In 1980, as a result of the damming of La Grande River, the Fort George iiyiyiwich were unceremoniously moved across the bay to the present-day Chisasibi - a place not of their choosing. The impact of a cumulative range of stressors from residential school abuses, mercury poisoning and land loss from hydroelectric development, as well as overt paternalism from both governments and settlers working within Cree institutions, have disrupted family structures and undermined individual and community wellbeing. Having experienced it themselves, undoing this suffering has become a priority for many community members, yet, how each chooses to engage in this communal process of decolonization is dependent on their own life story and ‘gifts’- knowledge, skills, and competencies.
Practically and in everyday life, they embody a personalized healing model that is rooted in both Cree ethos of relationality while also being informed by an emergent Indigenous solidarity that is place-based and temporally bound. The resurgence taking place in Chisasibi calls for a flourishing creative potential that is guided by cultural revitalization and aims to achieve social justice for all.
A modern Aboriginal society is defined by its post-colonial consciousness. It is a society that is aware that it has been colonized in many ways. It is a society that is aware of the implications of its colonization and is choosing deliberately, consciously, and systematically to deal with that colonization. It is a society that is coming to terms with what has happened to it. It is a society that is determined to overcome its colonial legacy. It is a society that is starting to possess the ways and means to achieve its own goals.
Newhouse, 2004, p. 141
In Chisasibi transforming the Indigenous-State relationship by politicizing care-giving practices and reorienting health policy for critical social justice takes many forms, from creating a Facebook discussion page to insisting for pay equity for traditional counsellors. Social justice includes decriminalizing addictions and ‘unmedicalizing’ oppression by reconnecting with the land, engaging with the youth, building trust and sharing responsibility. Above all it means taking responsibility to build places and spaces where compassionate and safe interpersonal relationships can be nurtured.
Healing in Chisasibi is part and parcel of local decolonizing processes. It requires both an individual as well as a communal shift in understanding how imposed and culturally irrelevant systems impact everyday life but also, and especially, building from the ground up the means for political action needed to confront powerful political institutions. The movement from individual health and healing becomes a communal process of decolonization when locally-based and culturally relevant actions are mobilized to better frame and operationalize the existing institutions and policies at home. Confronting colonial domination is not reserved for leadership in the traditional sense (chief and councils) nor exclusively in the normative domain of self-governance, it actually operates in everyday acts of resistance and resurgence that at their core address the need of individuals to survive on a daily basis. As such, decolonization is neither a disembodied and abstract concept nor an indulgence of an Indigenous elite, it is a daily engagement with a culturally based creative intelligence that aims to go beyond the mere survival to create loving, nurturing and compassionate relationships that realign individuals and communities with miyupimaatisiiun.
living in a good way is an incredible disruption to the colonial narrative in and of itself
Simpson, 2011, p. 41
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16. Main picture by Chief Thomas Jolly.