Pukatawagan, Manitoba has been a top spot to visit recently for storytelling and education. Sook-Yin Lee, host of CBC’s Definitely Not the Opera (DNTO), a crew of producers and a videographer visited the remote community during the week of Feb. 9.
“One of the values we strive for on DNTO is diversity, and trying to find the greatest range of voices we can. One of the things that struck me about Pukatawagan was, certainly there is an incredible range of aboriginal First Nation voices, but also there are people from the rest of Canada, and the world who live in Pukatawagan,” said Winnipeg-based producer Kaj Hasselriis, who first suggested the team visit the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation.
Sook-Yin Lee, who has travelled to Northern Manitoba before, found the trip inspiring. “To me it’s a place of deep, quiet intensity. Even landing, everything looked black and white. The tree line looked black, the snow looked white. The world became quite visibly different. Many of the people are facing incredible challenges with living somewhere so remote.”
While there the CBC crew knocked on doors, went to the school, the youth centre, anywhere a resident would tell their story to them. Lee said meeting a local gentleman named Joseph Caribou was a moment she will never forget. Caribou, paralyzed from the waist down from a hunting accident lives in a small shack with his wife and two children waiting for a home to be built for them. “There is no ability to have a shower. It is very challenging for a man not able to walk. He’s hoping and praying to have supplies to come in, waiting for his home to be built. This is Canada, and it’s a stark reality to see the reality people can face.” Lee went on to explain how challenging it is for some people to even buy an orange in Pukatawagan, since a single one can cost up to $3 and a pack of cigarettes can cost $20.
The hope of this themed show is for people to open their minds, Lee says. “I hope people can put their heads together and figure out ways to inject resources into their economy. We need to be able to see the beauty, see the people, and figure out how to help to sustain that community because it’s a treasure.”
The Pukatawagan show will air Feb. 21 at 1:30 p.m. on CBC radio. The show will also feature music northern residents suggested like the Pukatawagan song by Sidney Castel.
Before DNTO and Sook-Yin Lee took to the north, 10 nurses from the University of California - Los Angeles (UCLA) visited the remote community in the middle of September. Kelly Castel, a student from the UCLA Masters Entry Clinical Nurse program, led the trip. “I thought it would be a good idea as a nursing student, and it would be a very enriching educational experience to go up there and see if I could volunteer and help out in the community.”
During the visit, students shadowed public health nurses in Pukatawagan and paid home health visits to elders and disabled people. “They invited us to participate in traditional sweat lodge ceremonies, they introduced us to a lot of the traditional medicine they use up there. We also got to speak to some medicine men and women, and see how the delivery of health care is in Pukatawagan at a nursing station.”
Since returning to UCLA, the students have been putting the finishing touches on a community needs assessment. “It’s a report we are going to submit hopefully mid-2015. What we did was we went around and interviewed around 31 community members, asking them what the needs of the community are, what challenges are being faced, what resources are needed, and how can issues be addressed,” Castel explained.
Chief Arlen Dumas of Mathias Colomb Cree Nation says it was an honour to have both groups visit the area, and hopes this brings a better level of health care to the area, and a better way of life for his people.