Tag Archives: Elder perspective

The Elders’ Declaration

by Stan Hirst

Some things are worth repeating.  Like walking the Lynn Creek canyon on the North Shore in early winter when the grey rain keeps everybody else indoors. Like watching the flocks of band-tailed pigeons make their annual brief sojourn to my neighbourhood to guzzle whatever they can find in the greenbelt trees. Like pilfering another piece of my wife’s blueberry cobbler.  All quality things.

Here’s another.  While cleaning up my sorely overloaded hard drive I came across a set of drafts compiled by the SE Executive Committee more than six years ago.  One of them was an Elders’ Declaration.

Over the ensuing years we have done our collective best to honour the principles embedded in that declaration. We haven’t always succeeded in meeting our own high goals. I rather doubt we ever expected to, but we’ve certainly had an honest go at it.

As I said, some things are worth repeating, and this declaration  is one of them.


grafik-6We are the elders of this great planet Earth, the only planetary home we know and will ever know. Before our fellow sojourners on this planet, we affirm our deepest commitment to protect and preserve the earth and its ecosystems and to share them with all future generations.

In our time we have witnessed astonishing developments in engineering, medicine, transportation and telecommunications. When we first ventured forth into this world much of the technology that is now taken for granted had yet to be invented. Our lives have benefitted immensely in health and material comforts and in membership in a strengthening global community. But we remember too the horror of wars that inflamed the world and the great economic depressions that inflicted massive global hardship. We know that there is no guarantee that these will not occur again.

When we first trod the earth as humans, our numbers were only a third of what they are today, and only a quarter of what they will be when our grandchildren one day assume the role of elders. When we set out, vast areas of the planet – much of its tropical and boreal forests, the ocean depths, the coral reefs and the great savannas – were pristine and undeveloped. Within the space of a lifetime, ecosystems and species have succumbed to our economic demands. The air, water and soil have become dumping grounds for our toxic wastes. Conflicts over water and food supplies are now a growing threat to our most vulnerable societies and to world peace.

We have forgotten that, as biological beings, our very survival and well-being are completely dependent on nature that gives us clean air, clean water, clean food from soil, and clean energy from the sun.  We have to acknowledge that without these fundamental things, we can only sicken and die. We have come to the realization that all species on Earth are our kin and are related to us through a common evolutionary history. In an unparalleled act of generosity, our earthly relatives have continued to cleanse, replenish and create our most fundamental needs. We now see that economic activities that benefit the few while shrinking the inheritance of the many are wrong. Environmental degradation has severely eroded our priceless natural capital and will continue to do so until we desist and come to the realization that truly sustainable development has to account fully for all ecological and social costs. We are but one brief generation in the long march of time; the future is not ours to erase.

As elders, we declare that we cannot stand idly by and witness the desecration of our planetary home, its biosphere and all its creatures that provide our life essentials and our companionship. We realize that we have lost our way, our sense of home and our feeling of belonging to the rest of Creation. We know that this does not bode well for our children, their children, and all the generations that will follow us.

Therefore, we commit to doing our part to prevent further catastrophic environmental harm. We will take all necessary actions to minimize future climate change.  We will work to preserve habitats for endangered and threatened species. We will advocate for sustainable practices individually and in our communities, based on values of fairness, justice, and compassion for all. We believe that we can make a difference and we urge others to join us in our efforts.

We call on all governments to bring about binding international, national and local accords to sustain the intricate web of ecological relationships on our planet. We call on our leaders and fellow citizens to respect the earth’s diversity and ecosystems, and to seek peaceful paths to sustainable economies.




What do Elders think?

by Stan Hirst

What’s the problem?

The Suzuki Elders began life way back in 1996 as The Council of Elders of the David Suzuki Foundation (DSF). Over the past 19 years the group has morphed into the present-day Association of Suzuki Elders (SE) and has expanded and matured in terms of scope, ambition and membership.

Membership has expanded over the years to over 100 as interested elders across the country and even beyond Canada’s borders have been attracted by the philosophy and goals of the SE. Membership has been predictably weighted towards Vancouver and the B.C. Lower Mainland because of the proximity of the DSF and its strong support to the Elders. Currently about 60% of members reside in the Greater Vancouver area.

Some significant drags on the level of communication between SE members, on one hand, and between members and the Vancouver-based Executive on the other, have gradually emerged over the years. One appears to be simple geography which hinders the preferred medium of communication – face-to-face contact. The other may be a reluctance on the part of many members to embrace modern communications technology such as Facebook and Google Groups. There may be other factors responsible, but the net result is that at present more than 60% of the membership is essentially silent.

