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Strive for balance when covering Attawapiskat story

By Sarah Marie Wiebe      

The problem with framing it in this way — as a crisis — is that it sensationalizes the community’s devastation and eclipses on the ground lived-experiences. It leaves little room for those who call Attawapiskat home to honour the stories and the beauty of this place.

Former chief of Attawapiskat Theresa Spence went on a six-week hunger strike in 2012-13 in an effort to arrange a meeting with then-prime minister Stephen Harper to discuss Indigenous issues. Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

Despite the tough circumstances currently facing Attawapiskat, which declared a State of Emergency on Saturday, this is a strong community that is rich in culture. Hearing stories about the community members taking action and walking together to address health and wellness reminds me about my first visit to Attawapiskat last August. I arrived via the Victor M. Power airport in Timmins before boarding the next flight that would take me north to the western shores of James Bay. This flight path most often shuttles workers 90km west of Attawapiskat to the neighbouring De Beers diamond mine. After being greeted with laughter by the Pow Wow organizers upon arrival, I was immediately put to work helping to organize the festivities. At that time, both the small airport and community were vibrant hubs of life. Now, as Attawapiskat community member Jackie Hookimaw-Witt recently shared with CBC, the arrival sounds at the local airport are increasingly ones of distress. The Attawapiskat First Nation’s State of Emergency declaration on Saturday, April 9 signalled the need for a much broader conversation about how we treat communities in crisis, the underlying conditions of environmental injustice and treaty relationships. This State of Emergency declaration, prompted by the escalating rates of suicide attempts, is the fifth declared by Attawapiskat leadership in just one decade. Each of these declarations alerts our attention to other concerns, ranging from drinking water access, to sewage back up, to flooding.

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