Our Home and Native Land

Natalie Forbes tries to calm her crying grandson Lucas as she walks up and down the halls of her temporary home in a hotel in Winnipeg that she shares with her daughter. Ms. Forbes has been shuffled to numerous hotels over the past two years before settling into the one-bedroom place here. She has yet to return to the reserve since she was evacuated, and her house has since been demolished.

Natalie Forbes tries to calm her crying grandson Lucas as she paces the halls of her temporary home in a hotel in Winnipeg where she shares a one-bedroom place with her daughter. She has yet to return to the reserve since she was evacuated, and her house has since been demolished.

I was thinking of doing a post about covering our infamous Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. However, I thought this break from camping out amongst the media frenzy at City Hall is better spent sharing some new work that really means something to me.  I worked on this project in the spring and summer of this year.

A spread ran recently in The Globe and Mail and you can read the piece I wrote and see a few images in the gallery here.

I’d like to say this project came easy but it didn’t. It was mentally exhausting as can be expected I suppose. I ended up running a lot while working on this– running always helps get the cob webs out of your head.

Anyway, in the end I hope my pictures tell their story as it deserves to be told.

Here is the piece I wrote and a wide edit of the photo essay below.

Also I recently finished another project and I will be posting that shortly before taking a bit of a break from freelancing in Toronto to shoot an assignment with an aid agency at the end of the month and globe trot a wee bit after that.

OUR HOME AND NATIVE LAND

Lake St. Martin After the Flood

A dreamcatcher dangles from the rearview mirror as evacuees drive back to Winnipeg from Lake St. Martin Reserve.

A dreamcatcher dangles from the rearview mirror as evacuees drive back to Winnipeg from Lake St. Martin reserve.

I was raised to be fiercely proud to be Canadian. Born into an immigrant family teaches you that a life lived in Canada is a life of privilege. My country made me proud.

I was drawn to photographing the people from Lake St. Martin reserve because, like too many Canadian First Nations stories, it denied me my patriotism. This isn’t a story of foreign injustice. It is a story from my home country on our native land.

Lake St. Martin was flooded after Manitoba officials decided in the spring of 2011, during flooding considered to be the worst in centuries, to divert water from the Assiniboine River so that the province’s largest city, Winnipeg, would be spared. Over two and a half years later the people are still living in hotels and temporary housing in Winnipeg — the very city that was saved at the expense of their 140-year old reserve. For over two years they’ve been displaced in a loud and unfamiliar environment, a world away from their quiet reserve 255 kilometers north.

Lake St. Martin reserve.

Lake St. Martin reserve.

As the displacement drags on, their traditional way of life of fishing and trapping is jeopardized and many rely on the  $4 a day living allowance. To compound the issue, the evacuation has given people access to gambling and alcohol which are available in many of the hotels.

Rosey from Lake St. Martin plays at a video lottery terminal (VLT) at the Victoria Inn hotel on the day that evacuees pick up their living allowance cheques once a month. The province and the federal government continue to clash on who is to cover the ongoing expenses. In November 2012 evacuees' received a letter without a signature or letterhead indicating that their living allowance would fall from $23 a day to $4 a day for all expenses besides rent.

Rosey from Lake St. Martin plays at a video lottery terminal on the day evacuees pick up their living allowance cheques once a month at a hotel.  In November 2012 their living allowance fell from $23 a day to $4 a day.

It is affecting their lives in every conceivable way, both emotionally and physically. Diane Sinclair broke down speaking about her daughter Alexis who took her life weeks after the evacuation. Alexis left behind her daughter and had a seven-week-old baby in her belly. Her mother describes how “Alexis always used to say that she felt like she didn’t have a home like she didn’t belong anywhere. I told her someday you’ll have your roots settled. She’d say mom, I just want to go home.”

Diane Sinclair, 47 years, whose 21-year-old daughter Alexis took her life weeks after the evacuation, visits her daughter's grave with her grandaughter Danielle Sinclair-Traverse at Lake St. Martin reserve. The mother of nine cares for the four-year-old following her daughter's death.

Diane Sinclair, 47 years, whose 21-year-old daughter Alexis took her life weeks after the evacuation, visits her daughter’s grave with her grandaughter Danielle Sinclair-Traverse at Lake St. Martin reserve. The mother of nine cares for the four-year-old following her daughter’s death.

Marilyn Marsden, 56, was found on the floor of her hotel room suffering from a heart attack caused by what she describes as feeling depressed after having spent another Christmas in her hotel room. “This is a small little room and being cooped up in here is hard. I’ve been here going on three years living in hotels,” says Marsden.

A binder full of Marilyn Marsden's medical records lies in a Winnipeg hospital. Since the evacuation the fifty-six-year-old has had a host of health issues including three heart attacks related to stress and she has been diagnosed with diabetes.

A binder full of Marilyn Marsden’s medical records lies in a Winnipeg hospital. Since the evacuation the fifty-six-year-old has had a host of health issues including three heart attacks related to stress and she has been diagnosed with diabetes.

