Life in Fort Albany

Life is precious.

 

I have never witnessed reverence for life quite like the way it is observed here in Fort Albany during funerals.

 

Well, that’s not quite true, but the reverence for life here is quite remarkable.

There have been three public funerals held here in the two months I have been teaching journalism. A fourth flag was just lowered to half-mast today.

A flag flies at half-mast in Fort Albany, Ontario.
A flag flies at half-mast in Fort Albany, Ontario.

The funerals are held in the largest space on the First Nation because when death strikes this small community, it is felt by many residents. Being a remote, fly-in area, it is not surprising that everyone is extremely close knit. Sadly, death’s dark reverberation rings upon neighbour after neighbour.

 

Yet, it is a powerful image to behold hundreds of people: Elders, parents, and throngs of children coming together to honour one who has passed.

 

After the ceremony concludes, the body is solemnly transported to the cemetery, and soon thereafter the people return to the Peetabeck Academy gym to feast, reflect, and commune.

 

As an outsider who does not feel the pain felt by family and friends of the deceased, I am fortunate to be able to help the healing in my own small way.

 

It takes a huge amount of effort by a loving bunch of volunteers to prepare food for all who have come to mourn. This last funeral, I noted a Facebook call for help in preparing the feast. Though I did not personally know the young man who died, I said to myself, I want to be a part of this community, to help where I can.

My small contribution to the community in time of mourning.
My small contribution to the community in time of mourning.
An expert bannock maker shares her secrets with a novice JHR bannock maker.
An expert bannock maker shares her secrets with a novice JHR bannock maker.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And so I did. I started preparing tart pastry and homemade custard the night before. Come morning, I started assembling the tarts, filling, and baking them. By the time I had finished, about 180 tiny tarts were ready. A neighbour gave me a ride to the school and then I stayed all day, peeling potatoes, baking bannock with the experts, and then helping to serve dinner.

 

It puts journalism in perspective.

 

— Jack Locke

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