The staff has just returned from a high-summer visit to three of the reserves, Summer Beaver, K.I. and Sandy Lake.

The children at Summer Beaver were all at “camp,” a youth retreat about an hour’s boat ride from the main settlement, where they had been learning traditional skills such as how to build shelters from moss and birch branches. We joined them for an evening of dancing, fresh-caught pickerel and fried bannock. There was a great deal of laughter. The blueberries were ripe, the air was warm, husky puppies were scampering under foot, and the landscape was stunning.

The following day, public health director Don Sofea took us on a tour of this 450-person community, pointing out some of his challenges in caring for his people’s physical welfare. A major problem is household mould.

Virtually every small, cramped home here (several without running water) is built on a wood foundation without adequate venting or circulation. In the fiercely cold winter, the windows supplied via the rough ice roads wind up arriving cracked or broken. As there is no money to purchase replacements, these are what have to be installed, which in turn means that most homes are frigidly cold and draughty. To solve this problem, community members wrap their creaky buildings in plastic, which traps humidity. Mould is everywhere, and nobody can afford to tear their homes down and start anew.

As a result, the people are suffering from chronic coughs, runny noses, rashes and headaches. Our special advisor, Judy Finlay, had her first asthma attack in a decade after spending a night in the local motel.

When the Chief and his Band Council notified Health Canada about this ongoing public health crisis, an official was sent up to do a thorough inspection of homes and prepare a lengthy report that said, in effect: “Yup, you’ve got mould.”

If the Band cannot afford to build new houses -- they are currently short by seventy homes -- how can they afford to tear down what meagre dwellings they’ve got and rebuild the entire community to get rid of mould?

This is but one example of the Catch-22s they contend with.

Our newly-hired project manager for housing, Mike King, had long discussions with members of the Summer Beaver community, and is beginning to look at ways to help solve this dilemma.

After sharing their concerns, they invited us to attend a Sweat Lodge ceremony, which turned out to be a powerful emotional experience for some of our members. As always with a partnership, this is an experience of mutual learning and nourishment.

Now, there is work to do!

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