Sunday, September 29, 2013


KAHNAWAKE: Mohawks and Water

This week and next week on SAMAQAN: Water Stories we take our viewers to Kahnawake. First we have shown the water treatment plant and how the community built the facility from its foundation up, on its own terms. Next in the SAMAQAN lineup will be the story of the Onake Canoe Club.

Kahnawake is said to mean, by the rapids. Indeed the community is situated on the shores of the St Lawrence River. It is home to 8000 people. In SAMAQAN season one we visited the community up river known as Akwesasne. We talked bout their relationship with water and our portrayal won us friends among the Mohawks. Their connection to water is a formidable one.

I was walking through the bookstore one day and ran across the fascinating piece of history in a book called Mohawks on the Nile. In 1884-85 during the First Sudanese War, British Prime Minister dispatched Canadian generals to pull together the best canoe journeymen they could find.

On August 21, 1884 the Prime Minster John A McDonald was awoken to the news that the British wanted 300 men to be assembled to take part in an Imperial expedition. The subsequent contingent of 388 men set sail from Sydney Nova Scotia a month later. They all knew they were going to war, to paddle upriver on the longest river in the world. Of the 388 men there were fifty-six men from Kahnawake who served in two gangs and a few others serving in one of the other 14 gangs. Two men were from Kanestake and five men from Akwesasne.

The mission was called the Gordon Relief Expedition, from Montreal to Wadi Halfa
The stories would have been all but lost were it not for the bravado and talents of two of the contingent, Louis Jackson and James Deer. Each of these men wrote and published books about their experiences.  And its good thing because left to the settler narrative, the extent of the Mohawks role on foreign wars could be easily overlooked. Through these intimate accounts we hear about their experiences without the filtered lens of the colonial eye.

James Deer told the story of the trip, the sea sickness, the train rides, seeing the first Egyptian, the mud castles and the fight up the Nile River. The river, in her old state, was dotted with rapids going from Alexandra to Halfa. The Mohawk contingent powered the force that brought five of the York boats upriver some 200 miles.

They participated in games and were celebrated but alas, escaping any image takers of the time. When they returned to north America a haunting bit of chaos and mayhem would turn into a bloody encounter inflicting wounds that ran deep. When the ship arrived in Nova Scotia from Gibralter, the French shantymen ganged up on the Mohawk river captains beating some to near death. It is possible this act in infamy caused deep wounds that reverberate today. Yet it hardly dampened the Mohawk connection to water.

This did not go un-noticed by the Victorian Media in England when one paper reported “The sight of North American Indians navigating British Troops up the cataracts of the Nile is one of the most singular ever witnessed in a campaign”. This view was sharply contrasted by the Globe in Toronto that defined Louis Jackson as a chief foreman of the Canadians neglecting to mention the Mohawk.

Upon their return home The Globe neglected to mention that most of the intoxicated revelers were white boatmen when they reported, “the greater part of the Indian contingent became crazed with liquor”. It was widely recognized that many of the Mohawks remained sober.

Whether by design or by osmosis the return of 63 Mohawk men was a welcome sight for family and friends. Louis Jackson immediately got involved with the newly formed band council and published his memoir of the trip. Soon after James Deer also wrote his recolections. As they were both literate and articulate prior to going on the expedition, these two men shared incredible insight to Egypt at the time. They both seemed to enjoy the trip as an adventure, just like we do whenever we go anywhere on assignment.

SOURCE: Mohawks on the Nile, by Carl Benn.

Monday, September 23, 2013

EPSIODE 29 KitiGan Zibi: Recovers from Water Drinking bans

Running all this week on SAMAQAN is the story of Kitigan Zibi and how they are now managing their water treatment and distribution. This was the follow up to our stories about how some communities do not yet have running water. Is it any easier for those communities that acquired running water than those without?

While circumstances are vastly different between Northern Manitoba and central, southern Quebec, there are many commonalities.

