A Roof Overhead: Despite outhouses, Québec community of Kitcisakik slowly modernizing

Danielle Rochette
APTN National News
Part of daily life for Veronique Papatie saying this to her children.

“Be careful watch your step,” she says.

The warning is for her children, and the nine members of her household, to watch their step getting into the outhouse.

“When we have to use the toilet, it’s here,” said Papatie. “Whether in the summer or the winter.”

For electricity, her family counts on a small and noisy generator.

There’s no running water in the house either – which complicates everything.

But the situation doesn’t seem to discourage Papatie.

With money from the province in 2010, she and renovated her house in Kitcisakik. 

“When I was a little girl, my dream was to have my own bedroom. Now as a parent, I am able to provide my children with their own bedroom as well,” she said.

Since 2010, 44 homes have been renovated in the community thanks to groups of emergency architects who call themselves, The Frontier Foundation.

And $1.5 million in provincial funding over five years since 2010.

A cooperative, managed by the community, has also been created for workforce training and housing renovations.

‘It’s great to see members of our comminuty get their houses renovated,” said Mélanie Deslauriers, the community’s project manager. “It brings pride and tranquility to a household because there’s less anxiety or concern for things like mold. Partition walls in the home can also help create intamicy and privacy. There has been a lot of positivity that has come from the renovations as well as the training now that people live in updated homes. ”

In Sept. 2016, the Québec government responded to the cooperative’s request for more money by investing another $2 millions dollars to complete the renovation of 90 houses.

“We have an agreement from last year up to 2020 for five years,” said Deslauriers. “We get about $400,000 per year which totals $2 million for renovations in the community. But we have to understand that the account will not be completed. We will still need to renovate houses after these 4 years.”

Raised by his grand parents until the age of five, Charlie Papatie comes from a nomadic life.

“A house wasn’t really essential for us before. We just went wherever and lived where we wanted to because it was our territory,” he said. “Today, we say we want an adequate home, so we can be comfortable in our house.”

Now Charlie Papatie wants his house to be renovated soon.

He said an adequate house is more than new windows, doors and walls – he wants running water, electricity and a sewage system.

“A shower and toilet is what’s missing. That’s what the people in our community are always talking about it. they tell me they would like all those basic needs for their children,” he said.

But those services might come at a cost to their connection to the land.

Kitcisakik is unique.

The community has always refused to become a reserve under the Indian Act.

And while some Kitcisakik members endure and continue to hope for a better community – many young people are leaving.

People like Vince Papatie, 32. He moved and is now living and working in Val d’Or.

He has no plans to move back with his young daughter to a community without basic services.

‘I don’t need to wake up at night to keep a fire going or walk 3 kilometers for water,” he said. ‘I didn’t like taking showers in a public place, we got sores on our feet. it wasn’t clean and or healthy. I deserve a house with a toilet, running water and a shower.”

But Vince Papatie admits he’s loosing his culture, language and is experiencing an identity crisis by living away.

When asked about returning to Kitcisakik if it had adequate services, he didn’t hesitate.

‘I’d return in a heartbeat. that’s what I tell my colleagues at work. As soon it’s a real community, I’ll go back home, because it’s still my home,” he said.

The community proposed a village where they can access their traditional territory and be recognized as the owners of the land.

But in 2002, the federal government said no.

The growing division within the community about the location of the village, and the insufficient investments to complete housing renovations by 2020 leaves the community’s young people with little hope to return to their home land in a near future.

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