For an Association which charges no membership fees and for which members’ inputs are the life-blood of its existence, this is a serious problem. It has been discussed many times at Council and Working Group levels, but remains an issue to be resolved.

The process

The idea of simply asking members for their views and opinions on whatever subject they deemed to be contextually important came to me a few months ago. I admit I was influenced by recalling the approach used by my local colleagues in Asia and Africa years ago when we sought the opinions and approval of local villagers for proposed projects within their traditional areas. No lectures, no Power Point, no clipboards or lengthy questionnaires – just simple conversation. We tried to steer the conversation towards relevant issues (not always successfully), but eventually we came away knowing more than we did when we started out.

Time and resources prevented me from chatting to every SE member over the farm gate, so I did the next best thing – I e-mailed all the members and invited their responses to a few open questions:

  • describing themselves and their views on their relation to the environment and sustainability;
  • saying where they saw themselves, their families and communities heading in the next decades;
  • naming significant areas, concerns or problems which the Suzuki Elders should be addressing; and
  • telling how the Suzuki Elders could best use their skills in achieving its goals.

The results

Members’ responses to the survey were not exactly earth-shattering. Fifteen Elders out of a canvassed total of 105 responded to the questions.

What to make of an 87% non-response rate on the part of my fellow Elders? It’s a little like The curious case of the dog that did not bark. Just as in that epic tale, there could be several reasons for the reticence of the Elders to engage in electronic conversation but, alas, I lack the mental acuity of a Sherlock Homes to interpret the hidden meanings in non-answers.

The high number of non-respondents makes the responses from those good people who did use their precious time to tell me what they thought all the more valuable. It’s the quality of the replies that matter here, not the quantity.

Because the answers to the various questions were quite open-ended (as intentionally set out in the request sent out), the information provided by the respondents is not to be crunched or statistically manipulated in any way. Each member’s response contains valuable insights into Elder feelings and attitudes. There are some commonalities in the responses, e.g. many of the 15 respondents cited climate change as something they considered very important, but many respondents also had unique concerns or interests. Both sets of issues – common and unique – contain valuable lessons for consideration by the Suzuki Elder executive and working groups.

All the information from the survey are shown below, edited for brevity and for occasional duplication. I favoured comments which addressed the open questions.

So…. please read on.

Who are we?

  • I’m a retired journalist.
  • I’m a 76 year old widower whose heart is in the right place (I think) with regard to things environmental.
  • I am retired, living on a small farm in Ladysmith with my wife. We drive a fully electric car, have solar panels on our house and produce about 6 large garbage bags of trash per year (yes, per year).
  • I am a semi-retired ecologist working on biochar production and use as a carbon neutral energy source for low income families.
  • I am from Pune, India. I am 67, healthy, active, a graduate in Mechanical Engineering and Business Management, and with over 45 years experience in high tech manufacturing and marketing.
  • I am a full-time writer and singer. My book Becoming Intimate with the Earth is a guide to healing our relationship with our planetary home. I also give workshops based on that book.
  • I was on the founding team of Bowen in Transition, and believe that the Transition Town network is a model of positive change that we could support.
  • I am a retired teacher of 31 years who has lived, worked or travelled in every province and territory in Canada.
  • I guess you could call me an environmental strategist, a big picture- and long term thinker. I am also a coach, group facilitator, discussion leader, and interested in the development of consciousness.

What motivates us?

  • I care deeply about what we are doing in our industrialized culture because of our destructive ways, overconsumption, pollution, fossil fuel dependence and flawed democracies, BUT I’m excited by the many creative and courageous ways individuals and groups are standing up, joining together and stopping the juggernaut.
  • I think we have to as a society get serious about reducing our footprint on the earth, and especially what we spew into the atmosphere. To do that I think we have to reorient our society and our economy towards sustainability, not using up resources we cannot replace.
  • My lifestyle is modest and I think careful with regard to environmental impacts, responsible purchases etc. I am pleased that similar values have been passed down to my two sons who have similar concerns and hopefully they are also being passed down to my 8-year old grandson. I consider this chain of thinking and lifestyle to be essential if we are to have any chance of controlling the increasing degradation. However if this cannot be done within the family for whatever reasons then there remains the opportunity for the Elders to fill the gap.
  • The greater participation of youth in the recent election provides some hope and the inclusion of wider healthy Canadian views at the Paris Conference is a step in the right direction.
  • It is hoped that it can be shown to the world that actions to reduce/minimize climate change can not only be beneficial but cost-effective
  • There are $15 billion worth of industrial projects gearing up for the small narrow fjord of Howe Sound, a continuation of an extractive ideology that has existed here since the fur trade. Our colonial attitude supports these projects, some of them in First Nations’ territories
  • Since joining the Suzuki Elders, I’ve come to understand how and why the planet came to be in crisis and what lies in store if we, as a species, fail to change direction. I see decades or even centuries of uncomfortable transition looming ahead.
  • I am more and more concerned about the environmental impacts of our western way of life, its unsustainability and the implications for social justice, equality and the well-being of women and girls.
  • Two issues that concern me currently are the refugee crisis and global warming, and I think that they will affect each other.

