Source: The Canadian Press
May 11, 2018
By Colin Perkel
THE CANADIAN PRESS
FORT SEVERN, Ont. _ Paul Burke is chief of the 463-strong Fort Severn First Nation, Ontario’s most northerly community, which is located near the mouth of the Severn River as it empties into Hudson Bay. Burke, 42, opened up in a recent interview about life in the remote community.
Tell me a bit about yourself?
My father was a Scot who worked for the Hudson Bay company, my mother was Cree. I got hit on both sides from both worlds. I was sent to a Catholic high school of 3,000 students in London, Ont. That’s a lot for a kid to take. I used to be a heavy equipment operator and a carpenter before that.
How do you envisage the future for the younger internet generation in Fort Severn?
Kids nowadays operate on a New York minute. It’s gotta be now. They want what’s out there. The hard truth is we can’t have that, just because of where we are. I see their frustration. But there is an advantage to the new technology in that we can now do lots of jobs from home, even in Fort Severn. There’s nothing wrong with Fort Severn. There’s nothing wrong with living out here.
What do you say to those Canadians who complain Indigenous people freeload off their taxes?
Screw you, buddy. We gave up a lot, and it wasn’t voluntarily either. We wouldn’t live in houses like that if we actually had our fair share. It’s just like crumbs from the table. ‘Here you go and shut up.’ (But) people have no idea what goes on. Urbanites have no idea about daily life here. All the negative things overshadow all of the good things. You don’t hear the success stories.
You are adamant that Indigenous people in communities such as Fort Severn need to become self-sustaining. Why?
All the communities are stuck in a rut. I hate the idea of standing with your hand out. I want to break that dependency. You can’t make a long-term plan if you’re asking for money all the time. We know what our problems are, let us fix them ourselves. That’s how you fix the ‘Indian problem.’ The mentality is changing out there. I want to capitalize on that.
Do you think you’re succeeding?
My aim as chief is to impose financial discipline and make decisions for the entire community. The proportion of people on social assistance here is the lowest ever. I’m trying to ensure at least one or two earners per family. Our $2.5-million solar project is about 40 per cent complete. Fort Severn is capable of leading a project of this scale. My goal is to make our generators go quiet. I also want to encourage small-scale eco-tourism: groups of six to eight people, maybe 30 groups a year.
The interview has been edited and condensed.
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