Disconnect in Kitwanga
Greetings from Kitwanga! The word means "People of the Land of the Rabbits", and is 48 km from Hazelton, where yours truly grew up. Mom relocated here after the farm in Hazelton burnt down, so: now finally, visiting home doesn't necessitate dealing with the kitten-drowners and goat-haters down the street!
Visiting home does necessitate dealing with some other things, though. Like Mom's cancer. And voracious rez dogs. And having no wifi!
To you Hazelton/ Bulkley/ Skeena readers whom I grew up with, yeah yeah, I know, Waaaang, aka Shittywest, no big deeeeal. We're all in this together.
To you readers from Toronto, cities and populated areas of the world in general: it's a big deal! We're all in this together. And yet most of you know nothing about the reserves of Canada, the lives and histories within them, and their Fourth World conditions. That's unacceptable for us Canadians. I'm not blaming anyone but the school system for it, though. The First Nations have an oral culture which settlers first tried to eliminate, then simply ignored, and which now features minimally, euphemistic as heck, in Canadian history. I grew up in this reserve cluster and still learnt virtually nothing but white settler Canadian history in school. Let that sink in.
Sunk? Okay. I'll leave the Truth and Reconciliation speeches aside for now and give a snapshot of Kitwanga as it is today, a ramshackle of ditches and trees, totem poles and tires and the great riverbank, all looming in the cold white air outside the education centre window. Its heavy silence is respectfully adorned by crow cackles, or punctuated by the distant rush of a car on the highway, and every other hour dismantled completely by the passing train over tracks cut obstinately through the reserve cemetery.
I stood directly next to the tracks to record the train's noise yesterday, and mused briefly over whether its pace is moderate enough for an agile person to jump up and grab a rail, like in old tales of travelling through the depression. It isn't. It's a fast, modern train. Furthermore, it has no rails. So, riding them is not an option.
So what is your option to get to a job fair or drop a resume off in Terrace, if, say, you're part of the 50% of families here with no car? Glad you asked! You don't have one. Oh! You may hitchhike, I suppose, if you don't mind the very high probability of going missing forever.
There's no public transit. There are about 400 people. There are no jobs here. And no internet. There's your life equation, deal with it.
Okay, a few households can afford the hideously overpriced services-- wifi and cell service became available in the last 4 years, and even direct connections only came to the village 5 years before that. The education centre relies on an ethernet connection so slow, downloading Unity took 12 hours. Anyway, so if you're from a family with internet, count your lucky stars. You also probably have a car.
There's no library, or high school.
These are a few of the reasons suicide, alcoholism, abuse and mental/emotional disruptions are so common here. Think about a community which is so small and so self-contained. There's little to do-- soccer and smoking weed are nice, and at least one of those things is legal, but that's still a limiting pool of options. Everyone you'd like to date is probably related to you, or you have no desire to date these people you know too much about anyway, in which case you become an 18-year-old goat-raising spinster or whatever.
People who've never met you already have opinions of you based on your family history and the extensive village gossip network; there's nothing to distract you from whatever household problems you may be having, nowhere to escape the aforementioned gossip network when it turns against you, and no resources to "work your way" up or away.
Police (generally white) do drug busts on teenagers in the high school in Hazelton, disrupting the classes to make an example of some kid (generally Native) who had a joint in their locker. Their mistrust of authority becomes perfectly legitimate, the unpleasant high school experience becomes even more unpleasant with this new badge of shame, and this further disrupts school performance, grades and prospects for the future. Because the only positive prospects for the future given around here are through the government: through a government job, a school scholarship or something equally rare and intangible for a depressed youth.
These are all the reasons I moved away and consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to do so (university scholarships). Yet I come back, and every time I do, shaking off the barnacles and pine needles and leaving fills me with AAAGONYYYYYY!
For immersion into Canadian isolation and beauty, as well as Native history and culture both traditional and contemporary: nowhere is better than the remote Pacific Northwest. If the reserve system is eradicated, and real, more-than-lip-service amendments are made with Canada's First Nations people-- a huge undertaking, but one that hopefully is being kicked off proper with the Truth and Reconciliation act-- then these areas are, indeed, the best places on earth.
Anyway, yours truly is here for a few weeks for serious life reflections, being at a crossroads, as it were.
This crossroads, in summary: my mom is sick, I like to see the stars at night, and I just got a major grant for an art project. If there's a good time to relocate for a year or two, it's now. But: Toronto has the game development community and the friends which feel like family, live shows, and nightlife, which I pined over from here in the boonies for many years. And, moving a 60-lb Kurzweil, various computers and paints across the country is no fun. And, though I'd love to stream from here and give the metropolitan world a look into this area, alas.... no wifi.
And yet.... what would Emily Carr do? BUT EMILY CARR NEVER PLAYED OR MADE VIDEO GAMES!
This damning report of Kitwanga and the Skeena Valley brought to you by Someone In Love With Kitwanga and the Skeena Valley.