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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

A New Year resolution for peace 

BY Xavier Kataquapit Jan 10, 2024

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 James Kataquapit.

We lived a relatively quiet life in the North and every evening 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, and he excited our family with stories of cities to the south, travelling over great oceans, seeing faraway lands and witnessing the destruction of the Great 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 England where he died in 1917. His loss left his wife Maggie and daughter Louise (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 young child. John’s death 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 were 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, and he lost his uncle, and his father was injured. It is sad to think that even after so many years, news stories of war still look the same to me as they did when I was a child. 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 like the renowned Noam Chomsky have pointed out we conveniently ignore the fact that our world spends trillions of dollars on military answers to conflicts while we spend only a fraction of that amount on peace and negotiation. War is all about money and the people who get rich from it.

It is up to all of us to find the courage and strength to demand from 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 cannot 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 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 my personal experience in losing my great-grandfather and witnessing the effects of war on my grandfather. 

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. 

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Xavier Kataquapit is Cree from Attawapiskat First Nation on the James Bay coast. He is a writer and columnist who has written about his life and Indigenous issues since 1998.