What frustrates us?

  • Its not an easy task when the multinationals call so many of the shots and governments become beholden to them.
  • Until the social and economic effects of climate change become abundantly apparent I don’t think that the world will really move. The current mass movements (due to war, lack of food, water and jobs) from the Middle East and Africa are only the beginning and we don’t seem to know what to do about it.
  • I have attended interest groups to find a more positive outlook, but it doesn’t work for me. Over the last few years I have tended to become more of an observer as we continue to continue.
  • I am not technically knowledgeable enough to judge the possibility of proposed schemes for slowing the process [of climate change, of environmental degradation].
  • I’m somewhat confused about the organization. As a newcomer it is very difficult to know where I ‘fit’ or how I can contribute. It seems a somewhat closed circle or circles with a small number doing most of the work.
  • I have no idea how the Elders could best make use of my skills. I feel very disconnected from this entity.

Where do we see ourselves headed in the next decades?

The optimists:
  • Although I’m eventually headed towards the grave, my children will most likely continue to be Canadians, working to sustain themselves, being socially responsible and living in B.C.
  • I have had successes, both individually and in small groups, with building community and resilience, emergency preparedness, and improving food security.
  • There are numerous organizations, in addition to the Suzuki Elders, which offer opportunities for involvement, personal work, and helping others do the same. Examples include Village Vancouver, local Green Teams, Leadnow, and the Leap Manifesto groups.
  • I see the last few years of my life dedicated to doing my part in making this world a better place for Canadians to live in. I see myself doing presentations in many communities and in many provinces and territories. My priorities are my family, friends, community, and society in general.
  • I am in the final quarter of my life, at a time when I am looking far forward to the next generations of humanity and seeing that if we don’t change dramatically and quickly there will be immense suffering, not only for my family, community and country but for the whole world.
The pessimists:
  • My feelings about our future are quite negative. Climate change concerns me the most.
  • We understood climate change was a real possibility since the early 1970’s, and yet we have done our best as a society to continue on our carbon consuming ways. I would be really surprised if we can turn this around, but as a biologist I’m not sure we should. It’s just another blip in the story of this old Earth.
  • Looking far forward to the next generations of humanity I see that if we don’t change dramatically and quickly there will be immense suffering, not only for my family, community and country but for the whole world.
The pragmatists:
  • What we need most is a change in consciousness, a broader way of seeing the world as one unit, each of our choices influencing all the rest. This is the work I am interested in doing and the contribution I think I can make with the time I have.
  • The Limits to Growth [updated 2005] reminds us that we all see the world’s problems differently. “In general the larger the space and the longer the time associated with a problem, the smaller the number of people who are actually concerned with its solution.”

We are strong advocates for change

  • The [recent] Canadian election was very important for me. We have to pressure the new government very hard to ensure that Canada can still pull back from the precipice towards which the previous government had us teetering. This requires massive, collective and immediate actions on multiple fronts. Now is not the time for philosophical debates, conversations about definitions and nuances, and more studies and reports. We must all act in our many different ways, and all must help.

What future pathways shall we follow?

  • Many of us subscribe to the conclusions of the world’s intellectual leadership as set out in The Limits to Growth [updated 2005] and elsewhere .

–   It is possible to alter growth trends and to establish a condition of ecological and economic stability that is sustainable far into the future.

–   The state of global equilibrium could be designed so that the basic material needs of each person on earth are satisfied and each person has an equal opportunity to realize his individual human potential.

–   Humanity has the capacity for adaptation which will be essential regardless of how well we manage in this century.

–   There is evidence of social adjustment to our changing times. The Millennial Generation buy fewer homes or cars, delay having children, and invest more in education. The sharing economy, with its underpinning culture of reciprocity, is growing rapidly.

–   Many countries are moving to sustainable energy sources.

  • The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh tells us that it’s possible to make money in a way that is not destructive, that promotes more social justice and more understanding and lessens the suffering that exists all around us. He believes this can only happen if we fall in love with our planet and see ourselves as part of it, a message promoted so well by David Suzuki who tells us, “We are the air… we are the environment… When we damage the environment, we damage ourselves.”
  • The greater participation of youth in the recent Canadian election provides hope, and the inclusion of wider healthy Canadian views at the Paris Conference is a step in the right direction.

Are we effective in using our combined skill sets to meet our goals?

