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For Serenity and Neesh

Like crimson flames the leaves are turning the page on summer, but the memories continue to glow; embers that won't die.

On our last day with the children of Mish we drove them the 8 kilometers from the village and through the cemetery to the beach one last time; an end of the week celebration tinged with sadness at what that meant. 

The children ran from our cars, not to the beach at first, but to visit the small white wooden crosses marking graves, looking for those of people they knew, pointing them out to one another. Death seems an all too frequent a visitor to the families of Mish. 

"My auntie's here; she burned," said one little girl. Her tone was as matter of fact as if burning is as normal a cause of death as old age. But then, on the reserve, tragically, it is. Buildings burn often and the people in them die.
Down on the beach the first children to have arrived were already shrieking with joy. Their laughter carried up to the hilltop where I stood, at a grave from which a young man's face smiled from a photo: Gary "Neesh" Fox; he should have been the promise of the future for his community--"Top Student Phys Ed," "Most Improved Social Sciences." He died at 21 in a fire.

My heart broke and I am angry at the level of acceptance that this happens. This is not okay. It is shameful that in our proud country, people have no choice but to live in flimsy inadequate housing in which they struggle to keep warm in the bitter cold of winter. 

 In Missabay Community School, our friend, Isaiah Roundhead, pointed out one of the banners hanging among the other richly coloured hand sewn flags and banners representing other First Nations or events. This one, a single feather, he said quietly, was made in memory of Serenity. 

Last year Serenity would have been one of the children at the beach. She joined in the children's program we ran for a week. And she was one of four occupants who died when the house they were in burned down in the early hours of one morning this past February.  We saw the empty piece of land where their house used to stand.

John Kiedrowski wrote in an article in the National Post last January, that: 
The fire incidence rate is 2.4 times greater per capita than that for the rest of Canada, the fire damage per unit 2.1 times greater, the fire injury rate 2.5 times greater, and the death rate 10.4 times greater.
There are many underlying reasons for this, including substance abuse, lack of adequate housing and lack of emergency services, to name a few. 

Listen HERE to Chief Connie Gray-MacKay, on CBC Radio, February 18, 2014, responding to the tragedy in which Serenity died, and calling upon the Federal Government to address the challenges faced in making First Nations communities safe places to live for their children and grandchildren.

Serenity and Neesh, this is written so that you will be known beyond Mishkeegogamang and so that people will know of the challenges and the help that is needed for them to be overcome. 

Your lives were precious. You had promise and hope. You are not forgotten.


Anonymous said…
Was good to "hear" from you again. Perhaps you can explain to me a comment from your blog: "It is shameful that in our proud country, people have no choice but to live in flimsy inadequate housing in which they struggle to keep warm in the bitter cold of winter." I am ignorant in these matters, but why don't they have a choice? Isn't it the bands choice how the funds are spent? I just find all this so confusing. Of course, our part is love.
Belinda Burston said…
Dear Friend, it was good to hear from YOU too.

Thank you for nudging me to dig deeper and learn more about the issues.

I saw first hand good people living in poverty, and social issues caused in part by past government policies that broke up generations of families with devastating results.

I agree that I need to learn more about the "why" of the poverty we saw.In Mishkeegomang the chief lives in a humble home and the band council members we met live in simple homes. The two beautiful buildings were the school and community centre--not fancy, but lovely.

You have challenged me and I will answer the challenge! :) Thank you.
Anonymous said…
You are so kind to stretch yourself my way. With all the recent news articles about the now accountability of funds - one gets a view of things that may not be totally accurate or one sided. It seems at times some societies, like in Haiti, have developed, due to circumstances, a culture of taking. I'm not speaking in any arena of blame, it is often a generational things - layer upon layer. Places of great need have great need. Yet often they loose the culture of giving. Some places are so use to taking what they need and discarding things no longer considered useful. It is hard to get your head around having free medical, dental, housing - and still having mold and terrible conditions. It seems a tragic situation all across Canada. What a blessing to see a tangible difference you and the team made. Thank you for documenting it so well through photos and the written word. You have touched my heart and educated me. I'm confident God went before you, was with you and will follow after you in this place.
Belinda Burston said…
Thank you Anon. I will do a better job of writing from a place of educating myself and others, once I've finished unpacking my Mish suitcase. :) At the moment I'm writing from my observations and what I've learned from the relationships formed with First Nations people. People walk everywhere in Mish and I gave a ride to a man who walked to work at the school every day an hour and a half each way--not lazy and not rich, but I admit that I don't know the financial facts of life on a reserve--yet!
Anonymous said…
Oh my, please don't think I am saying they are lazy. I am ignorant. I am probably more "aware" of your writing since a good friend/sister in the Lord, has just recently been touched with a love and a desire to work with the First Nations, or as she educated me, Aboriginals (new terminology). Since my loving friend comes from such a "feeling" arena, I was looking for a bit of light from the voice of experience. No worries dear Belinda. From your blog I know you have a lot on your plate. God knows, and I just rest the matter with Him.

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