Tags: aboriginal engagement
Author: Northern Gateway
Dated: 7 March 2012
Birdtail Sioux First Nation was once one of too many First Nations communities in Canada suffering the heartbreaking combination of alcoholism, school dropouts, hopelessness and suicide. But a transformation has taken root. Here is the story of Birdtail, the second in a four-part series of how a small First Nation found a path to a brighter future through partnership and collaboration.
Marcel Benn returned home to Birdtail Sioux First Nation after 23 years of city life.
Life in this picturesque prairie community in southwest Manitoba offers an opportunity to reconnect with the land.
Deer, elk and moose are plentiful in the treed edges of the Assiniboine River valley, as are fish in its winding waters.
But at least as important to Benn is the other big reason he came back to Birdtail after so long a hiatus.
“I found work here, labour work and a lot of carpentry work,” says Benn, who proudly proclaims his family has recently grown by one to include his first granddaughter.
“I’m happy to have this job to support my daughter and my granddaughter.”
Benn is part of a construction troupe of about a dozen hired to construct a $1.3 million 4,000 sq.ft. general store and renovate over 100 homes in the community.
All of this construction work is part of Chief Ken Chalmers’ larger plan to take care of the foundation of his community – housing.
The ambitious project he started over a year ago is to renovate all the homes in the community – both inside and out.
The Chief points as he drives throughout his community to each home with a green roof, signifying that it has been outfitted with new windows, doors, insulation and roofs.
Now, his task is to refurbish interiors of all 115 homes to clean out mould and other remnants of the formerly leaky, drafty structures.
This mission is daunting enough. But there is another monumental challenge on the horizon for Chief Chalmers.
Birdtail School has 150 students from Kindergarten and Grade 5. This mini-population boom will require nearly that many new homes in about 10 years just to keep up.
“Good chiefs think seven generations ahead…seven generations from now,” he says. “For me to think about it, just a couple of generations ahead is huge.”
Building for the future, for Chief Chalmers, means ensuring the children of his community have the necessities of life now.
“What I worry about is our children having safe homes to live in while they go to school so they can concentrate on school without worrying about freezing,” says the Chief.
“If you don’t get these kids now, the ones that are in school, we’re going to have the same cycle repeating itself – alcoholism, no future, quitting school. There’s no future when you go to a home with no windows and doors.”
This is Part Two of a Four Part blog series on the inspirational transformation of a First Nations community. Click to read Part One: Bringing back our Children. Part Three is here: A healthy Community