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ATTAWAPISKAT, ONT. — At Micheline Okimaw’s White Wolf Inn, the most popular of the two motels in this remote James Bay reserve, visitors to town tend to cross paths. And in recent days, in Okimaw’s cozy confines, folks arrived trying to help the community with both its future and its past.
From the organization Mining Matters, a travelling “school of rock” in the person of Toronto teachers Barbara Green Parker, Janice Williams and Jenni Piette, came a high-energy presentation on earth sciences and how that field could lead to jobs for young people in projects like a nearby diamond mine.
From Angela Lafontaine, a member of the Moose Cree First Nation, survivor of her own difficult past, came help addressing long-standing wounds that have gone unhealed down generations and helped sabotage aboriginal aspirations.
For the Cree of Attawapiskat, each of those aims — hopeful futures, reconciled pain — is as necessary as the other.
The Mining Matters team — an initiative of the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada — visited classrooms and hosted a community event that, in a manner of speaking, put rocks in the heads of young people.
With their samples, games and contests, the women showed reserve schoolchildren where minerals come from and what they’re used for — potassium in fertilizers, carbon in pencils, zinc in car bumpers to ward off rust and in creams to protect skin from the sun.
With diamonds in the DeBeers of Canada mine not far from Attawapiskat, and chromite in the region’s so-called Ring of Fire, there’s considerable potential in encouraging such study, explained Williams.
“It marries nicely. One feeds the other. No one should lose out,” she said.
Soon enough, the visitors learned that DeBeers and its presence are a source of local controversy. Chief Theresa Spence was actually in Ottawa the day they arrived to a give a speech demanding a revenue-sharing agreement with the company.
“Great riches are being taken from our land for the benefit of a few,” Spence said.
At the White Wolf, Micheline Okimaw, who as a child lived in the bush with her family during winters, told how her father often joked that she probably had no idea, when her grandfather went hunting, that he “was sleeping on diamonds.”
At a community centre supper sponsored by DeBeers, the effervescent Williams was soon surrounded by children like the Nakogee sisters, Tatum, 12, and Davida, 8, and Davida’s good friend Genise Okimaw, 8.
“I’m learning about mining!” Genise crowed.
To Williams, the enthusiasm is familiar.
“Every kid collects rocks. I always was busy looking down. My godson now, his mom’s killing me. She says, ‘Stop having him bring rocks home.’ He’s naming some of the minerals and the rocks. And he’s 7 years old.
“Everybody can collect rocks. You start off, ‘Look how pretty this is.’ They you say, ‘You know what’s in there? You know what they use it for?’ ”
Parker, who has run camps in many reserves, said it’s important to reassure First Nations communities, who fear the impact on the land, about the four stages of mining: exploration, development, extraction and reclamation.
For outsiders, the first job when it comes to aboriginal young people is to be respectful enough to learn how they communicate, she said.
“Our way is different than their way. Quiet pauses are perfectly okay. They don’t need to fill the silences. We do,” she said. “We notice that while those silences are occurring, they’ve got lots going on in their head. They’re answering the questions that we pose. They may not give any indication that they’re having those thoughts.
“When you’re with them longer and they’re more comfortable, you find they’ve caught all that information. That foundation is all in their heads. That’s really neat.”
For the rest of this article, please go to the Toronto Star website: http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1123353–attawapiskat-lots-of-love-and-rocks-for-a-young-generation