By Chris Marchand
Well, the smoke has cleared, the people have spoken and in the end Keewaytinook Okimakanak and the Keewatin Patricia District School Board decided that the conditions are not favourable to pursue their plans to turn the former Pinewood School into a live-in transitional high school program for kids from northern First Nations.
I found this affair to be a tremendously revealing exercise into the inner processes of the community’s sensibilities, its weaknesses and its strengths.
Of course much of what occurred over the past few weeks has been and will be interpreted by some in the community as having its basis in racial discrimination.
Elements of racism are impossible to dismiss in such a matter. Of course it was a factor — but I don’t believe it was fundamental to why the project failed to find acceptance.
The cool thing and almost comically ironic part about the Pinewood situation is that it placed a predominantly non-native community, or neighbourhood for that matter, into the shoes of say… a remote northern first nation, struggling to come to terms with the ramifications of a potential new neighbour whose ways are not like their own and whose presence could present radical changes to the established order of things.
Northern First Nations know far better than anyone the delicacies of dealing with interlopers, like mineral exploration companies who operate by the letter of provincial law with little regard to relations or the community’s way of doing things.
Is it a stretch to say we’ve essentially seen this process reversed upon ourselves, albeit with a pair of proponents who cared enough to explain their idea, who tried to win the hearts and minds of Dryden and in the end listened to what the people said?
To not learn a tremendous lesson from this affair would be a travesty indeed. What do we have in common with a place like Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug who resist the presence of mining exploration companies on their lands to the point of civil disobedience?
People are fiercely protective of their homes and ways of life. We are innately distrustful of any force that could alter that reality however slightly in ways that would not benefit us.
It’s not a white thing, it’s not a native thing — it’s a human thing.
And while the race card was played frequently throughout this public process, the bottom line was simply that the plan wasn’t convincing enough for most people to overcome the unknowns and inconsistencies — the breeding place of fear and its ugly cousin racism.
The lesson here, I believe, is that inspiration and pleasant sentiments go only so far in efforts to have a community ‘buy in’ to a concept.
A more thorough, and properly-conceived plan might have made the difference with those who perceived the project as a threat to their way of life.