The Importance of Geographic and Financial Accessibility


(Photo from MENAE Entrepreneur)

As discussed in our blog on accessibility, there are a number of elements that come into play when defining something as ‘accessible,’ – as it is an extremely complex and layered topic. Key aspects of the argument for accessible travel are financial and geographical considerations.

Passenger trains, like the Mask-Wa Oo-Ta-Ban, are meant to be a service in the sense that they are not providing people with a luxury; but a basic necessity of life, the right to travel, to move safely from point A to point B. For such reason, rail ticket prices are nowhere nearly expensive as the astronomical cost of flying, especially on a regular basis. For example, flights from the Sault to Hearst are extremely expensive. With layovers, it can sometimes take up to 30 hours to reach Hearst from the Sault after considering layovers, and after that, you would still have an hour drive from the nearest airport in Kapuskasing to Hearst. To make matters worse, in late May, it was announced that Kapuskasing Airport will no longer provide passenger flights through Bearskin Airlines, but will only be servicing cargo from now on. To learn more about that, click here

The average monthly payment for a new vehicle in Canada, as reported in 2015, is $570 a month, for between 48 and 60 total months, equaling a range of $27,360 and $47,880 (Cato, 2015). For people with a limited income, this is not a feasible or desirable option. For students, this is almost entirely impossible. Local educational institutions, like Sault College and Algoma University, would benefit from more financially-accessible travel options in order to attract more students from remote communities, especially since they are essentially the nearest post-secondary institutions in the area.

In addition to that fact, there are no flights, or transportation, other than driving a car, from the Sault to Hawk-Junction, Dubreuilville, Missanabie, or Wawa. In terms of accessing northern communities via bus, Greyhound bus services has one bus a day that departs from the Sault to Wawa, at 12:15am, and one bus a day from Sault Ste. Marie to Hearst, at 7:30pm. The ride from the Sault to Hearst, would take one day, 7 hours, and 35 minutes to reach its destination, making it entirely inaccessible for anyone looking to make a weekend or urgent trip. Not to mention, while transport out of the Sault works local Saultites, for anyone coming out of a remote community, like Missanabie or Oba, accessibility is still an issue (NEORN, 2016). For more information on Greyhound routes and fares, click here

Ultimately, renewing rail service would help to make education more available in the north, while also serving the interests of the people, not just major corporations who naturally are motivated exclusively by increasing profits through transporting freight.

In conclusion, we can see how renewed rail service in the North is the only way to actually accommodate people from all walks of life in terms of transportation. Regardless of whether you can’t afford to drive, can’t afford to fly, or simply can’t justify the purchase of a car or excessive flight fees for individuals or entire families to move from place to place, your social, travel, and work life are suffering as a result of it. To find out more on how you can help us to renew rail service in the North, contact us at riley@beartrian.ca.

References

Cato, J. (April, 2015). How Much Canadian Pay on Average to Drive a New Car. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-drive/news/industry-news/how-much-canadians-pay-on-average-to-drive-a-new-car/article24003473/

Northern & Eastern Ontario Rail Network. (July, 2016). Comments on Northern Ontario Multimodal Transportation Strategy. North Bay, Ontario.

“If you know where you come from, you know where you are going”

Last week, I shared with you all my personal experience at the Gathering. This week, I wanted to share with you about one of the amazing lectures I attended in Missanabie. Missanabie Cree’s Community Development Coordinator, Gloria Harris’s, historical teaching of the Missanabie Cree was an amazing way for me to engage with the culture – while also satisfying the history buff that lives within! Learning about how the Missanabie Cree have struggled relentlessly in government negotiations to regain their traditional territory gave me a lot of perspective into the resilience and strength that they as a people have today.

Treaty No. 9 in 1906 skipped over Missanabie Cree First Nation, meaning that the government did not agree to negotiate with them, and in 1925, the Chapleau Game Preserve was created, spanning over two million acres across Missanabie Cree territory. Not only did this leave the First Nations without access to hunt and fish in order to sustain their lifestyle, but also without access to places that had been used for ceremonial purposes and to support the economic and cultural well-being of their people.

Additionally, not only did the First World War, the Great Depression, and the Second World War cause worldwide devastation, but it also created a number of barriers for the Missanabie Cree, as well as other First Nations, in moving their land claims forward, as wars were being fought on more fronts than ever before, and the government was preoccupied with a number of international crises that halted negotiations. Between those difficult years of 1905 to 1945, the Missanabie Cree started to disperse because their land claim, as well as access to their traditional rights to hunt and fish on the Chapleau Game Preserve, were taking too long. They, and their families, needed access to employment, education, and healthcare institutions. This resulted in the community leaving their traditional territory and scattering across much of Canada and the U.S.A.

In 1951, Missanabie Cree was formally recognized as a band, but this did not mark the end of hardship for their people. From 1952 to 1990, residential schools continued to take Indigenous children away from their families, and there have been huge intergenerational impacts on the First Nations since then. Many are still being felt today. I learned that this is one of the reasons that sobriety is so greatly celebrated in First Nations communities, as alcohol has been one of the many impacts of colonization, and alcohol rehabilitation has been a huge catalyst for change in these communities.