  • I am best in assisting others communicate their messages and in facilitating the work of members of the organization.
  • My skills are researching, writing, singing, planting fruit trees, and presenting workshops.
  • I am part of the Education and Community Outreach group and feel like this is a good fit; working on Food Security, and Resilience.
  • We could best use our skills to achieve our goals by getting into the schools – working with the environmental and outdoor education clubs, courses, associations, etc.
  • I think we are on the right track dealing with a number of issues related to sustainability, not only opposing non-sustainable projects but also promoting psychological resilience, work with youth, education of ourselves and the public, and general support for the David Suzuki Foundation.
  • What we need most is a change in consciousness, a broader way of seeing the world as one unit, each of our choices influencing all the rest. This is the work I am interested in doing and the contribution I think I can make with the time I have.
Or maybe not
  • I was shocked to learn that there are only some 100 Suzuki Elder members – I would have thought there should be at least 500,000, given there are 5 million Canadians over 65 as of 2011 and 60% of Canadians are reported to believe climate change is real and human activity is an exacerbating cause.
  • This survey seems so old-fashioned and inadequate. [A better approach] would have been some kind of engagement process where the participants themselves could create the recommendations and where the outcome would be a result of the interdependencies and connections that a group of people can generate, rather than all these single responses that some person has to read and through their own very personal lenses and biases extract what they think is important.
  • [This survey] could have been done online or using other media rather than assuming that it has to be in person.

What are we missing?

  • The major challenge facing our world is the one that no one is willing to discuss: over-population. It does not matter much about climate change, pollution, loss of habitat, etc as long as we continue to increase the world population. We are not going to survive. No other species can grow indefinitely, but humans seem to believe they can.
  • I would like the Suzuki Elders to focus on educating the public in opposing international trade agreements such as the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA), the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). These proposed agreements would put international trade in the hands of the multi-national corporations, especially the CEOs.
  • I believe the Elders should get MUCH better at collaborating with others, at various levels. We should also harness the potential of technology more effectively.
  • I wonder about putting more emphasis on human connection in small groups of face-to-face dialogue. Consciousness development is an inside-out activity and can be most powerful in direct interaction.
  • As a newcomer to the Suzuki Elders it is very difficult to know where I fit or how I can contribute. It seems a somewhat closed circle or circles, with a small number doing most of the work.
  • Using the label ‘Suzuki Elders’ is not as effective in communicating to people around the world who we are as ‘David Suzuki Foundation (DSF) Elders.’ The Suzuki name immediately brings to mind motor bikes and cars, not a renowned environmentalist from Canada. As ‘DSF Elders’ we will be able to connect and communicate better, encouraging people to learn more about the views and work of the David Suzuki Foundation.
  • Those living outside the lower Mainland could contribute to the Suzuki Elder blog and report on local meetings or rallies. Our website could include materials for hosting local meetings on specific topics (the “What Moves Me” youth discussion handout is a specific example).
  • An important role for all of us is to fight public indifference and drive home the message that we need to do what we can. Showing up, standing up, and supporting policy for change to a more sustainable and equitable society are something we can all do.
  • We could best use our skills by joining and presenting at conferences like the Council of Outdoor Educators Association (COEO) or the Science Teachers Association of Ontario (STAO).
  • We tend generally to preach to the converted.

What’s the next step?

  • The specific concerns raised by Elders responding to this survey and itemized variously above will be laid before the Suzuki Elder Council for review and action.
  • Relevant items brought up by respondents will be referred to the various Working Groups for their information and action.

We need to keep the conversation going

  • Dialogue between and within the Elder membership is the basic tool we have to progress towards our goals.
  • We all prefer personal face-to-face communication and, wherever possible, that’s the approach we employ – in individual conversations, in working group meetings, in council meetings, in seminars and the like.
  • We may not have started out there but we’re now very much in the technological age where information speeds around the world at the speed of light. The communication tools are there for us to employ to our full advantage.
  • We invite all Elders to carry on the conversation.

–   Check the many items on our website and use the Leave a Comment link attached every post on the blog to add to the opinions expressed there.

–   Consider participating in the Suzuki Elders Google Group which is an online bulletin board where Elders can express and exchange news and opinions. If you’re not yet a member of the Group contact the moderator at this link and request a sign-up.

–   Contact us directly at this link to ask a question, to clarify something or just to express your opinion.



Changing with the times

by Stan Hirst

Try this simple word association game with your friends or family members. It will take less than a minute. Give them a word and ask them to respond immediately with whatever word that first comes into their minds. Give them about six or seven random words in quick succession and then throw in the word “elder”.

