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A life of daily danger - in Canada

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    Street life for aboriginal poor in Montreal proving more and more deadly A life of daily danger by Stefan Christoff
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 31, 2008
      Street life for aboriginal poor in Montreal proving more and more deadly

      A life of daily danger
      by Stefan Christoff

      As night falls over Montreal, the disturbing reality facing many First
      Nations people in this city becomes apparent as the park benches,
      alleyways and stairwells surrounding Cabot Square, at Atwater metro,
      transform into sleeping dens for dozens of urban indigenous people,
      most originating from Northern Quebec.

      As the winter months rest around the corner, fear of freezing deaths
      within Montreal's urban indigenous communities is on the rise.

      "[E]xposure to the elements is a major concern throughout the year,
      especially in the freezing months," explains Brett Pineau,
      co-ordinator of the street patrol team for Montreal's Native
      Friendship Centre, a non-profit community organization on the corner
      of St-Laurent and Ontario that serves an estimated 1,750 indigenous
      people in the greater Montreal area. "In January, February, as
      temperatures drop to minus 25 [Celsius] or lower, a number of
      Montreal's urban aboriginals fall asleep at night and never wake up
      the next morning."

      "Each year the Native Friendship Centre loses community members to the
      streets," continues Annie Pisuktie, an Inuktitut-speaking outreach
      worker for the centre.

      Around five indigenous people die on the streets of Montreal each year
      due to multiple factors including freezing, drug overdose and physical
      abuse or street violence, according to the centre. The majority of
      indigenous people who die on Montreal streets are from Northern
      Quebec's Inuit communities or from Nunavut.

      "Three years ago my niece died on the streets of Montreal," explains
      Pisuktie. "After the death, as we were in mourning, her body stayed in
      the morgue for two full weeks as I frantically raised the thousands
      [of dollars] involved in sending the body back to the north, without
      any assistance from the government."

      Street suicide is another growing reality for urban First Nations in
      Montreal, according to the Native Friendship Centre.

      "One man who was in contact with us at the centre recently committed
      suicide on the street," continues Pisuktie. "This man who took his own
      life had been beaten by the Montreal police numerous times in the
      past, and when a friend called the police in the middle of a dispute,
      [he] committed suicide that same evening."

      Walking around in the early morning hours, accompanied by an outreach
      team from Montreal's only grassroots centre servicing urban indigenous
      people, quickly illustrates the striking extent of the crisis facing
      Montreal's homeless First Nations people. Alleged abuses and violence
      at the hands of police are widely discussed in conversations that
      crisscross between English, French and Inuktitut in city alleyways.

      "Many people from our communities end up in Montreal for medical
      reasons, specialized medical treatment, which you can't access on the
      reservations," says Pineau. "Given that life on the reservation in
      Northern Quebec is basically Third World conditions, often people are
      forced to relocate to the city as basic needs on the reservations
      aren't being met in terms of health care, education [and] clean
      drinking water."

      Relocating to Montreal from Northern Quebec translates into major
      readjustments in terms of language, culture and lifestyle.

      "Most people in Canada don't understand the ongoing trauma facing our
      people due to colonization. Rage is still inside of our people, as
      many of our families were ripped apart by the Canadian government,"
      continues Joey Saganash, a youth outreach worker at the centre,
      "especially in past generations when many children went to government
      residential schools and never returned."

      Life for indigenous people on the streets of Montreal is like war.
      "Our people are on the streets, facing a hard life of drugs, alcohol,
      cold weather," explains Saganash. "You can look really good coming
      into the street, and five years later you can look like you went
      through a war. Every day there is danger coming at you."

      Information on the Native Friendship Centre is at www.nfcm.org.



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