My flight arrived on-time in Toronto and Julie and the boys were there to meet me.. at the International Arrivals area, but that is O.K. I guess I was arriving from the First nation so it was sort of International. The boys talked constantly the whole way to the car; Devin beside me and Jacob in front of me walking backwards. I haven’t had a big cry yet so I guess that is coming later.
Reflections on Neskantaga as a Mission Point:
Me and my friend Isaiah.
“This would never have happened without the help from Tintern”, Bonnie said after our Wednesday night program. Bonnie and Brian have done gift programs like this in a number of communities but one thing that is significant about our program in Neskantaga is the involvement from people in the community. Bonnie, Brian and I brought the gifts across the street from their apartment to the Community Centre but the hall was prepared by people in the community. Brian and I then got some kids involved for a moment in getting the gifts to the front of the room.
Brian and Bonnie were both very pleased to see that people from the community stayed and helped clean up. I was there putting chairs away but three or four parents stayed until everything was put away.
We might assume that would happen. I have never been to a potluck down south that people didn’t stay to clean up but Brian and Bonnie say this was significantly different. People pitched in and it had a very positive spirit about it.
There was a youth feast last year for kids aged 0 – 6 but less than 50 attended. The optics of this program are very important. When it appears like a community program with community organization and community involvement it’s value skyrockets. We need to work at developing a ‘community face’ for our summer program. Each part of the program from promotion to hosting needs to be done from the community as much as possible.
Brian and Bonnie were heavily involved in the gift program in Wunnimun Lake, with Brian employed by the band as a youth program coordinator and after they left, the program completely died. Bonnie mentioned on numerous occasions, “That is not the legacy I want to leave here”. We need to support a program that will eventually run itself. We will send gifts to a group of individuals in the community and they will be distributed from there by community people.
Brian, BonnieLee, and Sunshine
Not Every Kid in Neskantaga is Hungry
As you can probably tell from the pictures not every kid in Neskantaga is hungry. It is a far more complicated situation than I realized. Some kids are dearly loved by their families and have two parents earning incomes that make it possible to eat reasonably well, however no one is extravagantly wealthy.
Some kids do get Christmas gifts from their family. Bonnie has a friend who she saw shopping at the Northern store the other day buying Christmas gifts: 5 new blankets and pillows; one for everyone in their family. This will likely be the big present for the kids in that family.
The local school gives out a gift on the last day to every kid in school. Word on the street has it that the local education authority spent $75 on each child but when you see these gifts that appears unlikely. This program has been expanded since Brian and Bonnie began their program, almost as a response. The community does not want to appear like it cannot take care of its own. We need to be careful of this. We must not make the community too embarrassed to accept our help.
Never-the-less some kids are not well off at all and are noticeably at risk. One kid was hanging around outside Brian and Bonnie’s this summer during supper asking for her birthday gift. She had been to the medical centre earlier to talk to Bonnie about it. Bonnie said for her to wait and she would bring it out when they were done eating. A few minutes later the little one piped up, “But I’m missing my birthday party.”
Bonnie went and got the gift and gave it to her wishing her a happy birthday and off she went. She was back a few minutes later, pleased with the gift but telling Bonnie that her Mom had forgotten about her birthday party. “She said she would do it in a couple days instead.”
In the end our gift program will not work if it is only for those we think deserve it; presents for some but not for all. For us to make a difference with the needy ones we need to serve them all.
Not Every Hungry Kid is in Neskantaga
Neskantaga has not cornered the market on hungry children and that is a message I want to bring from my experience up north. We need to get off our collective behinds and find the hungry kids in our community. Brian says finding them in Neskantaga is much easier. They show up on his doorstep. First Nations people are far more honest with their needs. They will be frank with you and tell you if they are hungry. They are not arrogant and will accept help.
People down south tend to be arrogant when it comes to needs like that. Southerners will hide their most heartfelt needs. Most of us would rather die than let someone know they are hungry, or desparately lonely.
We need to find the hungry kids in our town: the kids who are lonely, who are desperate for affection. We need to love them unconditionally and serve them. I am willing to bet there are more hungry kids in Beamsville than in Neskantaga. That’s not to say we need to switch our focus here; however we need to start doing something locally to. For us to make a difference with the needy ones we need to serve them all.
Brian says he has had a motto since he was out west in Saskatchewan that he tries to live by: “Find whatever good there is to do and do it.”
Don’t worry about forming a committee, don’t have a meeting about it, don’t put a sign up list on the bulletin board, don’t announce it in the bulletin, don’t email your elders, or your deacons, or your minister about it.
Pray about it. Then do it.
We have wasted far too much time talking about good things to do and far to little time doing them. My admonition to the reader: Let’s find some good to do today and do it.