I’ve tried this about a dozen times with various people and the responses to the last word have included ‘grey’, ‘old’, ‘berry’, ‘younger’ and ‘discount’. The words I haven’t yet heard are ‘wise’, ‘wisdom’, ‘authority’ or any similar positive descriptors normally attached to elders in novels and learned papers.

Many times in the recent past I’ve voiced the opinion that we western elders have lost our standing as a repository of knowledge, skills, advice and suchlike. We have lost our wisdom. Source of knowledge? Not any more, the youngsters have the internet for that. Come to think of it, so do I. Elders as a source of intelligent and wise decision-making? Nah, we’ve now got the popular press, the electronic media and the blogosphere for that. Who needs to ask an elder?

Our European-dominated society tends not to vest authority in individuals based on their age. Today we have CEOs of major corporations in their early thirties, we have national leaders in their early forties, we have young people leading the way in community actions. Our culture has become youth-oriented, thanks to lifestyles and social media.

If you have a half-hour to spare (or waste), check the commercials during the evening news on any major U.S. television network. The first fifteen minutes are dominated by flashy commercials for mobile phones, glitzy cars and starch-rich snacks being gulped down by young, beautiful people. The second fifteen minutes gives us commercials for cutting-edge remedies for erectile dysfunction (no pun intended) and other senile ailments, all projected by grinning old people desperately trying to look like younger people.

Some might say, cynically, that we’re getting our just desserts for what we contributed to the world in our younger days. Much of the neat glitzy stuff in use today was invented and developed by today’s elders in their younger days. The list includes the TV remote control, the microwave oven, birth-control pills, jet airliners, cordless tools, industrial robots, communications satellites, unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) and the light-emitting diode.

Have we all now morphed into zombies? Have we become denser and less responsible with time? I think not.

Some of us have become a little foggy with age, but that’s not the point. I suggest that, apart from a little arthritis and occasional deafness, the big change hasn’t been with us as much as its been with the world. Remember the lines of the song sung by John Lennon back in 1980: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”.

I would suggest that a key issue for elders here is that the world has changed under us as we progressed. Like Neo in the film The Matrix, we’re waking up to the true extent of the challenges we humans face at this point in history. Some call this an “Oh shit!” moment.

Now what do we do? How can we enjoy life on a day-to-day basis in light of what we are beginning to understand about the truly terrifying collective disasters and challenges headed our way?

An ecotherapist of note who has commented succinctly on this is California-based Linda Buzzell. She refers to a “waking-up syndrome” in which we explore the stages we go through as the reality of the rapidly-worsening environmental situation creeps through the fog pervading our awareness.

Linda points out that [most] humans cannot cope with this degree of change alone, and that very few emerging problems can be solved by individuals. Whole communities, on the other hand, can come together to care for one another in challenging times.

However, each of us has to think through the issue for ourselves (if we’re to be ‘Elderly’ about it), and Linda has some timely advice on how to approach this more effectively.

1. Reconnect with the sacred in nature.
2. Breathe deeply and settle into just this one moment on just this particular day.
3. Be part of the solution, even if in tiny ways.
4. Take a media vacation.
5. Take a permaculture design course.
6. Read books by wise people who are wide-awake.
7. Form a circle of community members to discuss these books.


Truth and reconciliation reflections

Understanding truth and reconciliation requires us to listen, to witness, and to share.

David Suzuki is an adopted son of the Haida First Nations. He is revered by aboriginals across Canada from east to west, north and south. Suzuki Elders were invited to attend the Truth and Reconciliation Dialogue Workshop in Vancouver on August 22 and 23rd, 2013. Sponsored by Reconciliation Canada, it was led by Chief Dr. Robert Joseph, Gwanaenuk Elder, Ambassador for Reconciliation Canada, and member of the Indian Residential Schools Survivor Society. The purpose was to speak some truths about the trauma of the survivors of Indian Residential schools and other atrocities that have been imposed upon humans around the world. We were told that our main focus was to LISTEN to their stories with an open mind. Thirteen Suzuki Elders attended and met with 11 First Nations eye to eye, hand to hand.

Chief Robert Joseph opened with a traditional circle prayer before giving us his overview of Reconciliation Canada and a history of the impact of the Indian Residential School system. We then broke up into three groups, staying together for the rest of the day, and dealing with the ultimate question – “What does Reconciliation mean to you?”

My consciousness was aware that some inner process was taking place as we moved from one group session to the next. I had arrived as a Suzuki Elder, but felt a change was emerging within me as this venture continued.

This day was our time to listen well. Each survivor was shy to begin with in telling their stories of abuse, as these brave women and men shared their tears and pain with us. Eventually it was our turn as non-aboriginals to answer that question too.

