Goodnight Attawapiskat references


"...Attawapiskat, city by the bay!"
...Oh, Goodnight, Attawapiskat
Thank you! Goodnight!"

Attawapiskat, Ontario is a First Nations community on James Bay in northern Ontario. It is new to the news, but it is not new.

Sophisticated societies have existed around James Bay for at least 3,500 years. We know that before there were pyramids in Egypt, there were people living in or near that part of what we now call Canada.

The modern, largely Cree, community of Attawapiskat has become the latest symbol of the 150-year failure of Canada's Indian Act.

In 1867, when our history books consider time to have begun, (and trust me, I'm a teacher, I aint kiddin') the federal government of Canada was given "control over" Native Peoples and their federally administered lands.

Government owned and long neglected housing programs have ensured that no pride of ownership can exist on these reserved lands. A lack of reliable social and infrastructure funding, corruption by Indigenous and non-Indigenous actors and a tragically outmoded education system have all combined to create a state of hopelessness, depression and third world living conditions throughout Canada's true north. In the south, apathy is the kindest way to describe the way most of us city dwellers feel towards our fellow Indigenous citizens. Worst of all, a century long government run residential school program (see Now The Struggle Has A Name) resulted in children being forcibly removed from their homes, culturally "re-educated" and in far too many cases physically and sexually abused or even killed. An epidemic level of addiction and suicide among our isolated northern communities is the result.

Regardless of your political affiliation or distribution of accountability, there can be no doubt that the state of Canada's Indigenous peoples is our greatest shame. What race relations were to the United States of the 1950's and 60's, Indigenous affairs are to the Canada of... well... hopefully someday soon. We love to look down our noses at our southern cousins and their issues with difference, but unlike their direct and public collision with the calamity of Jim Crow way back when, we in Canada have yet, even still, to drag this issue out into the open so that it might be fully addressed.

Attawapiskat came to represent that shame when their campaign for a new elementary school gained national attention. The children of the Reserve were being educated in wooden portables after being promised new school funding six years previous. Three Prime Ministers, one massive media campaign and twelve years after their original promise, ground was finally broken in 2012. The new school flooded, was reopened in 2017, and as of 2018, was still in need of repair.

Gord Downie playfully weaves the rock and roll style "Goodnight Attawapiskat!" into a politically charged song. He told the CBC that he was amused by the idea of a rock and roll front man confusing the town he was performing in for the northern Canadian community. The town that is always forgotten has somehow, to this fictional singer, become the town he can never forget. Downie speculated that he'd like to end every Hip show by screaming "Goodnight Attawapiskat!"

"...Hello! Good evening folks we are the Silver Poets
Here in our thousand mile suits"

Downie explained that "the silver poets" are the politicians and well wishers, who like musicians, roll into town with their silver tongues and roll out just as quickly en route to somewhere else. "They call it a fly-in, fly-out community," Downie said, "But maybe we should listen to the stories coming out of there."

"...A diamond dazzling
O Attawapiskat"

Gord mentioned that he was most appalled by the royalties from the nearby De Beers Victor Diamond Mine. "Everybody knows the wealth of that mine is nearby and yet the royalties go from the mine into Queen's Park."

The mine does employ 100 people from the community, but critics continue to note that the wealth from the area never seems to benefit the area.

During the nationally broadcast celebration of The Tragically Hip on August 20, 2016, Gord Downie turned to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who was sitting in the stands. In front of 7,000 people in the rink, and 11.7 million watching at home, Gord put the PM politely on the spot. It might have been the most Canadian moment ever. Downie expressed confidence that Trudeau would be the first PM to finally get things done for the Indigenous Peoples. As Gord said that night, "it's bad up there."

Dave Bastedo photo of Trudeau and Downie

Adam Scotti photo of Trudeau and Downie