Gloria then referenced Crazy Horse, an 18th century Native American soldier, who said,
“Upon suffering, beyond suffering; the Red Nation shall rise again and it shall be a blessing for a sick world. A world filled with broken promises, selfishness, and separations. A world longing for light again. I see a time of seven generations when all the colours of mankind will gather under the sacred Tree of Life and the whole Earth will become one circle again.”

They say that Crazy Horse was a mystic, who could see into the future and knew all the ancient teachings. The long and tiresome upward battle that the Missanabie Cree, and many other First Nations, faced from 1992 on could be seen as “the Red Nation” truly rising again – out of the darkness of colonization.

1992 was the year that the first Chief and Council were elected, and they submitted their first Treaty Land Entitlement (TLE), and held their first Annual Gathering. In 1996, Ontario became a signatory in Treaty 9. In 1998, joint studies and legal reviews were conducted, led by Chief Shirley Horn, in order to explore and understand the full depth of what the Missanabie Cree as a people had lost. In 2006, under Chief Glenn Nolan, the Canadian government agreed to a land transfer of 15 square miles, and discussions continued for more land compensation based on the extent of loss under legal review. In 2008, Missanabie Cree turned down a $23 million dollar land settlement. Today, after years of Chief, Council, and the people as a whole passing the torch from generation to generation, the Missanabie Cree people, now under Chief Jason Gauthier, continue to fight for their land and economically develop Missanabie so that its people can return to their traditional territory again. As proudly expressed by Gloria in her teaching, a powerful group of children – the youngest generation of Missanabie Cree people – are rising, and they are educated and aware of their past and present. Gloria referred to them as the rainbow warriors, who will continue to lead their people into peaceful governance and community development in Missanabie.

As said by Craig Macfarlane, the motivational speaker that spoke with us at the Gathering, we need to think, what do we want our legacy to be? How are we going to face adversity? And I think the best answer to that question for the Missanabie community can be summed up by the phrase with which Gloria opened her lecture,

“if you know where you come from, you know where you are going.”

For more information on Gloria, Missanabie, and their traditional culture/teachings, click here

For more information on Craig Macfarlane, click here

An Intern’s Experience at the Gathering in Missanabie

August 12th to 17th, I had both the pleasure and honour of taking part in, and helping out with, the Annual Gathering at Missanabie. To say that I was nervous to go and take part in this cultural experience would be an understatement. But those nerves and doubts about leaving my comfort zone succumbed to my excitement to learn more about the culture of the people that I work with, and for, on a daily basis.

My drive up north allowed me to gain a greater appreciation for the number of small communities and areas that the Algoma passenger train used to serve, the communities that I myself am working tirelessly to help now, with the renewal of train service.

One of my tasks throughout the Gathering included serving the Firekeepers and the Sacred Fire. This gave me the opportunity to learn about a critical element of Cree culture, whereby the spirit realm and the human realm are connected through the Sacred Fire, giving us an intimate connection to those who have passed to the Spirit World. By feeding the fire, we are passing food along to those spirits so that the ancestors who have passed can share a meal with us. So every meal, I prepared one plate for the Firekeeper, who never left the fire’s side in order to ensure that it did not go out for the entire duration of the Gathering, and one plate for the fire, on a piece of birch bark, and sprinkled with tobacco. I would tell the fire my name, and say “Migwetch,” so it would know who has fed it and that we are thankful to bring the community in its entirety together again. As an outsider in many ways, this was a surreal experience for me to see tradition in practice – and even take part in it.

Throughout the first couple days of the Gathering, I got to see the Eagle Staff, which represents the various entities that make up the community. I learned that it is important for Eagle Staffs to spend quality time with other Eagle Staffs so that they can be nurtured; the same way that we nurture ourselves by socializing and engaging with other communities. In my opinion, the most beautiful thing about the Eagle Staff is the sanctity of the eagle itself. Since it flies the highest, it is believed that eagles can speak directly to the Creator, making it and its feathers highly revered.

There were some times when we had a little fun, too. Councillor Sean Pine took me on a little backroading tour of Missanabie so that I could really see the territory for myself, including the old Renabi Gold Mine site, which had driven many Missanabie people from the traditional territory as settlers came to work on the prosperous gold mine following the Second World War. Not only was it a blast to speed through the bush and see all of what nature had to offer, but it was also amazing to think, “wow, one day this will be a community with infrastructure.” The Missanabie Cree people really are making history, and nothing put it into greater perspective than actually seeing that for myself.

My favourite day of the Gathering by far was when I set up a booth with the other businesses and joint ventures that Missanabie has. It was an amazing way to meet the business community that works alongside the Missanabie Cree, while also getting to know the community itself a little better, too. I was so pleased with how open everyone was to hearing about the train initiative and what I have been working on specifically since May. I cannot thank the Missanabie community enough for being so accommodating and engaging with me about the train project. I hope you all realize how much it meant to me to attend and help out with the Gathering, and I encourage you all to stay in touch with the train initiative and continue to let me know what you think so we can work together to build upon this opportunity for the Missanabie Cree people!

Stay tuned for part two of this blog series, where I talk about some of the history and some more of the culture that I learned at the Gathering!