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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

No point crying, so you have to laugh

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First Nations are known to use humour to cope with situations that would have other people in complete despair. Nowhere is this more evident than in Pukatawagan, where they sell T-shirts proclaiming the local college as "Puk U." Not only will you hear lots of laughter in places where people gather, but the signs are evident throughout the community.

A snapshot of the rundown neighbourhoods in Puk makes it obvious the community resembles a troubled American ghetto, so residents have come to calling sections "The Bronx" or "L'il Chicago." They have even put up street signs and while there has never been any official naming ceremony or statute passed, this is how the people identify themselves and provide outsiders with directions.

"Take LA road past L'il Chicago and if you hit the Bronx, you've gone too far," they'll say to outsiders asking for directions.

LA road is not only named after Los Angeles. The road runs along four lagoons and is commonly referred to as Lagoon Avenue or "LA."

You talk to residents about the severe overcrowding, 20 to 25 people sharing a house and they will respond, "Yeah, but every meal is like Christmas dinner!"

There is even one neighbourhood they call Chinatown because when the 10 houses there were built, they were all painted green and somebody had seen a picture of Chinese pagodas which were all painted green, and the name stuck.

The street signs look like something out of the television series M*A*S*H*. Some of the local men have even gone to far as to paint a huge, white Pukatawagan sign on the side of a large outcrop which overlooks the community. The resemblance to the famous "Hollywood" sign overlooking Los Angeles is obvious.

Outside influences filter into Puk and they get twisted by local humourists to make the days pass by in a more pleasant way. Some of the local labourers were provided with a pickup truck which has an attachment making it resemble a HumVee. When assigned to go pick up some lumber for a construction job, they'll say, "We'll use 'Taliban' (the truck's name now) for that job."

Riding around with Chief Arlen Dumas, you get a fascinating insight into the history of this community. Arlen knows everybody because everybody knows everybody in Puk.

The chief is concerned most about the overcrowding and he notes the innovative ways people have found shelter where none existed.

"We had trailers for temporary teacher residences, and then they were to be returned, but families moved in while they were in storage waiting to be discarded. They are not suitable for long-term use except in some Third World but because our people were forced to use them for shelter, some government officials want those units counted as official housing to decrease our demand."

We drive by an old, one-storey, one-bedroom stucco shack -- the kind of building that used to be in vogue but isn't built anymore. Chief Dumas points out that used to be the home of Hyacinth Colomb -- an elder, a master trapper who used to be president of the Pukatawagan Trappers Association.

"We were thinking about restoring that house and turning it into some kind of museum or heritage place or something," Dumas said.

"But then somebody would move in."

 

-- Don Marks

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 24, 2010 H5

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