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There is no word for diamond in Cree. “They hear about the diamonds,” said Maryanne Wheesk, a middle-aged grandmother in the remote James Bay community of Attawapiskat, “and they think we’re rich.”
I sat down with Ms. Wheesk two years ago, long before Attawapiskat had declared a state of emergency, and long before a housing crisis transformed the mispronounced dot on a map to a mainstay of the national conversation.
The plight of the inhabitants here is a familiar one among isolated aboriginal communities. They lack access to clean drinking water. They lack adequate shelter. And the persistent questions about economic viability are lost in a haze of mutual recrimination with Ottawa: Complaints about mistreatment by the federal government are met with accusations of fiscal mismanagement and poor governance.
But there is one thing unique to Attawapiskat, something that had – for a time, at least – given residents reason to believe their story would be a different one. Continue Reading →