Long Lake #58: Showing Up for Their Nation

For the past month I’ve been walking up and down the Trans-Canada Highway and, while the entire world seems to pass by this remote and beautiful First Nation, called Long Lake #58, few ever stop to get to know the wonderful, creative and welcoming people who inhabit this land.

I’ve come here to equip high-school students and community members with journalism skills, as part of the Indigenous reporters program, which is designed to help different First Nation communities get involved in disclosing the facts usually unnoticed by mainstream media in their stories.

Since my arrival, I’ve had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with the students, at Long Lake Migizi Miigwanan Secondary School, and other community members, at the Long Lake #58 General Store, which I’ve adopted as my office and favourite hangout spot in the community.

During this short period of time, I have met many wonderful people, who despite numerous challenges in their lives, choose to focus on personal development and strength rather than dwelling on the harshness of their realities.

Jessica Shawanamash
Jessica Shawanamash Photo credit: Frances Darwin

Such resiliency is evident in wonderful community members like Jessica Shawanamash, 27, who is a proud mother of four. Everyday, not only does she make sure her children are happy and healthy, but she also shares her big smile with the students and staff of the Migizi Miigwanan Secondary School, where she works as a secretary.

Her readiness to help and find a solution to any problem makes it easy for anyone to feel at home. When she sensed how anxious I was to open a radio station at the school, with genuine interest, she tried to solve my problem in anyway she could, regardless of how unfamiliar she is with the subject.

But that’s not all. After a long day at work, every Tuesday and Thursday, she attends a digital skills workshop to learn about coding and web development – something she has a natural talent for. I know this, because I usually sit beside her at the workshop.

I attend the workshop and any other experiences available to Long Lake #58 members so that I can immerse myself in the community, get to know its members and introduce myself and my work to them. And while journalism and the skills I hope to share are empowering and fascinating in their own right, most of the time it is the people I meet here that amaze and inspire me, in how they deal with the harsh realities facing their community.

Like many other First Nations across the country, Long Lake #58 faces complex challenges caused by several facts: the remoteness of the community, poor access to government services, a limited number of industries operating in the area, and most importantly decades of intergenerational trauma and systemic oppression that each member of Long Lake #58 is working hard to heal from.

These challenges manifest in ways that seem small but have huge consequences. For example, there is no permanent optometrist in Longlac. If someone needs an eye-exam or glasses they are forced to travel to nearby cities that are 2-3 hours away. It seems simple, but for the student with broken glasses who I met two weeks ago, it was not that easy. She was told to wait 2 months for the optometrist to visit town. The only hospital and closest grocery store are in Geraldton, 30 km away.

To make matters worse, there is no public transportation for people to easily travel between cities and owning a car is not possible for the majority of people. Even if they owned a car, Service Ontario does not have an office in town for people like Jessica to easily begin the driver’s licensing process. Every time she wants to go to any other town for more resources and essential supplies, she has to go through an immense amount of effort to find a ride and schedule a convenient time for her and her ride. One of her main worries is how problematic not having a driver’s license could be if one of her children needs immediate medical attention.

Many people, share Jessica’s anxieties and worries, yet when meeting them in the community, whether at the general store, school, or bingo-night, it is their warmth and resilience that shine through.

The people of Long Lake #58, like Jessica, even after the longest and most challenging days, show up to the class, from six to nine in the evening, to type away complicated code, creating beautiful websites; show up to long night shifts working at the lumber mill; show up to take care of their children, grandchildren and families; show up to learn their Anishinaabe traditions; show up to check their traps in the bush; show up to learn from the Elders; show up to learn at school; show up for their lives; show up for their community; show up for their nation.

Community journalism training is an integral part of JHR’s larger Indigenous Reporters Program. In-community training in Ontario is generously supported by the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

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