Home to the Swampy Cree First Nations people, the rural Canadian community of Attawapiskat, Ontario reached a tragic tipping point in 2016. Nestled on the winding banks of the Attawapiskat river, the town of approximately two thousand residents declared a formal state of emergency in response to an overwhelming surge of attempted suicides, momentarily grabbing the attention of the Canadian people.
With the support of a Grant from the Pulitzer Centre on Crisis Reporting, photographer David Maurice Smith travelled to Attawapiskat with the intention of creating work showing the community in a broader cultural context that could help Canadians to see beyond simply the crisis itself and understand more about the town’s residents and the lives they lead. The serious challenges facing First Nations towns like Attawapiskat have essentially become the narrative, leading to an erosion of understanding and empathy from outsiders and a lack of appreciation of the richness and resiliency of these communities. Properly understanding the serious issues facing First Nations people requires a re-contextualizing: a shared focus not only on the struggle, but also on the culture and universal human values of the Attawapiskat Nation.
While addressing the complex challenges that exist, Smith’s project People of the Parting Rocks also shows sides of life in Attawapiskat that have been largely overlooked: the enduring bonds of family, a connection to the land, the resurrection of traditional practices and the raw natural beauty of the region. “If we continue to stereotype Native communities as lost causes, we perpetuate a divide.” Says Smith. “It is damaging to focus on only the most destitute and deplorable conditions for the sake of furthering a narrative that does not tell the whole story and leaves little room for healing.”.