Peetabeck by Nick Kozak
Fort Albany (population of approximately 900), traditionally known as Peetabeck, is a remote Indigenous First Nation community, one of over 600 in Canada. It is located on the western coast of James Bay in Northern Ontario. Fort Albany is a Cree community and home to survivors of the notorious St. Anne's Residential School, which closed in 1964. The community is accessible only by air, water, and winter road.
I first became interested in Fort Albany when my partner Amanda travelled there to work as a Summer Literacy Camp Councilor in 2015. In November of that year I made my first trip to Fort Albany as a volunteer with ArtsCan Circle. By February 2016 I had travelled back via the winter roads with writer and former Journalist for Human Rights in Fort Albany, Jack Locke. Last summer I returned for almost two months to document the lives of young Albanians.
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.
It is the 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 my experience, 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? Continuous efforts are made to involve people, especially the youth, in positive activities and reconnect them to the land and traditions that were destroyed by residential schools and other deplorable colonial activities of Canada's past.
Nick Kozak lives and works in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
To view more of Nick's work, please visit his website.