Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Photo: Cover of the book Where the Pavement Ends.
Photo courtesy Douglas & McIntyre. For more information from the publisher, click here
Marie Wadden’s new book, Where the Pavement Ends, will likely not be the book most Canadians take to the beach this summer – which is unfortunate, as there is much to like about it.
Ms. Wadden – a CBC radio producer in St. John’s, N.L., spent a year travelling the country (courtesy of the Atkinson Fellowship in Public Policy) interviewing aboriginals about their hopes and dreams.
What Ms. Wadden found was a group of people suffering from an epidemic of problems: substance abuse, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), suicide, boil water advisories, inadequate housing, domestic violence, chronic unemployment and poor self-esteem.
The 21 essays that make up Where the Pavement Ends give Canadians a portrait of how (some, not all) aboriginal people live in Canada.
Despite the sometimes-bleak situation in many aboriginal communities, Ms. Wadden was pleasantly surprised to find a growing self-help movement, designed and implemented by aboriginal people themselves.
Ms. Wadden introduces us to an amazing group of caring, knowledgeable people who have chosen to stay on the reserve and work to improve the lives of their neighbours.
The success these local initiatives have achieved should be an inspiration to all Canadians.
Ms. Wadden believes the timing is right for Canadians to come together to improve the lives of aboriginal people. She was pleased that Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized to former students of residential schools, but even more pleased that aboriginal leaders had a chance to respond in the House of Commons.
“There has to be thousands and thousands of small acts of reconciliation between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians,” said Ms. Wadden, in a telephone interview from her office in St. John’s.
“Reconciliation is really about us walking over that line and going to the people and saying ‘How are things now? How can we make it better?’”
Ms. Wadden believes Canadians must engage aboriginals. In Kenora, Ont., she noticed that all the traffic was one directional. Aboriginals go to the city to purchase goods and services; however, non-aboriginals do not go to any of the First Nations communities in the region. She recalls that aboriginal people were not included in any of the signage or advertising in the community.
“You would never think there is an aboriginal person in the place,” said Ms. Wadden.
On another occasion, Ms. Wadden could not find the reserve where the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Phil Fontaine, comes from. When she asked for directions, she was told – almost metaphorically – by a gas station attendant, “It’s on the other side of the tracks.”
Ms. Wadden says that given the average age of aboriginals is 27 (compared to 40 for non-aboriginals) and the fact that they are having children at a much higher rate than the rest of the population, the need for action could not be more urgent.
The mainstream media caters to 30-second sound bites. Canadians know about the gas-sniffing children from Davis Inlet. They should hear more about are the success stories in native communities around the country. These stories take longer to tell and Where the Pavement Ends serves as a primer for the uninitiated to get up to speed on aboriginal tragedies and triumphs.