offset the cost, class sizes will get bigger from 20 to 26 children and the phase-in will take five years.  Next year only 15 percent of Ontario children will get spaces in the all-day program.

Yesterday Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak said the premier should rethink all-day kindergarten given the growing deficit.

Food Rich, Cash Poor
For the last two years the Daily Bread FoodBank has fallen far short of its fall fundraising goal of half a million dollars.

Now Executive Director Gail Nyberg says she might have to revise the goal down to $350,000 dollars.  Everyone likes a winner she says.

But the Food Bank is a champion when it comes to food donations – this fall the public donated 633,000 pounds of food, spilling over its 500,000 pound goal.

Nyberg says people are more likely to give food over money in failing economies because they know that can of soup is going to someone in need.

But Daily Bread needs cash to buy items it doesn’t get like dairy, meat and vegetables – and necessities like baby formula.

The number of families with at least one working adult using the food bank has more than doubled since 1995 — indicating working families are having trouble making ends meet.

World’s scientists are sleeping through tar sands pollution
A new report by Global Forest Watch Canada is calling for urgent attention by the World’s Scientific Community to the problem of contaminants leaking from Alberta’s tar sands.

Dr. Kevin Timoney and Peter Lee’s new study titled “Does the Alberta Tar Sands Industry Pollute?” finds some contaminant levels are threatening the ecosystem and human health.

But it says industry churns out so much money that no one in a position of authority wants to look closely at the problem.  To date there are no comprehensive, peer-reviewed assessments of the cumulative impacts of tar sands development,” say the researchers claiming “serious problems of scientific leadership.

They say the problem demands immediate scientific attention – especially in light of plans to triple tar sands activities over the next decade.  The full report is available on This Magazine’s website.

A Tory Senator is the latest to be tainted by Montreal’s corruption scandal
New reports reveal top Conservative organizer and senator Leo Housakos worked with recently disgraced Montreal politician Benoit Labonte from August 2008 to last February.

Mr. Labonte is at the centre of the corruption scandal rocking Montreal’s Race for Mayor.

After Labonte’s relationship with construction kingpin Tony Accurso – who made a $100,000 dollar donation to Labonte’s campaign – came to light, Labonte resigned.  Then the former opposition leader told all – describing an elaborate kickback scheme to finance Montreal’s political parties.

Now Senator Housakos has been linked to Labonte and Accurso while working with the Vision Montreal party.
There is no evidence the Senator knew of any wrongdoing, but the Senate Ethics Officer is investigating whether Mr. Housakos breached any articles of the Senate Conflict of Interest Code.

Also check out:

The Tyee’s in-depth report on how provincial politicians are steamrolling over local protocol to create a jumbo ski resort in a government-run town

AND why people staying in low-cost housing or boarding houses aren’t much better off than the homeless

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Take 5 Newscast: Why the Swiss are afraid of minarets; Stimulus funding goes to conservative ridings; Alberta faces up to Aboriginal education gap; Hunting blockade in B.C.

banff gondolaWell, after a long hiatus due to a two-week workshop at the Banff Centre for Emerging Aboriginal Writers (super awesome, check out the pics here), and a cold, I’m finally back on Take 5 News.  Here is my selection of world and national news for Wednesday, October 14th.

And a hot tip:  We interviewed filmmaker Dennis Allen this morning on his CBQM doc about a radio station that is acting as a modern social network in the Far North – the elders on air are colourful and delightfully funny – check it out at its imagineNATIVE premiere this Friday afternoon.


Euthanasia?  Oui, Oui!
Three out of four specialist doctors in Quebec say they want the government to legalize euthanasia.

That’s according to a survey conducted by their professional association –  and the doctors are urging the association to take a public stand on the matter.

But 20 per cent of those polled say that even if euthanasia were legalized, they would refuse to perform it.

The Federal Stimulus stimulates Conservative ridings
That’s according to Liberal MP Gerard Kennedy…  he’s suggesting that the recent wave of federal infrastructure stimulus funding favoured Conservative ridings.

