Thunder Bay

First Nation invites strangers to live on Ontario reserve

More than 40 "ordinary Canadians" answered an invitation issued earlier this year to visit a remote First Nation 600 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, Ont.

Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug youth welcome 'ordinary Canadians' for week-long visit

More than 40 "ordinary Canadians" answered an invitation issued earlier this year to visit a remote First Nation 600 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, Ont.

The guests, mostly non-aboriginal people from southern Ontario, flew into Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) on Monday and will return home Friday afternoon.

Young people from the First Nation put out the call for visitors in an attempt to break down misconceptions about what life is really like on a reserve.

Faith McKay, one of the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug who organized an event where more than 40 everyday Canadians visited her remote First Nation. (Jody Porter/CBC)

"One of the most important things I'd like them to see is the KI spirit," said organizer Faith McKay, 24.

"Being native, we face so many stereotypes, so much racism. Hopefully when [the visitors] leave they get to tell their friends, 'They're people, they laugh. Sure they have struggles, but they're there, they're people up there and all they want to do is build bridges and make friends.' Maybe [in the] next generation, things will change."

Community pride

Karyn Paishk took guests on a tour of the community, pointing out her two-bedroom trailer where as many as 10 people often sleep.

But Paishk didn't want to dwell on the struggles. Instead, she wanted to share the pride she feels in her community.

"I just love my friends and families. I have a lot of respect for the elders and I love my lake — my big lake," Paishk said with a laugh, as she bounced along with visitors in the back of a pickup truck.

"I just hope that, when this is all over, each one of our guests have their own little story to go home with and share with their friends in the world."

Most of the peole who travelled to KI are with organizations or service groups looking for ways to better connect with aboriginal people.

Ruth Gill belongs to a church in Toronto that started a First Nations study group after learning about the campaign for a school in Attawapiskat.

She said they've been doing a lot of reading and watching documentaries, but "to actually be able to come here, and live with the people and experience their culture first-hand is just amazing."

Gill said it will help her challenge people who buy into stereotypes about corrupt chiefs or government money going to waste on reserve.

"We've all been very concerned about the misconceptions, the myths and actually racism that we hear often in the news and everything else," Gill said.

"So I wanted to come here and see, and know if I hear something I feel I can speak openly and honestly from my own experience, and contradict and maybe correct some of these things."

After seeing the community garden, Gill said her group may look for ways to help KI grow more of its own food.

Connections, not charity

But the trip is far from the kind of "voluntourism" that has people travelling to impoverished countries to build schools or hospitals. Visitors stayed with families and community experts demonstrated traditional skills throughout the week. 

"This is a strong community. It's not a place that needs to be helped or to be rescued, but to have support for what they're doing for themselves," said 19-year-old Annie Hollis from Toronto. 

"It's not that we're coming to see this, and have a good time and feel good about some kind of charity we did. This isn't a place that needs charity. It's a place that needs more connections with other parts of their own country or their own province."

Organizers Paishk and McKay said they're thrilled with the connections they've made through this event.

But Paishk said the most important thing they've gained is the knowledge that "ordinary Canadians" do care about KI.

"We can make new friends, and be friends for a long time," Paishk said.


Jody Porter

Senior Reporter

Jody Porter is a senior reporter based in Thunder Bay, Ont. She is the recipient of a Debwewin Citation from the Anishinabek Nation for excellence in reporting on First Nations issues and a Massey College Clarkson Laureate in recognition of public service.