Where the Pavement Ends
November 4, 2013
Review By Shelly Johnson
Marie Wadden is a non-Aboriginal investigative journalist/network producer for CBC Radio who is based in St. John’s, Newfoundland. In 1981, she shared her home with two Innu youth who came to the city from Sheshatshiu, Labrador, to complete high school, and she subsequently developed a relationship with their families. Wadden writes that she was “goaded” into action by a 2005 Globe and Mail op-ed piece by John Gray that described Innu suicides, solvent-abusing Innu children, and financial corruption related to the relocation of Innu peoples to Natuashish from the Labrador community of Davis Inlet. “The disaster of Davis Inlet and Natuashish – and there are other Aboriginal communities across the country similarly afflicted,” Gray writes, “is that nobody knows what to do” (3). Whether due to her relationships with Innu people or to her professional interests, Wadden became determined to speak with people who, she thought, “do know what to do” (3) with regard to the Aboriginal recovery movement and the need for reconciliation between Aboriginal and non Aboriginal peoples in Canada.
To finance the research, Wadden received support from the Atkinson Charitable Foundation (2005) and spent 2006 visiting First Nations and Métis communities from Labrador to British Columbia as well as Inuit communities in the Arctic, educating herself about the healing work that Aboriginal people are developing, implementing, and struggling to continue. “I want to know whether Canadian public policy is helping or hindering the process of recovery,” Wadden told the 2005 Atkinson jury. According to a document from the Atkinson Foundation (2005), “There’s a lot of public money being spent to heal aboriginal communities yet there is still so much suffering.”
According to Statistics Canada (2006), Canada’s Aboriginal population has reached 1.17 million and is increasingly urbanized, with over 54 percent living in urban centres. It is problematic that Where the Pavement Ends overwhelmingly focuses on Canadian public policy and federal spending on reserve or land-based First Nations and Inuit communities (which comprise less than half of the Aboriginal population in Canada) and ignores the urban realities of the majority of Canada’s Aboriginal population. This focus highlights a need to broaden the policy and funding debate to include the perspectives and needs of all Aboriginal peoples in Canada, wherever they live, a concept expressed and long advanced by urban Aboriginal leadership and Colin Hanselmann (2001).
Over and over, Aboriginal people told Wadden of their belief that Canada’s government, Indian Act legislation, consultants, and bureaucracies represent the major barriers to Aboriginal healing. In fact, Chapter 16 is entitled “Health Canada: Addicted to Control.” Wadden makes explicit sentiments privately expressed by many Aboriginal people in Canada, who feel that Aboriginal misery is “big business” and that “maybe the government wants us to fail. If we succeed and our people are healed, many bureaucrats will lose their jobs” (177).
Wadden’s year-long research project and journey across Canada were first published in a series of short stories in the Toronto Star and then developed into Where the Pavement Ends. Well sourced and researched, through twenty-one short stories the book offers a clear and compelling introductory overview of the historical, political, economic, and social issues associated with Aboriginal addictions. It also provides successful healing examples and a twelve-point recommendation/action plan to advance a wide range of global, national, provincial, and local healing strategies.
In addition to conducting interviews with non-Aboriginal politicians (such as BC premier Gordon Campbell), judges, bureaucrats, physicians, priests, and consultants, Wadden took obvious care to include the diverse voices of Aboriginal activists and to prioritize their perspectives on healing. A comment in the first chapter, “Healing the Spirit,” from Dr. Marjorie Hodgson, a Nadleh Whuten Carrier from northern British Columbia, sets the tone for the entire book: “Healing is not an Aboriginal issue, it’s a Canadian issue” (17). Yet, throughout the book, it is obvious that, while there are many non-Aboriginal people who can (and who want to) assist in the reconciliation effort, it is Aboriginal people, working in many sites and in many ways, who have responsibility for conducting healing work – one person, family, and community at a time.
While government is called upon to provide a fair share of healing funding to support Aboriginal efforts, Aboriginal peoples have a responsibility to address the overwhelming amount of welfare dependency created by Canadian policies. Wadden is careful to include the controversial perspectives of Aboriginal Australian Noel Pearson (2000) and Canada’s Tsimshian lawyer Calvin Helin (2007) as important voices. These authors argue that it is critical to advance Aboriginal self-reliance rather than passively and naively to wait for Ottawa to address Aboriginal traumas.
One example of Aboriginal selfreliance occurred in 2007, when the Inuit peoples of Nunavut funded their own $600,000 inquiry into what they believe was a deliberate government policy to destroy twenty-thousand Inuit sled dogs in the 1960s and 1970s, the purpose being to make the Inuit easier to control and to render them economically dependent upon the South (151). Clearly, Wadden believes that this book has the potential to educate and to inform mainstream Canadian society and hopes that it will result in positive changes in the relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in Canada. If it encourages two people from either side of the issue to develop a relationship, as Wadden did with the families of the Innu youth who came to live with her all those years ago, it will have been worth writing.
Atkinson Foundation. 2005. Marie Wadden awarded Atkinson Fellowship Available at http://www.atkinsonfoundation.ca/ updates/Document_1118707354464 (viewed 27 April 2009).
Helin, Calvin. 2007. Dances with Dependency: Indigenous Success through Self-Reliance. Vancouver, BC: Orca Spirit Publishing.
Hanselmann, Colin. 2001. Urban Aboriginal People in Western Canada: Realities and Policies. Calgary: Canada West Foundation. Available at http://www.cwf.ca/V2/ files/200109.pdf (viewed 27 April 2009).
Pearson, Noel. 2000. Our Right to Take Responsibility. Cairns, Queensland: Noel Pearson and Associates.
Statistics Canada. 2006. Aboriginal peoples in Canada in 2006, Inuit, Métis and First Nations, Census 2006. Available at http://www12.statcan.ca/census-recensement/ 2006/as-sa/97-558/p3-eng.cfm (viewed 27 April 2009).