It sent me deep into memories of also being born in poverty, lacking in adequate education and how we survived years of economic oppression affecting the whole family. Combined with memories of existing in the lowest strata of the equally oppressive social structure established by the English upper class discrimination system that victimised all who were living in the east end dockside of London where I was born. I was 11 years old when the Second World War began in 1939; it ended 6 years later when I was almost 17. Amazingly, we survived the bombing of London while coping with our own family tragedies.

By the time it was my turn to speak I was enlightened enough to say “Although I cannot in any way compare my painful stories to yours, I do know what it feels like to be oppressed and discriminated against, so in effect our feelings are the same, the details are different”.

To qualify that claim I shared with them some of my experiences. Their reaction seemed to create a breakthrough in our group dialogue. At certain times throughout the 2-day workshop we would re-connect with the larger group in sharing sacred space. We were assigned homework to prepare us for the next day to examine the concept that “Reconciliation begins with me“.

Day 2 began with Chief Robert Joseph’s welcoming sacred circle prayer. He talked to us and was available to us at all times. He had tears in his eyes this day while guiding us into the program. First in pairs, then divided into three basic groups again but with different people this time. Sharing many questions for us to explore together. My main memory of these sessions dealt with “What does reconciliation look like?

The stories seemed to flow much better this second day as we came to realise that we have to reconcile ourselves from all that has grieved us, and from that we can work on our forgiveness. It also became clear that before we can forgive others we have to learn how to forgive ourselves. I shared with them some of my insecurities and inabilities saying it is not an easy thing to do. Two others in our group talked about their need to forgive.

We reconvened for reports from the three groups to share our findings relevant to each discussion. These groups were different from each other in various ways, but one thing they had all discussed at length was the spirit of forgiveness.

We had also been asked to discuss “What can we do as individuals”….. “What can we do as a community”…… for reconciliation.

In closing, Chief Robert Joseph lead the large circle, speaking to us in a most beautiful way, wrapping up the dialogue workshop with grace. In his final direction he said that “I want each one of you to find one word, one word only which epitomises everything you have experienced these last two days. What you have learned, discovered, or has changed you in some way”.

So, as we shared our thoughts within the circle for the last time, each one chose their word, giving the reason for it. Standing in that circle and the last person to speak, I said “My word is Respect. I go home with a much deeper respect for First Nations. Also with respect for all of us who dialogued here. YES – we can work together for a healthy environment and we are beginning to do that. There will be other issues we can work together with as well”.

Chief Robert Joseph’s one word was “Hope” saying that every dialogue workshop up to that moment had been different. He praised us for the work we had done. With the potential and promise of our group, he felt there was a good reason to hope.

Reconciliations can lead us to where we can start a new journey, empowered with the freedom to act, if we so choose to do. This dialogue experience was both sacred and powerful. Given the opportunity, we can work with First Nations on the major issues of our time. In smaller ways within our local communities we can keep the dialogue moving forward and help each other in any way we can.

My thanks to our Rev. Stephen Atkinson who added the dimension of Living with Shadows in Life which I feel we can adapt into this dialogue. Confronting our personal inner shadows can lead us to reconciliations, to self-revelations, to forgiveness, to respect, to hope and love for each other.

Namwayut – we are all one.


Reflection delivered by Patricia M. Grinsteed to the North Shore Unitarian Church, West Vancouver, B.C.


Looking Back and Forth: A Sense of Place

by Erlene Woollard

Erlene 1I grew up as a quietly feral child in the deep US South in the midst of a conservative, highly traditional and even rigid decorum. My earliest memories are of much family chaos juxtaposed with the serene visits to my grandparent’s farm in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was orderly and wonderful with its large “gingerbread” house, scuppernong vines, gnarly apple trees and enticing barn with scented hay bales that my handsome young uncles fed to the dubious looking cows and horses. The huge lawn welcomed us with its old oak trees and much needed shade by day and evening gatherings of family and friends.

Once the day’s hot, hard work was done and the evening meal of local bounty was over, we would gather for respite and fun. We children chased lightening bugs and each other in the approaching dusk, trying not to hurt bare feet on the sharp acorns scattered about. Our evening treats of freshly churned ice cream full of farm cream and locally grown strawberries or peaches made the evenings complete and we happily settled into sweet smelling and seemingly ancient beds for dreamless sleeps.

Then my family moved farther south and these visits became less frequent but just as sacred while I entered a new life of being a “town kid,” learning to ride my bike on tree lined sidewalks, walking to school and starting piano and tap dancing lessons. At the age of five I was allowed to go to the store for mom who had two smaller kids napping at home. I roamed and roamed, collecting Spanish moss hanging from cypress trees and the velvety blossoms that had fallen from the huge magnolias, all perfect for making homes and comfy beds for the frogs and bugs I nurtured. One August day as we swam in the local pool fed by a natural creek we had to leave very quickly. An alligator had found its way into the pool area. How exciting!

