Opiate addiction and mining developments are threatening the future of Canada’s First Nations rural communities.
In the far north of Canada’s Ontario province, where opiate addiction afflicts the First Nation population, nurse practitioner Mae Katt runs a mobile drug treatment programme.
Her urgent mission is to set up effective programmes to treat this devastated population in the hopes that they will be able to shape their future, on their territory, and become the employment workforce backbone of the coming “Ring of Fire” mining operations.
It is a mammoth challenge, especially as up to 80 percent of the adult population of some communities negotiating the mining developments are addicted to opiates.
This pristine territory is set to emerge as one of the richest mining sites in North America. First Nation leaders and Mae have seen their people betrayed before with broken promises; this time, they must secure their voice in the coming economic boom and take part in the opportunity to defend their land and lift themselves out of endemic poverty and isolation.
The mining developments might present a Faustian bargain, but Mae is determined that her efforts and that of her team can pave a way for her people to reclaim their health and their future on their land.
By Candida Paltiel
I first became aware of the Ring of Fire as I was finishing a stint as the artistic director of an environmental film festival where I programmed many works from communities whose lands and lives were being disrupted by global economic forces. The discovery in my own country of the Ring of Fire, the massive mineral find in the pristine wetlands of the James Bay Lowlands, revealed the Canadian chapter in this story, one in which formerly invisible aboriginal communities were facing global juggernauts while trying to determine their own future on their territories.
Originally, I was going to follow the negotiation process over this development, which at the outset of the staking frenzy was being compared to that of Canada’s Alberta tar sands. I wondered whether a new bar would be established for resource extraction in my country, in which all parties, in particular the First Nations, would benefit.
But my introduction to Mae Katt, a pioneering First Nation nurse practitioner, who has worked in the region for almost four decades, changed my focus.
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