In the far north of Canada's Ontario province, where opiate addiction afflicts the First Nation population, nurse practitioner Mae Katt runs a mobile drug treatment programme. 

Her urgent mission is to set up effective programmes to treat this devastated population in the hopes that they will be able to shape their future, on their territory, and become the employment workforce backbone of the coming "Ring of Fire" mining operations.

It is a mammoth challenge, especially as up to 80 percent of the adult population of some communities negotiating the mining developments are addicted to opiates.

This pristine territory is set to emerge as one of the richest mining sites in North America. First Nation leaders and Mae have seen their people betrayed before with broken promises; this time, they must secure their voice in the coming economic boom and take part in the opportunity to defend their land and lift themselves out of endemic poverty and isolation.

The mining developments might present a Faustian bargain, but Mae is determined that her efforts and that of her team can pave a way for her people to reclaim their health and their future on their land.

Nurse practitioner Mae Katt runs a mobile drug treatment programme in Canada's Ontario province where the First Nation population is heavily afflicted by opiate addiction [Al Jazeera] 


By Candida Paltiel

I first became aware of the Ring of Fire as I was finishing a stint as the artistic director of an environmental film festival where I programmed many works from communities whose lands and lives were being disrupted by global economic forces. The discovery in my own country of the Ring of Fire, the massive mineral find in the pristine wetlands of the James Bay Lowlands, revealed the Canadian chapter in this story, one in which formerly invisible aboriginal communities were facing global juggernauts while trying to determine their own future on their territories.

Originally, I was going to follow the negotiation process over this development, which at the outset of the staking frenzy was being compared to that of Canada's Alberta tar sands. I wondered whether a new bar would be established for resource extraction in my country, in which all parties, in particular the First Nations, would benefit.

But my introduction to Mae Katt, a pioneering First Nation nurse practitioner, who has worked in the region for almost four decades, changed my focus.

In the summer of 2012 Mae invited me to observe her work delivering a mobile drug treatment programme in the remote, tiny fly-in reserve community of Marten Falls, at the centre of the mining disputes. There I learned about the scope of a silent epidemic afflicting the communities that were now in the global mining spotlight. It became clear that the story I needed to focus on was that negotiations with the extractive industry were taking place against the backdrop of an opiate addiction and suicide crisis of immense consequence.

Marten Falls lies at the centre of the mining disputes [Al Jazeera]

What lies behind the addictions and traumas in these communities, is what sets apart this opiate crisis from other places in North America, which are also dealing with the impact of prescription drug abuse.

Historic injustice explains much of the predicament many First Nations communities are in, but there are also continuous indignities that the people in these areas experience daily as a consequence of living in poverty and neglect. Though surrounded by fresh water, they do not have safe, potable drinking water; multi-year funding for addiction treatment programmes is not assured; educational funding for aboriginal children is not equivalent to their non-aboriginal counterparts. This list continues and simply defies logic in a country with Canada's wealth.

All too often the Canadian public has remained in the dark - willingly or otherwise - about so much that affects First Nations communities in Canada, and in this case, the particular issues, concerns, and pressures on the Matawa communities.

It seems to be changing but I am not sure how pervasive it is. One of the chiefs told me that Idle No More, the movement which took off in late 2012, raising international awareness about the rights and concerns of Canada's aboriginal people, barely affected his remote community. He saw it as an urban movement, gaining traction as urban aboriginal populations experience a renaissance and play a greater role in cities across Canada.

My hope is that this film sheds light and understanding on the complex road toward self-determination, change and recovery in the isolated reserve communities whose survival is still very much at stake. The population that Mae is treating faces hardship, but is inspiring, self-aware, making commitments and looking to the future. Their leaders have been struggling to be heard for decades about what has been happening on the ground.

It is time we listen.

Ironically, a window into the lives of the Matawa people opened with the discovery of the Ring of Fire. Suddenly, what First Nations in the far north of Canada's most populous province have endured for years has become visible and they will no longer be pushed to the background - idle no more.

What is clear to me is that the change cannot be one-sided, nor simply based on whether or not the mining operations will open or not. The broader social, political and economic forces at play must also be open to changing the way in which we conduct our affairs with our First People in my country. We cannot afford to do otherwise. To me this is the only path to reconciliation.

The story behind Canada's Rings of Fire is still unfolding in real time. This is but a fragment.

Source: Al Jazeera