Montage of portraits of youth from Fort Albany, Kashechewan, and Attawapiskat First Nations, taken during the 2016 Fort Albany Youth Gathering.
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Peetabeck - Canada


Fort Albany, traditionally known as Peetabeck (loosely translated to ' the meandering river floods a pond in the springtime'), is a remote Indigenous First Nation community, one of over 600 in Canada. It is part of the Treaty 9 territory and is located on the western coast of James Bay in Northern Ontario, about 130 kilometers northwest of Moosonee. Fort Albany is a Cree community and home to many survivors of the notorious St. Anne’s Residential School, which closed in 1964, but stood till it was set ablaze in 1999.


The population in Fort Albany fluctuates at around 900 Albanians (self-identified residents of Fort Albany). The community is accessible only by air, water, and winter road. Like many First Nations reserves in Canada, Fort Albany is on simultaneous paths of recovery, re-discovery, and preservation. As key community members, including Elders, have begun to further explore and promote their traditional roots through ceremonies, hunting practices, language, cuisine, music and art, it has become imperative for them to share these practices with their youth. While dealing with the effects from past atrocities, Peetabeck is practicing a delicate, and sometimes divided, dance between the reclamation, acceptance, and rejection of both traditional and Western cultures.

In Fort Albany, like all societies, the youth are the future. And while they are full of potential, they are also the most vulnerable and impressionable. It is these young people, at times neglected, sometimes bored, or even abused, who face the most devastating challenges of a community severely affected by drugs, alcohol and what many refer to as the “suicide spirit”. It seems, in the experience of this photographer, that everyone in Fort Albany has a tragic story to share, whether it be a mother, a father, a son, a daughter, or an uncle or aunt. So many lives have been cut short. The trauma is intergenerational and is rooted in the long, dark history of travesties committed against First Nations in Canada, which include but are not limited to rape and physical abuse, endured by many of those who attended residential school.

How does a community overcome the pain? Community leaders see an opportunity to steer youth on a path of healing. Young leaders recognize many of the challenges they and their peers face. Continuous efforts are made to involve people in positive activities and reconnect them to the land and traditions that were destroyed by residential schools and other deplorable colonial activities throughout Canada's history.

The intention of this work is to shed light on the daily lives of young Albanians and show that, although they face enormous challenges, there is much hope in their community.

Work in progress, 2016 and 2017.

Children lead an Awareness Walk against drug dealing and bootlegging on Fourth Street in Fort Albany.

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Jeremiah Otis at Anderson's Point. 

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Michel Sutherland cradles his youngest child in front of their home.

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Clouds over Fort Albany.

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A young girl lays on the grass outside of Peetabeck Academy.

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A child holds the remains of a keyboard.


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A cabinet engulfed in flames at the Fort Albany dump site.

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Six-year-old Kathleen Metatawabin smudges with sage inside her aunt Jennifer Metatawabin's room.
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The Small Tree in front of the Sacred Colours in the Altar before the first Sundance in Fort Albany.

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Youth Initiative coordinator Xavier Inishinapay, who has struggled with drug and alcohol addiction in the past, picks out snacks for a workshop at the Northern Store.
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Ruby Nakogee has breakfast with her son Emery Nakogee who has autism, at the home of Ruby's brother Brent, while the pair visit Fort Albany from Kingston, Ontario.

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The back of a sweatshirt is shown off by an Albanian man.
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Scars on the arm of a young Albanian who has struggled with issues such as self-harm.
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Mike Koostachin holds the cake while his wife Charlotte Nakoochee lights the candles during a birthday party for two-year-old Naomi (not in view) who was adopted by the pair. Naomi's mother Kayla Nakoochee passed away by suicide.

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Cousins Karis Nakogee and Emery Nakogee at Karis's home.

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Saul Chookomolin, left, and Raine Iahtail, right, share a laugh at Raine's home.

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Michael Inishinapay.

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Xavier Inishinapay lays in bed, clutching a stuffed toy, next to his best friend and Youth Council member Miranda Chookomolin, during a visit to her house one morning.

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A photograph of Michael Scott, now studying in college, is pinned to the door of a shed belonging to Thomas Scott.
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A child's bike lays in the water at the bottom of the Fort Albany causeway.

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Amos Scott.

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Myra Spence.

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Boy.

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Ashlynn Ashamock.

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Nicole Sutherland gathers cedar in the natural environment for use in her first sweat lodge built in her backyard with help from long-time friend Joseph Scott.

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Young people at the banks of the Albany River during the first Fort Albany Sundance. 

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During a Sundance preparation-meeting days before the start of the first Fort Albany Sundance. Arms are raised towards the creator asking to be lifted up as a parent lifts a child.
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Young people take part in the Children's Ceremony in the Sundance Lodge on the final day of Fort Albany's first Sundance.

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A game called Particles is played during the Fort Albany Youth Gathering.
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A thawing caribou carcass being butchered by Thomas Scott and youth during the Fort Albany Youth Gathering.
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Curtains inside the home of an Albanian.

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Thomas Scott driving away from the Sundance Grounds after he completes leading his and Fort Albany's first Sundance.

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A seedling sprouts from the cedar floor of a sweat lodge days after a sweat near the Sundance Grounds up at the ‘Dikes’ of Fort Albany.
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Shakira Knapaysweet with friends next to the sacred fire outside a meeting before the second Sundance in Fort Albany.

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Messages written on a picnic table outside of the Northern Store, including one referring to twelve-year-old Garrett who died in October 2016.

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 Xavier Inishinapay stands in the cemetery, behind him on the right, the gravesite of twelve-year-old Garrett Tomagatick who committed suicide in October of 2016.

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The Sundance Lodge during Fort Albany's second Sundance.

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Two young people hanging out next to GPS restaurant and store. 

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Layna Scott and Shakira Knapaysweet on the first day of their summer jobs at Norman's Store in Fort Albany.

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Amos Scott at the Northern Store.

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TJ Scott on the microphone taking part in a goose call competition at the Fort Albany First Nation Radio Station during youth council events for Canada Day 150.

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Mike Koostachin hugs his daughter Maya at the Fort Albany First Nation airport before departing with her sister and aunt to Timmins.

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JP on the back of a truck before a bonfire. 

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Members of the Youth Council of Fort Albany on a decommissioned fuel storage container just outside of town.

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A young man lobs a basketball at the outdoor basketball court.

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A man walks along the causeway as the sun sets in Fort Albany.
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A little girl braces herself against mosquitos at dusk.
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A view of a tree and Fort Albany in the distance.

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Beulah and Brenda, outside the Fort Albany airport, take a break from a ride around town.

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JJ Koostachin smokes a cigarette while taking a break from playing the guitar during a bonfire at "Lion King".

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Children look up and cheer at a Canada Day 2016 fireworks show put on by Fort Albany First Nation behind Peetabeck Academy. 

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Canada Day 2016 fireworks put on by Fort Albany First Nation.

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A young person covered with a mask he made during a retreat with the Junior Canadian Rangers.
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Two young Fort Albanians outside of Peetabeck Academy with glowing balloons.

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Dennis Inishinapay following his exit from the Lodge during the first Fort Albany Sundance.

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The Chicago Blackhawks logo backlit by the sun in a doorway of a home in Fort Albany.

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Firefighter JP Scott sets off fireworks while children watch on Canada Day 2017. 

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Young people sit outside of Loone's Variety Store one summer night after a game of Spotlight.
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Xavier Inishinapay with passenger Andre listening to music in a truck.

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The grave of a young man who took his own life in January 2016.

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The Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis seen on the final night of the first Fort Albany Sundance.

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