For those of you who do not know, Kitigan Zibi is also known as River Dessert band and until 1994 it was also known as Maniwaki. Under the leadership of Jean Guy Whiteduck the name was changed back to Kitigan Zibi, which means Garden River in the Algonquin language. The Maliseet language has a similar word for river, “Zib”.

Back in 2008 Gilbert Whiteduck was elected chief. Gilbert grew up in the region and although he endured racism and cat-calling going to school in the local area, he reached beyond the tightrope of colonial attitudes. He remembers being told by teachers in high school that he would not amount to much: “I had told myself well we’ll see about that so we had to be very stubborn, very persistent in order to go on in to university and do things that government and other people said we couldn’t do.”

When it comes to a water system, Gilbert like most band members had a well. They drank from a hole in the ground. “That’s the way we lived we didn’t have any indoor plumbing and that was the deal there was no big thing.  Even though the local town had the municipal system we didn’t.”

In early 2000 Uranium was detected in the water supply. The water was in such poor condition that the dogs and cats had to stop drinking the water. People stopped taking showers and bottled water became a commodity no one could afford forcing the band to subsidize the costs at $170,000.00 per year.  And according to some community member’s bottled water is here to stay.

Celine Brazeau tests water for sampling and analysis for the Ktigan Zibi community and she grew up in Kitigan Zibi. While growing up she had no idea that there could be anything wrong with the water. “We only found out like in the early nineties, so by then I was already married. It wasn’t something that we had to think about or worry, you just went to your tap and drank the water and it was never an issue.”

Marcel Brascoupe is the Manager of the Water filtration plant in Kitigan Zibi.” Now as of 2010 and 2011 we were able to obtain funding from Indian affairs to build an aqueduct and system through part of the community.  So we actually have presently in the community, probably about 100 close to 200 homes that are now supplied with aqueduct system.  We were actually able to find 2 wells in the community, those wells sites we will be visiting or have visited and those actual sites those wells are high quality water with hardly any, no uranium at all or radium in the water.  So we’re actually using those new wells now to supply all the community.”

But now many people have become accustomed to the bottled water and fear that a water filtration system may never reach them. Celine Brazeau remains pessimistic. “I don’t know if they’ll ever see the water system coming to their place so bottled water I think is here for the rest of our lives, most likely.“

The community works hard to this day to make improvements despite having endured water consumption bans in the past. Now through a combination of community lead initiatives the Anishinabeg of Kitigan Zibi are showing their resilience in Episode 29 of Samaqan Water Stories. Chief Gilbert Whiteduck knows, however, that the work starts at home and must be managed at home.

“Now as of last year in 2010 and 2011 we were able to obtain funding from Indian affairs to build an aqueduct and system through part of the community.  So we actually have presently in the community, probably about 100 close to 200 homes that are now supplied with aqueduct system.  We were actually able to find 2 wells in the community, those wells sites we will be visiting or have visited and those actual sites those wells are high quality water with hardly any, no uranium at all or radium in the water.  So we’re actually using those new wells now to supply all the community.”

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

EPISODE 28: The Island Lake Region
Last week SAMAQAN presented the first part of our story concerning the isolated region in northern Manitoba called Island Lake. Many people were touched by Victor Harpers resilience and Nora Whiteway’s quiet disposition over the lack of running water. Meanwhile the rest of us are blissfully unaware.

This week we go to another part of that story. We show you how the local people in St Theresa Point and Garden Hill deal with water distribution, with sanitation and other infrastructural challenges.  The lack of running water and proper sanitation remains a constant reminder to people in a community that there is no road access. The only road in/out is the winter road, across a frozen lake.

Then there are the realities of Global warming. With the winter road season getting shorter the opportunities to import building supplies, and other large shipments becomes fewer and far between. Over the years the opportunity to develop an infrastructure that includes basic necessities seem unreasonably unattainable. Why can’t anything be done to mitigate this basic human need?

