Montage of portraits of youth from Fort Albany, Kashechewan, and Attawapiskat First Nations, taken during the 2016 Fort Albany Youth Gathering.
Peetabeck - Canada
Fort Albany, traditionally known as Peetabeck, 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.
Children lead an Awareness Walk against drug dealing and bootlegging on Fourth Street in Fort Albany.
Michel Sutherland cradles his youngest child in front of their home.
An airplane, flies over the Albany River near Fort Albany.
Stacey Scott stands looking at her late sister's grave.
A young girl lays on the grass outside of Peetabeck Academy, the new school in Fort Albany.
The Small Tree in the Altar before the Sundance in Fort Albany in front of the Sacred Colours.
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.
Ruby Nakogee, who now lives in Kingston, Ontario, has breakfast with her son Emery Nakogee who has autism.
Youth Initiative coordinator 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.
Scars on the arm of a young Albanian who has struggled with issues such as self-harm.
Six-year-old Kathleen Metatawabin smudges with sage inside her aunt Jennifer Metatawabin's room.
The back of a sweatshirt is shown off by an Albanian man.
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 in March by suicide.
A photograph of Michael Scott, now studying in college, is pinned to the door of a shed belonging to Thomas Scott.
Shakira Knapaysweet embraces a column in the hallway at Peetabeck Academy.
Harold Nakoogee, and Mary Hoomimaw peruse music on a laptop at Harold's home.
A page out of a documentation of a conference of Elders in Fort Albany on April 30, 1999. The purpose of the gathering and documentation was to pass on teachings.
Cousins Karis Nakogee and Emery Nakogee at home.
A children's bike lays in the water at the bottom of the Fort Albany causeway.
Boy in front of Fort Albany Hospital.
Thomas Scott driving away from the Sundance Grounds after he completes leading his and Fort Albany's first Sundance.
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.
Nicole Sutherland gathers cedar in the natural environment for use in her first sweat lodge built with help from long-time friend Joseph Scott in her backyard.
A game called Particles is played during the Fort Albany Youth Gathering.
A thawing caribou carcass being butchered by Thomas Scott and youth during the Fort Albany Youth Gathering.
Young people take part in the Children's Ceremony in the Sundance Lodge on the final day of the Sundance.
Young people at the banks of the Albany River during the Fort Albany Sundance.
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.
A young man lobs a basketball at the outdoor basketball court.
Members of the Youth Council of Fort Albany on a decommissioned fuel storage container just outside of town.
A man walks along the causeway as the sun sets in Fort Albany.
A little girl braces herself against mosquitos at dusk.
Youth Council member Jennifer Metatawabin adds wood to a fire at St. Anne's Lake.
Children look up and cheer at a Canada Day fireworks show put on by Fort Albany First Nation behind Peetabeck Academy.
Young people sit outside of Loone's Variety Store one summer night after a game of Spotlight.
Canada Day fireworks put on by Fort Albany First Nation.
A young person covered with a mask he made during a retreat with the Junior Canadian Rangers.
The grave of a young man who took his own life in early 2016 at the cemetery.
JJ Koostachin plays guitar outside of the Fort Albany Hospital moments after hearing the cries of his friend after learning she had a miscarriage.
Dennis Inishinapay following his exit from the Lodge during the Sundance.
The Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis seen on the final night of the Sundance.