People and Places

POLITICS CHATTER: How the story of one woman captures the disaster that is Canada’s First Nations

Rebecca Drake, who was interviewed by the CBC's Jody Porter, sees no way out of the situation at Eabametoong First Nation. Photo: Jody Porter

Contributing editor Mark Bourrie looks at how the story of one woman — Rebecca Drake of the Eabametoong First Nation — captures the disaster that is Canada’s First Nations.

This week, more than 400 chiefs came to Ottawa to talk to the Prime Minister and members of the cabinet about the disaster of the country’s First Nations. The talks got a lot of hype and plenty of ink, but, in the end, accomplished very little. There were promises of more money and greater accountability, unspecified improvement of core services like education and housing, and more talks in the future. Some guys in suits think the whole thing was a wild success.

But all that won’t help Rebecca Drake, and we won’t solve First Nations problems unless we can do something about the situation of Rebecca Drake and the thousands of people like her. Drake lives in Eabametoong First Nation, in the dead centre of Northwestern Ontario. About 1,200 people live in Eabametoong. The only way into this awful place is by air, yet the place has 1,200 people. That makes it one of the largest towns in the region — and one of the very few that’s growing.

About 80 percent of the adults in Eabametoong are addicted to prescription painkillers, paying about $400 apiece for Oxycotin, an economic fact that lies behind a string of drug store robberies in Ottawa and other cities.

Drake is a young woman with five kids. The father of the family isn’t in the picture. He’s hooked on pills. She lives with her parents in a two-bedroom house.

There’s a “detox centre” in the town. It’s a house. And it’s not going to solve the problem in Eabametoong. A small town with 500 people hooked on Oxycotin is a medical disaster that will take a massive intervention to fix — and that’s if the addicts want to get off these drugs. And even if the whole place successfully went cold turkey, they’d only solve one small problem.

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People and Places

POLITICS CHATTER: Whipped: Documentary asks “Who comes first?” — a politician’s party or his constituents?

You’d think a film called Whipped would be the kind of thing that you’d watch after the kids are asleep. But Sean Holman’s new documentary didn’t come in the 21st century equivalent of a plain brown package. Still, it provokes certain emotions that might leave you a bit shaky.

Holman, founding editor of the pioneering British Columbia-based online investigative political news service Public Eye, made Whipped as his Master’s thesis at Carleton University. The film is about the bind that so many members of legislatures and parliament find themselves in: are they employed by their political party or their constituents?

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