Then, horror of horrors, we moved two miles out of town to an isolated two acre place with a flat stone house, huge pine trees scattered about in a disorderly fashion and just fine sandy dirt, pine needles and cones for a front yard. Was I now destined to become one of the country kids donning overalls and saying “upehre” instead of “up there”? Little did I know what opportunities this move would provide. I was still close enough to town for lessons and friends but now had a huge garden where we could grow exotic vegetables and fruit.

I learned about freezing, drying and canning and remember being able to relate proudly to my town friends where pickles came from as they had no idea that cucumbers could transform in such a way! My dad planted two rows of tender pecan trees that turned into a lush orchard and is still there today some 60 years later. We had puppies and kittens galore and even two pigs that magically produced six piglets that I sat on our wooden fence and watched for hours. There was a hoop towards which we threw basketballs and a large yard where we ran and played with abandon.

Best of all were the long, lonely walks along and then across the distant railroad tracks that divided our property towards landscapes that beckoned my wandering spirit. Finally, trees that I could climb, hide and daydream in, while watching the bugs, clouds, and birds. The parched landscape that had first seemed boring now was alive. One of my treasures was a runt of a wild plum tree struggling to survive in this loveless hot dry environment. I watched and offered the love that later in the summer I was sure had helped it produce blossoms and scabby yellow plums. It struck me then that I was possibly the only person in the world who knew or cared about this little tree. For years I went to it on many spring and summer days. No one in my family ever asked me where I had gone or what I was doing or even cared where I was during these visits to that tree. As I reflect now, I realize that was the only time in my life that I was ever truly alone and able to become meditative in a way that still provides a grounding sense of luxury and peace.

I left home at the age of 17 and wherever I have lived during the many years to follow, I have always sought out and wandered between natural but cultivated urban environments and more isolated wild places for reflection, peace, and a claiming of “my sense of place.” My two grandchildren are still lucky enough to have access to wonderful wild environments and choose them often over more defined activities. I hope that when they are approaching 70 years of age they will be able to sit down in a healthy natural place and peacefully write about such long term memories while their own grandchildren play happily at their feet and have the peace that comes with knowing that the natural world will be safely offered to many generations to come. grandparents farmhouse 2

When Are We Going to Get There?

by Lillian Ireland

“When are we going to get there?” I pleaded for the umpteenth time, as I sat huddled between my two brothers in the back seat of the Volkswagen Beetle. Through the eyes of a six year old, everything looked the same; the long road, blaring headlights, and blowing snow. How I wanted to see my Grama! I ached to be with her on her farm. From southern Saskatchewan, the endless road seemed to stand in the way.

She and Grampa homesteaded the land which they had cleared by hand and by horse. I’ll never know how hard they worked to make it livable, to build their tiny home from timber they cut, to draw water from a well they established, to grow crops and vegetables and to raise cattle to feed their many children.

There was respect for the Cree who lived on nearby land for a season each year. They brought their children and families, their horses and tepees, travelling annually to set up for a few months near Strawberry Creek on their journey through north central Alberta.

There was respect for the Hutterites who farmed nearby.

Grama couldn’t converse with many, but there was mutual respect for those who chose this part of Canada to live in. She knew very little English but through her heart and actions, I absorbed much of her love of life and her knowledge. She couldn’t read or write, but she was a profoundly wise, strong and tender woman, educated by her many experiences of survival. Her diploma was written in the deeply etched lines on her face and hands.

Walking with her in the nearby forests and bushes which edged the fields of hay, wheat, oats and barley, we picked wild strawberries, raspberries, mushrooms and Saskatoons. Walking silently through the bush, she would bend and try to explain by simple words and actions what was edible and what was not. Sometimes we munched on the berries and sometimes we would gently place them in her apron which became her basket. Even though the berries were miniscule in comparison to the commercial hybrid ones of today, my mouth still waters as I think back to their delectable flavours while we quietly walked hand in hand.

It was there I learned to revere the land.

I was always surprised how she could stretch everything to make it last until the next harvest. The berries miraculously turned into jam or preserves which she stored in her underground cellar. The root cellar was accessible through a tiny, creaky door on the side of the bank underneath her house. Even though I was a child, I had to lower my head getting into the tiny, earthy treasure store.

The year’s garden vegetables hid there too. When she wanted potatoes in the winter or spring, we’d put warm coats and boots on and I’d accompany her around and down the side of the house, remove the sun bleached, twisted branch which propped the door shut, and we gradually adjusted our eyes to the dim light offered by the small flashlight. Slowly we would find our way over to the large bins of dirt at the far end of the cellar.