According to the regional Chief and former resident of Garden Hill, David Harper, there is no need why 17 communities should not have an all weather road system. He points to the James Bay Northern Agreement negotiated by the Cree’s in 1975.

“In Quebec where the Crees were negotiating, they pushed for an all access road.” That was 38 years ago. “We’re still advocating for that kind of service”. And the situation should be easy for governments to consider making this possible in an area that still has 1500 homes without running water. The federal government, however, remains unresponsive, choosing instead to approach the problem in a piecemeal fashion. There is a jurisdictional problem, it seems. “Right now there is no government saying they will build all the roads”.

Manitoba’s own provincial government Deputy Premier is from such a community and has reminded the mainstream press that he still has a slosh pail ring around his ass (although no proof was provided). According to the Winnipeg Free Press (WFP) Robinson would put in cash immediately because of the health issue, as many of the people infected by poor sanitation end up in provincial hospitals.

Deputy Premier Eric Robinson is quoted by the WFP: "I think we have to put aside the boundaries and the jurisdictional disputes, that every once in a while pop up, and do something creative," Robinson said. "Our door has always been open to facilitate such dialogue to correct some of the urgent situations."

To date there is no deal in place.

This is just a little bit of the back story for tonight’s episode of SAMAQAN. Please comment on anything you see, hear or read in our stories. We welcome feedback.

But for more detailed coverage of this story visit the WFP website with this link:

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


                                          RISING SEA

                                          Salish Sea: Tribal Journey

As the earth warms the Glaciers in Antarctica and in Greenland are melting at a faster rate than anyone can imagine. It has had devastating effects on earth and on coastal cities. During last October’s devastating hurricane Sandy, shorelines were wiped out in New Jersey and New York. The underlying message is that the warmer the earth gets the more storms we will get. The dangers of a rising sea are close at hand.

Today an all new SAMAQAN Water stories launches its third season. When we began production in 2009 people were talking about water as if we were just discovering its value. Our goal was to honor our connections to water and to bring about an appreciation for the things we take for granted. Like the questions that Josephine Mandamin asked during her Water Journey: What are you doing for water? Some answers are right in front of you in many cases.

                                          Gulf of Mexico: Water Journey 2011

This is the list of our new SAMAQAN season:
(There is a schedule on our website but it is Manitoba time. Please check your local listings.)

Samaqan : Water Stories 27-39

Firs Nations face big challenges to provide clean drinking water to their citizens. Particularly in the Island Lake Region of Manitoba.

EP28:            WITHOUT RUNNING WATER pt2
Families in Island Lake Manitoba struggle with no running water and the challenges include keeping their children healthy.

Kitigan Zibi, formerly known as Maniwaki, P.Q, has had its fair share of boiled water advisories. We hear the story of how they beat the odds.

EP30:             KANAWAKE WATERS
Another community tired of boiled water advisories is Kanawake, home of the Mohawk nation.

EP31:            KANAWAKE WATERS 2
We complete the Kanawake story with the Onage Canoe club and we members  members who demonstrate a life long connection to the seaway.

EP32:            PADDLE TO SQUAXIN
The annual canoe journey along the Pacific coast of British Columbia is a major summer event.

EP33:            NALA WINDS
We join Nala Winds, the young canoe family from Bella Bella, as they launch their journey out of Cowican Bay.

EP34:            KWUMUT LELUM
We meet the children and Elders of Kwumut Lelum, Child and Family services organization from Nanaimo BC.

One of the unexpected outcomes of this remarkable journey is that it has inspired people on a global scale.

Landing to a warm village welcome makes the Tribal Journey a little easier while adhering to traditional ceremonial procedures.

The canoes land in the port of Olympia, traditional shoreline of the Squaxin tribe, on July 29th , to great fanfare, pomp and ceremony.

In recent years we have seen a decline in the return of salmon stocks on the west coast and peoples concerns know no boundaries.

EP39:            WATER FROM MY MOTHERS WELL           
This is a personal essay about how to maintain our physical and spiritual connection to water.