PIKANGIKUM – As we travelled from community to community we were warned about staying overnight in Pikangikum. We were told how rough it was, how dangerous it was, and it happened often enough that we decided to stay overnight in Sioux Lookout instead.
But after the first hour in the community this is a decision that we would come to regret. We were greeted by some of the nicest people and the children were some of the most well behaved kids I have ever seen.
It is certainly a community with its fair share of issues. They are known as the suicide capital in the world as published by Maclean’s magazine in 2012. But the more we talked with the people that were involved in the community the more I started to understand the obstacles that they were facing.
Northern communities are drastically underfunded. And in Pikangikum this has created a trickle down effect that makes the simplest of tasks difficult. Their school burned down a few years ago and they have been using portables as classrooms. They don’t have space for the children to eat their lunch so they have to send them home for lunch. So parents have to make arrangements to be there when the kids come home at noon. They have to bus the kids home but they don’t have enough busses to send them all at the same time so they go in shifts. This lunch ordeal can take 2-3 hours to complete, which costs extra money for gas, which leads to less learning time in the classrooms. And that’s just one example of how overburdened their community is.
Up until about three months ago the community of almost 2,500 people only had one playground (a playground that was almost 15 years old). There were 1,000 school aged children that we fed hot dogs to. And those 1,000 kids had to share one playground.
Fortunately the Canadian Government opened one playground three months ago and there’s the playground that the Dreamcatcher Foundation installed, but it’s still not enough. These playgrounds are being used by hundreds of children each day. Which leads to greater wear and tear, and a shorter life span. Which again is an example of the challenges this community faces.
However, despite all of these challenges, I saw a tonne of smiles, I met a tonne of amazing people, and I got to see kids being kids. The strength of character and the resolve of the communities that we visited will be something that I will always admire and respect.