Kennedy’s report claims that in several provinces the Conservative ridings received an average of $3-$4 million dollars more than opposition ridings under the Building Canada Fund.

And under the $500-million dollar Recreational Infrastructure Canada program, 18 of the top 20 Ontario ridings by number of projects are held by Conservatives.

Yesterday, National Conservative caucus chair and MP Guy Lauzon, dismissed the claims saying the Liberals are trying to create another excuse to have an election.  He says it was up to the municipalities to apply for funds.

Don’t shoot our moose
In Northern B.C…   the Tahltan Nation continues its standoff against the government over hunting rules – but the Environment Ministry says it won’t come to the table until the blockades are down.

New roads into the northern territory and the longest moose hunting season in the province is causing unchecked hunting in Tahltan territory and its decimating the moose population, say local Elders and protesters.  They are patrolling a blockade preventing hunters from coming into the territory.

One hour south, Iskut residents occupy another blockade – this one against Royal Dutch Shell’s exploration for coalbed methane in an area known as the Sacred Headwaters – only this blockade started four years ago.|

Elder Lillian Campbell, says the two blockades are linked, “It’s about bears, it’s about wolves, it’s about salmon — it’s about our culture,” she says.

The Environment Ministry says moose populations are healthy and it won’t talk to the Tahltan Nation until they stop the blockades.

Alberta addresses its failing grade for educating Aboriginal youth
Yesterday the Alberta Government and eight members of First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities made the first move to formally address the education gap facing Aboriginal youth.

They formed a ministers’ council on Aboriginal education – expected to meet several times a year.

The move is being heralded by education consultant Thomas Erasmus of Goodfish Lake First Nation.

He says problems with gangs and drugs on reserves, and among native youth in Edmonton’s downtown, are tied to gaps in education and worrying school drop-out rates.

He says the on-reserve school system is failing – schools are often isolated and use a hodgepodge of curriculum.  Teachers are paid less than in nearby provincial schools, so they often move on quickly after gaining experience.

Erasmus hopes that by sitting down with aboriginal people, the council will force ministers to give education for aboriginal youth higher priority.

In Vancouver…. a memorial mass is being held today…
marking the second anniversary of Robert Dziekanski’s death moments after he was tasered and pinned to the ground by four RCMP officers at the Vancouver International Airport.

Dziekanski’s mother, Zofia Cisowski will attend the 5 o clock mass at the city’s  Holy Rosary Cathedral.

The Braidwood Inquiry investigating Dzienkanski’s death is hearing closing statements this week by lawyers from both sides.

Meanwhile Dziekanski’s mother is reiterating her calls for the appointment of an independent special prosecutor to look into whether criminal charges can be laid against the four RCMP officers who confronted her son.

Hands off the beverage cart
The pilot of an Air Canada Jazz flight from Vancouver to Fort McMurray grounded the plane after a passenger stole a beer from the flight attendant’s beverage cart.

The RCMP whisked the man in question off the plane – they say he nicked the beer and then tried to hide the evidence by flushing the empty can down the toilet.

The plane then got on its way, leaving some passengers hankering for the good old days when beer was included with your plane ticket.

Al-Qaeda’s credit crunch

The US Treasury claimed yesterday that Al-Qaeda is in its worst financial state for many years while the Taliban’s funding is rising.

The Taliban are in better financial shape partly because of Afghanistan’s booming drug trade.

Senior Treasury official David Cohen says the al-Qaeda leadership has warned that a lack of funds is hurting its recruitment and training efforts.

Cohen says without money, Al-Qaeda is losing influence.

Unsafe abortions are killing about 70,000 women around the world every year, says a new report by the U.S.- based Guttmacher Institute.

And five million women are treated every year for complications arising from unsafe abortions.

While the number of abortions worldwide fell from 45.5 million in 1995 to 41.6 million in 2003 – the number of deaths has not been reduced.

