Wab Kinew is the associate vice-president of indigenous affairs at the University of Winnipeg and author of The Reason You Walk
The shooting in La Loche, Sask., is not merely a northern or an indigenous tragedy, as some would have us believe. It is a Canadian tragedy.
Many in our country and our political class understand this. The Prime Minster's presence in the community this past Friday brought some healing. Yet others are asking if reserves, indigenous communities or the entire North is doomed to failure.
We should remember that this is not a uniquely northern phenomenon. School shootings are an import from the South, a shadow that stretches back through Newtown, Conn., and Columbine, Colo., to École Polytechnique in Montreal. The mass shooter meme travels through North American society catching flame when it strikes the dry kindling of a disturbed individual who lashes out at women, bullies or other perceived enemies. In this instance, it seems as though it sparked an individual formed in the powder keg of Canada's colonial hangover.
While the spread of harmful social trends such as school shootings find their way to northern communities, Canadian compassion has not always flowed north as easily. This empathy gap has real consequences.
Part of the reason social ills in northern and indigenous communities seem so intractable is because our nation has never sustained the political will necessary to make real progress. Another factor is that, even though we have just been presented with the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which concluded the colonial experiment of administering outside solutions in northern and indigenous communities was an abject failure, we still assume that the North will be saved by outsiders.
While the North certainly needs help, I have travelled enough to realize that there are brilliant people in every community who know the solutions needed. They don't need saviours, they need allies. And yes, they need resources. We pull natural-resource wealth out of the North, but are sometimes reluctant to reinvest in the human resources there.
The solutions will have to be holistic.
It should start with better access to mental-health services and addiction treatment. It should continue with equitable funding for education, child welfare and health. This is consistent with a recent ruling by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, which found the federal government was not providing children living on reserves with the same level of services as children in other parts of the country.
They must also celebrate indigenous languages and cultures so that young people feel validated, knowing that their ancestors were respectable and had answers to many of life's big questions. They must include jobs and an economy.
At the same time, youth in the North should know the world is bigger than their backyards. If they need to leave to pursue their happiness, they should be free to do so and their schools should prepare them to compete in the South. Conversely, they should also be free to stay. They should not have to leave just to enjoy the quality of life the rest of us take for granted.
There is also an important role for personal responsibility to play in this discussion. For example, my family has been deeply affected by residential schools and I have had the chance to explore that history. As a result, I know that I am the vessel that might carry the dysfunction my father learned in those institutions and pass them on to my children. Yet I can also be the one to end that negativity. I can make a choice each day to not teach those habits to my sons, and to not offload them to my wife. No government, non-governmental organization or ally can do this for me. I must change.
Many in La Loche are probably in a similar web of intergenerational trauma. But have they had the chance to reflect on it, and have young people there learned about this history so that they might change it? As outsiders, we cannot dictate the necessary transformation. We can encourage, share knowledge and support this type of personal healing, but in order for it to take root, the seed must be planted by local people themselves.
We stand a little more than a week removed from the tragedy at La Loche, and we are all poorer for it. We lost Marie Janvier, a young educator in the infancy of her career. We lost Adam Wood, a teacher only beginning to bring his gifts to the community. We will never know the contributions young Drayden and Dayne Fontaine may have made to our society.
While we are poorer for having suffered these losses, our grief should move us to act on one of this country's remaining nation-building projects: ensuring every person in Canada can live and reach their full potential, no matter where they are.