HOLLYWOOD, ON – Tuesday morning we were off to Deer Lake. It was a short flight (only about 15 minutes) from Sandy Lake so we didn’t get very high in the air. It was a clear and sunny day so the view was amazing.
We were greeted in Deer Lake by our drivers (local community members) who were driving considerably faster than they were in Sandy Lake. I’m confident that our driver knew the roads very well, but there were a few white knuckles in the car that morning.
The Deer Lake First Nation is a small Oji-Cree community which holds 1653.6 hectares of land located approximately 180 kilometers North of Red Lake, Ontario. It has an on-reserve population of approximately 1,100, and a total membership of approximately 1,200. It is accessible year-round by air, and by ice road in the winter. It is connected to Sandy Lake First Nation, and North Spirit Lake First Nation during the coldest months of the year.
Probably my favourite story of the whole trip was the story behind the Hollywood sign. A few years ago a couple of residents of Deer Lake hiked a bunch of lumber up to the top of a cliff overlooking the community, and constructed a replica of the famous Hollywood sign. CBC did a documentary which featured the story of the sign, this lead to the band office receiving a call from the lawyers of Hollywood, California threatening them with a lawsuit for copyright infringement. In true grassroots fashion, the Band Council told the lawyers to go ahead with their lawsuit and that they would await the paperwork. They were never heard from again.
The playground site in Deer Lake was a brush lot only three weeks before we arrived. Local community members cleared the space with borrowed equipment to make way for the playground. The people of Deer Lake are working to add a volleyball court, paint ball facility, and an outdoor stage to the playground area.
An overarching theme that I witnessed was local people who cared about their community and were working to make the it a better place. A gentleman that I was talking to (I didn’t catch his name) said “You’ve started something”. And you could hear the passion in his voice as he talked about their plans for the space.
The Canadian Government has failed to live up to their obligations for these communities (more on that later), but the people I met weren’t going to let that stop them from improving their community.