The report blames the high death rate on rising populations of women in parts of the world where safe abortions are not widely available.
Half of the deaths due to unsafe abortions are in Africa, followed by South Asia.

The report claims the key to prevention is contraception – and it calls on governments to expand high quality family planning services, liberalize abortion laws and make investments to make safe abortion services available.

Who’s afraid of a Minaret?
Well some people in Switzerland are. That country is divided as it readies to vote in a November referendum to ban the construction of minarets on mosques.

The controversial campaign is being led by right-wing Christians like Daniel Zigg, a member of the Federal Democratic Union.  He sees minarets as symbols of Muslim victories over newly conquered lands – and a source of quote “ideological emissions.”

The move is so radical that even some die-hard members of right wing parties are expressing discomfort with the issue.

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Shane Belcourt’s Toronto on blogTO

shane_belcourtEver struggle with coming out of your parent’s shadows?  Try having a father who is one of the most famous Aboriginal activists and thinkers in Canada.  But filmmaker and musician Shane Belcourt has done better than most.  Find out how the Ottawa-born native lives his life in Toronto – he’s the latest subject for my blogT.O. Toronto through the eyes of column.

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Take 5 News Picks: Canada talks tough to Iran but Embassy won’t aid injured protestors; Van’s Eastside housing unaffordable; Toronto strike to end in arbitration s,

Robert Bourassa and meMy pick of today’s best national stories as broadcast on Take 5, CIUT 89.5 FM this morning

Canada talks tough to Iran
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is calling the Iranian authorities reaction to peaceful protests against last week’s election results “wholly unacceptable” and denouncing the “use of brute force and intimidation” by authorities.

He’s calling on Iranian authorities to immediately stop violence against their own people, to fully investigate fraud allegations in the presidential election and to release all political prisoners and journalists – including Canadians.

On Sunday morning Canadian-Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari, who was reporting on the demonstrations for Newsweek magazine, was seized in by Iranian security officials from his Tehran apartment.

Meanwhile…  Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff is calling for the Canadian Embassy in Tehran to offer refuge to protesters who are injured on the chaotic city streets.

But Foreign Affairs spokesperson Simone MacAndrew is holding the party line, saying QUOTE “Canada does not offer asylum to individuals in its embassies abroad” except in cases involving “immediate threat of injury or death.”

Well it’s only Day Two of the Toronto City strike but experts are already predicting how it’s going to end.
Premier Dalton McGuinty will likely be forced to order arbitration.

The big question is time…  Will he do it quickly like the 16-day City Strike in 2002 or let picketers languish for months like he did at York University?

Nelson Wiseman, a politics professor at the University of Toronto, is betting on an early end because piles of garbage in the hot, hot heat of summer are a health issue.

In the meantime, city celebrations – like yesterday’s flag raising ceremony for PRIDE and Canada Day celebrations – are all being cancelled.

City officials say if the strike is settled next week then summer programs for kids and Canada Day parties will go ahead.  But union officials claim they are miles away from reaching any kind of settlement.

Canada has gone far beyond the call of duty in helping Omar Khadr, the Canadian terror suspect…  at least that’s what federal lawyers will argue before the Federal Court of Appeal this morning.

The Conservative Government is asking an appeal panel to overturn a landmark Court Decision ordering the Harper government to push for the repatriation of Khadr from the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, where the Toronto native has been held since 2002.

Raising the rent on Vancouver’s poorest citizens
In Vancouver’s downtown Eastside many of the city’s addicts and its poorest residents live on their welfare cheques of $375 a month for housing.

But a recent survey of 88 privately-owned hotels in the area found rooms renting for more than $425 a month rose by 44 percent over last year – and found only 0.2 percent of rooms that were both available and less than $375.

The report by the Carnegie Community Action Project called “Still Losing Hotel Rooms” finds residents are still being squeezed, either by paying more of their food money for rent or by being forced onto the streets by high rents.