There are moments of hope. I put my camera down to take in a moment of solace this summer as 16-year-old Kassidy Pelletier delivered her Grade 9 graduation speech. “I know it’s been difficult since the flood since we’ve been evacuated with everyone moving and living in different areas, people getting sick with diabetes, cancer, violence, drugs and alcohol. All among these afflictions, we have to deal with death in our families…  I am sure everything will work out fighting for our land because we as Anishinabe are a strong nation and we will prevail and go home soon.

Kassidy Pelletier was one of four Grade 9 students who graduated in June out of 14 students who initially enrolled that year. She gets help with her cap from her mother Jenny Pelletier before making her Grade 9 valedictorian speech at a temporary school in Winnipeg for Lake St. Martin students. She is now attending school in Winnipeg.

Kassidy Pelletier was one of four Grade 9 students who graduated in June out of 14 students who initially enrolled that year. She gets help with her cap from her mother Jenny Pelletier before making her Grade 9 valedictorian speech at a temporary school in Winnipeg for Lake St. Martin students. She is now attending school in Winnipeg.

“I want to go home again” – it’s a refrain I hear over and over again, with members of the reserve wondering how much longer the displacement will last. It is amongst this desperation that the people continue to wait for new land which will be contingent on a referendum. But the land offered has a history of flooding, has already been purchased by the provincial government without consultation from chief and council and is just a stone’s throw away from their former flooded out reserve which has now been condemned and houses are being torn down.

 A1The Globe and Mail spread

A note found in one of the homes on Lake St. Martin reserve. Many of the people who were evacuated to Winnipeg away from the 140-year-old reserve thought they would be back in a matter of days or weeks and were not prepared to be displaced for over two years.

A note found in one of the homes on Lake St. Martin reserve. Many of the people who were evacuated to Winnipeg away from the 140-year-old reserve thought they would be back in a matter of days or weeks and were not prepared to be displaced for over two years.

Mould stains the home of one of the few Lake St. Martin residents who has refused to leave despite that there is no running water.

Mould stains the home of one of the few Lake St. Martin residents who has refused to leave despite that there is no running water.

Twelve-year-old Bille-Rose Sanderson sits the hotel that she shares with her mother.  One other evacuee her age resides in the hotel while other families are dispersed across the city.

Twelve-year-old Bille-Rose Sanderson sits the hotel that she shares with her mother. One other evacuee her age resides in the hotel while other families are dispersed across the city.

Fiver-year-old Izrael Peebles who has Dystonia, a  neurological disorder which leaves him in diapers, unable to walk, and causes him to twist his limbs due to muscle contractions, is babysat at his grandparent's home as he receives one of many soothing baths daily at their temporary home in Winnipeg. His mother has complications in her pregnancy and lives in a rough north-end neighbourhood in the city.

Fiver-year-old Izrael Peebles who has Dystonia, a neurological disorder which leaves him in diapers, unable to walk, and causes him to twist his limbs due to muscle contractions, is babysat at his grandparent’s home as he receives one of many soothing baths daily at their temporary home in Winnipeg. His mother has complications in her pregnancy and lives in a rough north-end neighbourhood in the city.

Four students graduate grade nine  out of 14 students who initially enrolled at Lake St. Martin school in Winnipeg. Grade nine attendance dropped from 18 students in 2011 before the evacaution.

Four students graduate grade nine out of 14 students who initially enrolled at Lake St. Martin school in Winnipeg. Grade nine attendance dropped from 18 students in 2011 before the evacaution.

Margaret Traverse prays at a Christian church service in Winnipeg. She attends church services multiple times a week as it is one of the few opportunities she has to leave her hotel, located far from the city centre.

Margaret Traverse prays at a Christian church service in Winnipeg. She attends church services multiple times a week as it is one of the few opportunities she has to leave her hotel, located far from the city centre.

Margaret Traverse, who has lived at Lake St. Martin all her life and has been shuffled to numerous hotels over the past two years, speaks on the phone as house keeping cleans her hotel room in Winnipeg.

Margaret Traverse, who has lived at Lake St. Martin all her life and has been shuffled to numerous hotels over the past two years, speaks on the phone as house keeping cleans her hotel room in Winnipeg.

Trees sit quietly at dawn at Lake St. Martin First Nations Reserve.

Trees sit quietly at dawn at Lake St. Martin First Nations Reserve.

Evacuee Becky Sinclair, who now rents a home with two others after living in numerous hotels, has a beer in her favourite quiet spot behind a hotel which houses evacuees in Winnipeg.

Evacuee Becky Sinclair, who now rents a home with two others after living in numerous hotels, has a beer in her favourite quiet spot behind a hotel which houses evacuees in Winnipeg.

Wilfred Marsden, 65, stays by the side of his wife Marilyn Marsden, 56, as goes for dialysis treatment at a Winnipeg hospital. Without access to a kitchen she has been eating hotel restaurant food for over two years.  Since the evacuation she has had three heart attacks caused by stress.

