Birch Narrows Dene First Nation, Saskatchewan

April 6th, 2018 – Report by Beverly Hadland, Crossroads Ambassador to First Peoples

March 27-31, 2018 – This trip, my latest, began right at the large sign to Birch Narrows.  I was greeted by Rebecca Sylvestre, Family Support Worker for this community.   We went immediately into a meeting attended by Rebecca, Rene Sylvestre, Health Director; Terry Campbell, Community Navigator; Bernice Desjardin, Mental Health Director and Ernest Sylvestre, NADAP Addictions Worker.  Chief Jonathan Sylvestre sent warm greetings in his absence.  Our meeting addressed, in general, the health and needs of this community and how to increase self-determination and sustainability.

Birch Narrows is attended to by a doctor one day a week.  A nurse, trained to prescribe prescriptions, visits ten days a month.  The community has a well-equipped emergency room and dental facility but a Dental Hygienist only attends one week every two or three months. 

I was surprised at the staggering number of residents with chronic diabetes.  In a community just shy of 500 people there are 102 such cases.   It seems they are always dealing at a crisis level rather than achieving a level of maintenance.  They are in need of two dozen FIRST AID KITS and a medical/dental support team, something Crossroads will attempt to co-ordinate with EMAS Canada.

The lone grocery store offers fresh vegetables and fruit but at prices prohibitive for the average household.  Processed food, while much cheaper, is loaded with addictive sugars. 

I was shown an unused building that could be converted into a community kitchen and food bank.  Rebecca’s staff would love to expand their gardens, invite the community to cook together and offer pre-made healthy meals to the elders, children and those in need.  This project will cost about $235,000 to get up and running including all necessary supplies.  Crossroads will team with South Western Ontario Gleaners and Birch Narrows in covering transportation costs to supply dehydrated vegetables and fruit.  We are always looking for ways to utilize the $31 million worth of food that is thrown away in Canada yearly, and get it to the people most in need.

Following our meeting, I was shown around the community.  Rebecca introduced me to Virginia who lives in a home that should be torn down.  It is full of holes in the floors, walls and roof.  Mold permeates the dwelling.  I would love to see that home destroyed and a new one replace it on the same spot.  Virginia was born on that land right by the lake with its spectacular view.  I heard all about the politics and resulting inability to help her, even though many people love Virginia and want to do something.  She has taken in more than 40 Indigenous children over the years.  It would be awesome to bless her with a new home.  She allowed me to take photos.  There are other poor families but this was the worst situation I saw.  Homes don’t get built fast enough so two, sometimes three families, must live together while waiting for a home. 

After that heartbreaking visit, Rebecca drove me around Birch Narrows and Turnor Lake, then it was on to an ice road.  Now that was an experience!  We then joined some students who live with elders in a cabin for one week as part of their schooling.  The young people learn about their culture; hunting, fishing, gathering wood, making bannock and even skinning a beaver and stretching the skin the old fashion way.  I was impressed.  I love how the elders participate in teaching the younger ones.  It is so Biblical and a great example to we who live in the city and speed through life.  Life slows down when you are in the north. 

This is a vibrant northern community in the Subarctic that needs some tender loving care.  If you are willing to partner with us, please DONATE.

Contact Information:

Crossroads Ambassador to the First Peoples
Crossroads/100 Huntley Street
1295 North Service Rd.
Burlington, ON
L7R 4M2

[email protected]