By Xavier Kataquapit
I recall being at home as a boy in our small three-bedroom house in Attawapiskat in the 1980s. We were a huge family of nine children and two parents and at one point we lived with our Mooshoom (grandfather) James Kataquapit.
We lived a relatively quiet life in the north and every night dad would turn on the television to watch the nightly news. We seldom understood what was happening in the world because we felt we were far removed from everyone and everything in our small remote community in the wilderness.
Mom and dad were always so amazed and confused as to how and why parts of the world still fought and killed one another in major wars and conflicts. It confused us all that one group of people could be brought to the point of wanting to kill many others they disliked or disagreed with. Over the years I have gained some knowledge about war and much of it from reading history but also from those who fought in war.
My grandfather James Kataquapit was a First World War veteran. He excited our family with stories of cities to the south, travelling over great oceans, seeing far away lands and witnessing the destruction that came with the First World War. At least my Mooshoom James came back.
My great grandfather John Chookomolin also left for this war, but he was less fortunate as he succumbed to the Spanish Flu in the United Kingdom where he died in 1917. His loss left his wife Maggie and daughter Louise, who is my grandmother, alone in the wilderness. Maggie died soon after, which left my grandmother orphaned during a time and place in the north when it meant life or death for a small child. John’s death in the First World War changed the course of my family’s history.
Twenty other young Indigenous men left for this war from Attawapiskat and the histories of their families was severely altered because of a world conflict they did not understand on the other side of planet. My partner Mike’s family was affected by the Second World War. He lost his uncle, and his dad was injured.
It is sad to think that even after so many years, the news stories of war still look the same to me now as they did when I was a child up north. None of it really makes sense.
One thing I have learned is that modern war is promoted in a way that doesn’t really tell the truth. Academics and researchers have put forward time and again that war is not the answer to the differences we face with one another. Academics, like the renowned Noam Chomsky, have pointed out we conveniently ignore the fact that our world spends trillions of dollars towards military answers to conflicts while we issue only a fraction of that amount towards peace and negotiation. War is all about money and people get rich on it.
I believe it is up to all of us to find the courage and strength to demand from all our leaders that peaceful means are found to negotiate problems. Thousands of people are being killed now in Gaza and hundreds of thousands have lost their lives in the Ukraine/Russian war. What is wrong with us? Can’t we find the source of the problems that lead to these wars and negotiate a solution that benefits everyone. The wealthy who benefit financially from war rarely experience the pain of war, but young men and women are pushed into conflicts where they are terrorized, maimed and killed. We fund the governments that go to war, so we have the right to tell them they can not use these funds to kill.
When I turn on my modern digital video news feed it amazes me that I am still confused, and I feel helpless in the same way I did when I was a boy in the northern wilderness. The only thing that gives me hope is that people have started to protest in the streets to form anti-war movements.
I hope that in this New Year 2024, we can find a new way forward and that peace will become a mantra for our future. I feel so much sadness and pain when I see the devastation of war in the media, and I believe that has to do with the first-hand personal experience I have had in losing my great-grandfather and witnessing the affects on my grandfather who went to war.
Maybe, just maybe, we can all rise up through organizing protests in the streets, running a letter writing campaign to our members of Parliament and urging our media to provide deep coverage of war. This would be a New Year’s resolution I could support.