April 3, 2016
By Adele Finney
Our hearts stopped at PWRDF when we heard the news of the fire in Pikangikum on Wednesday morning, March 30. And then our hearts and minds moved towards the community members of Pikangikum First Nation who are in the midst of this profound loss and grief. We conveyed our sadness and condolences to Chief Dean Owen, and through him to the community. And then our hearts and minds were poured out into silence.
In an interview with CBC on Thursday, Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day, when asked if he was angry, said he felt the energy of anger should be directed to what can be done, the fiscal shell game should end, and asked for partnership. In our letter to Chief Owen, we assured him that PWRDF would continue accompanying and supporting their community’s efforts to update water and waste water systems in the homes of its most vulnerable members.
Since 2012 The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund has worked with five partners—Pikangikum First Nation, Pimatisiwin Nipi (Living Waters), a group of concerned Anglicans and ecumenical friends led by National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald, the Pikangikum Working Group and Frontiers Foundation—to refit and deliver running water to fourteen houses. The community chose its most vulnerable members to receive the upgrades. Community members received training in electrical and construction work. Children’s health has noticeably improved in the homes, now that water is easily available.
PWRDF understands too well that accessibility to clean water in 14 homes does not begin to address the historic and systemic Canadian disregard for Indigenous rights to life, physical integrity, improvement of their economic and social conditions including housing, sanitation and health, minimum standards for survival, dignity and well-being, all part of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
But we have to start somewhere. PWRDF established its Canadian Indigenous Communities Program in 1997. Its aim was to build a new partnership based on principles of trust, equal respect and the assurance that Indigenous people would be the ones who identify the work—the who, when, where, how and what that they would like to accomplish. The communities identified four strategic areas in which PWRDF could come alongside: restoring language and culture; working with youth; empowering women, health and wellness; and inter-Indigenous networking. We are doing that, with the intention to do more when asked.
But for some present days, we need to put all that aside, be silent, pray with the people of Pikangikum, and listen.
Archbishop Fred Hiltz’s call to prayer for Pikangikum.