Grama would ask me to reach into the mounds of dark, rich soil to pull out some potatoes. Sometimes I’d find other surprises which were stored there months earlier. She tenderly smiled at my amazement as I discovered huge, hearty carrots or plump, purple beets from which I excitedly brushed the dirt. To me, these were hidden treasures. To her, they were a necessity fashioned with patience, faith, fortitude and sacrifice.

At the side of the cellar, along with the jars of fruit, there were jars of canned chicken, fish, pork hocks and pickles she had canned earlier in the year. Even though the cellar smelled musky and was dark, it was an exciting place to explore. Years later, Grampa cut a hole in the kitchen floor and strung a ladder. A tiny light bulb was hung which made the treasure hunting not nearly as thrilling.

“When are we going to get there?” I wondered. I was now a teenager, living in Calgary and it was a much shorter ride. Yet, I still longed to go to the farm, especially in early autumn. The rich scents of fall on the farm continually captivated me, drawing me back. As a city girl, I yearned to get away from the busyness of activity which at times was too much. I longed for the quiet of the farm, sitting with Grama in the kitchen, shelling peas or making perogies. The primary audible sound was usually the drone of the buzzing flies at the window or occasionally a car driving by on the road, spitting up gravel and leaving a thick, gray trail of dust separating Grama’s farm from the neighbours.

By now, I had learned a little Ukrainian and Grama knew more English. Yet, even without many words, we still shared a quiet satisfying communion.

When the kitchen chores were finished, we’d go out to the fields where I couldn’t take in enough of the powerful fragrance of the freshly cut hay. I’d watch my Uncle Tony with the horses while brushing the annoying flies away from us. The hay which had stood nearly as tall as me only a few hours earlier had transformed the field into a stubbly blanket of yellow shafts.

I knew that very soon, with pitchforks in hand, we would stook the hay. We would excitedly lift the sheaves and stand them on end. To my brothers and me, it was something we looked forward to each year. Some years, we would heave the hay high onto the hay wagon. Standing at the edge of the hayfields, the wind seemed to blow the fresh, sweet scent deep into my soul. I stood and breathed it in. It filled me, this was home.

Again, I learned to revere the land.

Many years later, the scents and memories flooded back as we visited Grama’s farm with my own teenaged children. “How are we going to break it down?” they asked as we pondered the fresh beaver dam near the farmhouse.

Grama and Uncle Tony desperately needed help since their home and farm were endangered by the rising water. Strawberry Creek was no longer a gently meandering creek but a huge pool of foreboding water perilously close to their home.

Back then, a naive urban west coaster, how little I knew about the natural environmental landscapers! The beaver within days had changed the countryside. Even though beaver can establish flourishing, future marshes which benefit wildlife, farmers often wish they would do it in a different place! It was unbelievable how quickly her yard was converting into an infringing, unwelcome wetland!

Horrified by the news that the county was going to dynamite the dam, our children wanted to take the dam apart by hand. And they did! The three of them and my young Sister surveyed the situation, and with careful savvy, moved the various sized trees, branches and rocks. Many hours later, with dedicated teamwork, concentrated effort and heavy sweat, the creek flowed again. Grama’s home was spared. Her farm survived and so did the beaver. Surprisingly, they moved on and didn’t attempt a new dam in that area.

Another generation had learned to revere the land.

Twenty years later, I wondered, “How are we going to get there?” as I prepared for some important meetings regarding farmers’ rights on a return trip to Alberta. I yearned for solitude prior to the first meeting. I needed time to collect my thoughts while catching up with the latest readings about the Alberta Energy Regulator and its encroachment on the lives of many Canadians.

There seemed to be a strange parallel between the beaver and the oil industry. Both did what they wanted with little thought or concern given to the landowners. Both make unspeakable changes without long term consideration. People learn, sometimes grievously too late, that once major changes are implemented; it takes immense effort and resources to turn things around. And often that’s not possible.

The farm still exists, the wind still blows, and the flies are still annoying, but sadly, underneath much of Canada’s and the world’s fertile soil, damage is being done that will forever rob the soil of its ability to raise crops or feed cattle. These are changes which cannot be reversed by a few energetic young teenagers in an afternoon. These are changes made with a very narrow, short term viewpoint.

There is unprecedented damage to hunting, fishing and gathering areas of Aboriginal people, there is havoc to the water systems, there is widespread loss to animal, plant and human habitat, there is toxicity of the air we breathe, and there is irreversible destruction of soil.

We need long-term perspective, we need viable solutions, we need healthy, sustainable practices, and we need conscience with respect for the environment and Mother earth.

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