First Nations still being left off the Jury Rolls in Ontario
The Ontario Attorney General was recently forced to launch an internal review on how police and Crown attorneys secretly pre-screen jurors for mental illness or criminal records – yet no action has been taken on revelations that came to light almost a year ago that aboriginal people were being systematically excluded as jurors – and that’s another example of double standards in the justice system for Aboriginals – according to Julian Falconer, a lawyer for several aboriginal groups.

Last fall, court officials were forced to admit major failings in representing Aboriginal people on its jury roles – Indian and Northern Affairs had simply stopped providing band lists for some communities and the Attorney General’s office took as long as six years to even try to contact some reserves to get band lists.

Falconer wrote Attorney General Chris Bentley last year asking for a formal inquiry into the legality of the jury rolls – but got no action. Falconer is accusing the ministry of “dumb silence and a complete cover-up,” saying “the unequal treatment of natives and non-natives is another example of why first nations can so rightly point to a double standard justice system.”

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Beaver trapping in Northern Ontario

beaver tail

Stripped of their tail, fur and legs, the six small beaver strung up side-by-side over the open fire look remarkably like the small pig carcasses commonly dissected in high school biology classes.

“They’re done when the blood stops dripping,” says Leonard Naveau, who cooks the meat slowly over four hours, watching as it turns from pink, to deep red, to near black. A retired logger, life-long trapper and former band chief, Leonard is also one the founders of the Mattagami First Nation’s annual Beaver Festival, being held this Saturday April 25th.

Many of the youth in this 450-strong band move away, seeking jobs or better schooling in the nearest cities, Sudbury and Timmins.  Today just 175 members live on the reserve, overlooking the 64-kilometre long Mattagami Lake.

Worried about the declining interest in traditional hunting and trapping among youth on the reserve, Leonard, his partner Linda Penasse, and another couple, Evelyn Boissoneau and the late Willard Harnack, came up with festival six years ago.

But the taste for beaver is highest among the newest residents to the area. The growing community of Polish-Canadians, who left cities like Hamilton and Toronto for the simple life in the nearby railway town of Gogama, are heartily embracing their new digs.  “The Polish women are crazy for beaver,” says Leonard. He expects they’ll be the first in line again this year.

McPhee Lake
On the Beaver Trail

As we zipped over snowmobile trails the sun winked at us through the thick pine, birch and poplar forests, and blinded us as we bounded across wide frozen lakes in search of beaver.

Leonard, his son Larry, and I had left the reserve early that morning. My nerves over snowmobiling for the first time were quickly subsumed by incredulity at the beauty and freedom of driving on the wide-open lakes, their white surfaces sparkling in the late March sun.  I revved harder.

Besides, I knew I was in safe hands.

Leonard spent half the year for the first 17-years of his life, deep in this bush.  The oldest in a family of seven, he was his father’s right-hand man, trapping and hunting for food and fur.  Nearly every family in Mattagami lived that way then, says Leonard.

Today it takes Leonard 40-minutes to get to his family’s trapline on skidoo.  It used to take two days; Leonard snowshoeing miles ahead of their four-dog team, to pack down the deep snow.

But out on the trapline, not much has changed.

Father and son scouted four beaver houses on McPhee Lake the day before, looking for telltale signs of gnawed trees and snow domes on the lake’s edges.

We park the ski-doos about six metres away from the first den, where the ice is still thick.  Leonard bangs a heavy metal bar against the ice listening for hollow sounds.  He hears them near the edges of the rounded den.  He and Larry chop through two sweet spots with axes, ice chunks flying.  Using oversized ladles, they scoop the beaver’s trash out of the fresh holes – dozens of poplar twigs, picked clean of bark.

Leonard Naveau
On thin ice now, each man lies on his stomach peering into his hole, looking for the passageway.  Staring past their reflections in the clear, spring-fed lake they pass a long L-shaped stick between them, poking at the den’s walls until each finds a doorway.