Wilfred Marsden, 65, stays by the side of his wife Marilyn Marsden, 56, as goes for dialysis treatment at a Winnipeg hospital. Without access to a kitchen she has been eating hotel restaurant food for over two years. Since the evacuation she has had three heart attacks caused by stress.

An evacuee, who is fluent in speaking Saulteaux, walks behind a hotel where he used to live in Winnipeg. The people of Lake St. Martin are part of the Anishinaabe (ojibwe) community and traditionally the eagle is held in high regard and it is believed that tobacco should be left with a prayer as the animal carries messages up to the Creator.

An evacuee, who is fluent in speaking Saulteaux, walks behind a hotel where he used to live in Winnipeg. The people of Lake St. Martin are part of the Anishinaabe (ojibwe) community and traditionally the eagle is held in high regard and it is believed that tobacco should be left with a prayer as the animal carries messages up to the Creator.

Stephen Tyo lights fireworks as he visits Lake St. Martin on the day that happens to be National Aboriginal Day on June 21, 2013.

Stephen Tyo lights fireworks as he visits Lake St. Martin on the day that happens to be National Aboriginal Day on June 21, 2013.

Evacuee Kyle beardy, who is fluent in speaking Saulteaux, leaves tobacco for eagles in Winnipeg. The people of Lake St. Martin are part of the Anishinaabe (ojibwe) community and traditionally the eagle is held in high regard and it is believed that tobacco should be left with a prayer as the animal carries messages up to the Creator.

Evacuee Kyle beardy, who is fluent in speaking Saulteaux, leaves tobacco for eagles in Winnipeg. The people of Lake St. Martin are part of the Anishinaabe (ojibwe) community and traditionally the eagle is held in high regard and it is believed that tobacco should be left with a prayer as the animal carries messages up to the Creator.

A worker smokes a cigarette at Lake St. Martin. A handful of people remain at the reserve working as security, demolishing homes and building dikes.

A worker smokes a cigarette at Lake St. Martin. A handful of people remain at the reserve working as security, demolishing homes and building dikes.

A dead duck lies still after being shot at Lake St. Martin reserve.

Four-year-old Danielle Sinclair-Traverse tours the old flooded out Lake St. Martin school with her grandmother. The school was consumed before the evacuation students had used classroom portables prior to the evacuation.

Four-year-old Danielle Sinclair-Traverse tours the old flooded out Lake St. Martin school with her grandmother. The school was consumed before the evacuation students had used classroom portables prior to the evacuation.

The sole cemetery at Lake St. Martin reserve is under threat of flooding and those who bury loved ones have opted for a fibreglass casing to keep potential flood waters out.

The sole cemetery at Lake St. Martin reserve is under threat of flooding and those who bury loved ones have opted for a fibreglass casing to keep potential flood waters out.

Four-year-old Danielle Sinclair-Traverse holds a family photo of her 21-year-old mother, who took her life in Winnipeg weeks after the 2011 evacuation, as she walks away from her mother's now flooded out childhood home on Lake St. Martin Reserve. At least 18 evacuees have taken their lives since the May 2011 evacuation.

Four-year-old Danielle Sinclair-Traverse holds a family photo of her 21-year-old mother, who took her life in Winnipeg weeks after the 2011 evacuation, as she walks away from her mother’s now flooded out childhood home on Lake St. Martin Reserve. At least 18 evacuees have taken their lives since the May 2011 evacuation.

Diane Sinclair, 47 years, whose 21-year-old daughter Alexis took her life weeks after the evacuation, drives with her grand daughter Danielle Sinclair-Traverse, 4, that she now cares for full time following her daughters death.

Diane Sinclair, 47 years, whose 21-year-old daughter Alexis took her life weeks after the evacuation, drives with her grand daughter Danielle Sinclair-Traverse, 4, that she now cares for full time following her daughters death.

Commercial fisherman Gordon Beardy, right, and Clifford Sumner, left, stand amongst a day's worth of work catching pickerel as they fish on Dauphin River near Lake St. Martin reserve. Clifford has been fishing since he was a child and this is his first season back since the evacuation. The men cast the nets and return the following day to untangle the fish individually by hand from the nets.

Commercial fisherman Gordon Beardy, right, and Clifford Sumner, left, stand amongst a day’s worth of work catching pickerel as they fish on Dauphin River near Lake St. Martin reserve. Clifford has been fishing since he was a child and this is his first season back since the evacuation. The men cast the nets and return the following day to untangle the fish individually by hand from the nets.

Evacuee Becky Sinclair from Lake St. Martin kisses her boyfriend Larry Spence as they have a night out at the Thriftlodge Winnipeg Hotel which is home to evacuees.

Evacuee Becky Sinclair from Lake St. Martin kisses her boyfriend Larry Spence as they have a night out at the Thriftlodge Winnipeg Hotel which is home to evacuees.