Life in the frozen north: Trauma and healing in a remote Canadian town

Canada’s indigenous First Nations have suffered generations of dislocation and discrimination. In the opening part of her new series, Rachel Savage, the first winner of The Independent’s Rupert Cornwell prize for foreign journalism, meets the families trying to break the cycle step by step

Saturday 20 October 2018 19:08 BST
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The alcoholism. The abuse. The shotgun that misfired: sometimes it seems as if trauma is everywhere in Kawawa
The alcoholism. The abuse. The shotgun that misfired: sometimes it seems as if trauma is everywhere in Kawawa (Photography by Rachel Savage)

Jimmy Peter Einish was in a police cell more than 300 miles from home when he realised he needed to take control of his life. Trapped in a dark spiral of drinking and violence, he was locked up in Sept-Îles, a port on the north shore of the mighty St Lawrence River in the Canadian province of Quebec, for getting involved in a fight. “Something just clicked inside of me,” he remembers. “I just said ‘What am I doing to myself?’”

That was in the late 1980s. But it wasn’t until 1998 that Mr Einish finally overcame his addiction to alcohol. Since then, he has counselled dozens of others on the often long road to sobriety in Kawawachikamach, an indigenous community in northern Quebec only accessible by all-day train or a return flight costing C$1300 (£760).

Mr Einish’s story is, like those of so many other indigenous Canadians, the story of a struggle to overcome the poverty, dislocation and abuse caused by nearly two centuries of colonisation and discriminatory government policy. Yet, it is also a story of hope, of a community beginning to shape its own destiny.

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