Designed for an instant kill when a beaver, otter or marten swims through and hits the trigger, the jaws of the conibear trap snap around the animal’s neck packing 90 pounds of pressure.  The Naveaus use large metal pliers to spring the traps, mount them to the bottom of long pieces of thin, dead trees, and fix them under water in front of the passageways.

We set nine traps that day.  The next morning we pull a disappointing three beaver from the ice.  Two are adult-sized, their meat too tough for the festival.  Three more traps are set on a nearby lake.

Over the next two days we catch nine beaver.  Leonard and Larry keep the smallest one for roasting, a sickly one is fed to the dog, the large beaver are given to people on the reserve to eat, and six of the best kits are skinned, frozen and stored until the Festival.

Last week, the North Bay Fur Harvester’s truck stopped by the reserve to pick up the Naveaus’ fall and winter pelts – about 30 in all.  The fur truck makes this trip four times a year, stopping for just 15-minutes in small and large communities in a wide loop from North Bay to Fort Frances.

Beaver pelts, if they’re sold at all, are currently fetching about $29 a piece at auction.  Leonard and Larry will be lucky to get $870 for their weeks of work.  North Bay Fur Harvesters is a co-op, trappers only get paid once their furs are sold.  But trappers like Leonard and Larry form the backbone of Canada’s modern-day wild fur trade.

So why do they do it at all?  To maintain their traditional practices, to get outside, and for Leonard who is looking to keep busy during retirement, to keep busy.  Any money they do make will go to spruce up their camp, a wooden cabin near Grassy River where Leonard’s father and grandfather’s traplines sit today, and where they bring their family to relax, fish, hunt and trap.

Eating Beaver
The Festival starts around 10 a.m.  The large, Community Centre hosts skinning and stretching demonstrations and friendly folk man craft, sales and information booths lining the gym.  Local Trapping Councils encourage you to run your hands along their tables full of lynx, marten, wolf, fox, beaver and otter pelts.

A beer garden and hot, fast food will keep you full until the feast.  When the beavers are cooked, usually around 5 p.m., Mattagami residents put out a homemade spread. Turkey, ham, bannock, and salads – lots of salads – are served alongside bite-sized beaver samples.

The houses on Mattagami Reservation tell stories of the lives lived here.  A few mansions perch on the edges of the Lake, bought with money earned in the fly-in mines, like de Beer’s Victor Diamond Mine just south of James Bay in Attawapiskat.  Most houses are modest and well kept, with requisite pick-up trucks and four-wheelers in the driveways.  A few are small and run-down.  One or two have no running water.
Aside from a few elders, you won’t hear much Ojibway spoken.  “I wish I could speak my language fluently,” says Larry, who understands but has trouble conversing in his father’s first language.  A lot has been lost in one generation.  But it’s not yet forgotten.

Last summer, two teenaged boys from the Reserve asked Leonard if he would take them moose hunting.  They took a government-sanctioned week off of school to practice learn from their elder.  Larry’s stepsons and Linda’s grandsons love to fish and hunt.  They like to watch Leonard when he skins.  In May and June, Clara Wesley, an elder from Attawapiskat, will teach moose and deer-hide tanning here, restoring a skill lost to the band.  And by summer’s end, a Trapper’s Museum will house elder’s stories and knowledge about a traditional skill that shaped their community – and the country.

Click here to see a slideshow of my pictures from the trapline.

Mattagami First Nation is 180 km north of Sudbury and 80 km south of Timmins on Highway 144.  Exit on Mattagami First Nation road, it ends at the reserve.

Basic hotels can be found in the nearby town of Gogama.  Stardust Motel is noteworthy for its well-kept 1960s architecture, tel: 1-877-820-4311; Morin’s All Seasons Resort offers full suites complete with kitchens for $105.00/night, tel: 1-888-221-6004.  But the best bet is the newer Lise’s Lakeview Retreat, tel: 705-894-2413.


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