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Children lead an Awareness Walk against drug dealing and bootlegging on Fourth Street in Fort Albany First Nation, Ontario, Canada. July 21, 2016. In October 2016 a thirteen-year-old boy, at the front of the line in the Awareness Walk, took his own life.

Peetabeck, photo essay by Nick Kozak

Peetabeck – Canada

Fort Albany, traditionally known as Peetabeck (loosely translated to ‘ the meandering river floods a pond in the springtime’), is a remote Indigenous First Nation community, one of over 600 in Canada. It is part of the Treaty 9 territory and is located on the western coast of James Bay in Northern Ontario, about 130 kilometers northwest of Moosonee. Fort Albany is a Cree community and home to many survivors of the notorious St. Anne’s Residential School, which closed in 1964, but stood till it was set ablaze in 1999.

The population in Fort Albany fluctuates at around 900 Albanians (self-identified residents of Fort Albany). The community is accessible only by air, water, and winter road. Like many First Nations reserves in Canada, Fort Albany is on simultaneous paths of recovery, re-discovery, and preservation. As key community members, including Elders, have begun to further explore and promote their traditional roots through ceremonies, hunting practices, language, cuisine, music and art, it has become imperative for them to share these practices with their youth. While dealing with the effects from past atrocities, Peetabeck is practicing a delicate, and sometimes divided, dance between the reclamation, acceptance, and rejection of both traditional and Western cultures.

In Fort Albany, like all societies, the youth are the future. And while they are full of potential, they are also the most vulnerable and impressionable. It is these young people, at times neglected, sometimes bored, or even abused, who face the most devastating challenges of a community severely affected by drugs, alcohol and what many refer to as the “suicide spirit”. It seems, in the experience of this photographer, that everyone in Fort Albany has a tragic story to share, whether it be a mother, a father, a son, a daughter, or an uncle or aunt. So many lives have been cut short. The trauma is intergenerational and is rooted in the long, dark history of travesties committed against First Nations in Canada, which include but are not limited to rape and physical abuse, endured by many of those who attended residential school.

How does a community overcome the pain? Community leaders see an opportunity to steer youth on a path of healing. Young leaders recognize many of the challenges they and their peers face. Continuous efforts are made to involve people in positive activities and reconnect them to the land and traditions that were destroyed by residential schools and other deplorable colonial activities throughout Canada’s history.

The intention of this work is to shed light on the daily lives of young Albanians and show that, although they face enormous challenges, there is much hope in their community.

Work in progress, 2016 and 2017.

(by Nick Kozak)

Youth Initiative Xavier Inishinapay lays in bed, clutching a stuffed toy, next to his best friend and Youth Council member Miranda Chookomolin, during a visit to her house one morning. Fort Albany First Nation, Ontario, Canada. July 19, 2016.
Michael Inishinapay, 13, sits on a couch in the library at Peetabeck Academy. Fort Albany First Nation, Ontario, Canada. July 13, 2016.
Mike Koostachin holds the cake while his wife Charlotte Nakoochee lights the candles during a birthday party for two-year-old Naomi who was adopted by the pair. Naomi’s mother Kayla Nakoochee passed away in March by suicide. Fort Albany First Nation, Ontario, Canada. August 14, 2016.
Son of Mike Loone now in college/university on the door to a shed belonging to Thomas Scott. July 7, 2016.
A children’s bike lays in the water at the bottom of the causeway in Fort Albany. Fort Albany First Nation, Ontario, Canada. July 6, 2016.
Young people at the banks of the Albany River during the first Fort Albany Sundance. Fort Albany First Nation, Ontario, Canada. July 9, 2016.
A seedling in the cedar floor of a Sweat Lodge days after a Sweat Ceremony near the Sundance Grounds up at the dikes of Fort Albany First Nation. Fort Albany First Nation, Ontario, Canada. July 16, 2016.
Shakira Knapaysweet with friends next to the sacred fire outside a meeting before the second Sundance in Fort Albany. July 6, 2017.
A man walks along the causeway as the sun sets in Fort Albany. Fort Albany First Nation, Ontario, Canada. July 1, 2016.
Two young Fort Albanians outside of Peetabeck Academy with glowing balloons. July 5, 2017.
The Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis seen on the final night of the First Fort Albany Sundance. July 10, 2016.

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Nick Kozak

Nick Kozak (b. 1982) is a freelance photojournalist whose current work is focused on the issues of community and identity, their inseparability and constant… More »


  1. Nick. I am a Cree from northern Ontario. James Bay. Great job with the story of FA. Will you be making your way back up this way in 2020?

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