Sunday, 22 March 2015

Residential Schools - Healing From Racism

Hey everyone,

I am a safety instructor. One of the courses I teach is Enform H2S Alive. H2S gas is extremely toxic and is prevalent in a variety of industries. This course teaches workers how to prevent exposure and how to respond to an emergency. This course is a prerequisite for almost every worker in the Canadian Oilpatch.

I have been teaching H2S Alive for about 1 year now and one of my customers is a safety training company that serves Native Americans. I travel from Red Deer to Maskwacis (formerly Hobema) to teach students on the reserve. I would like to tell you about my experiences.

When I tell people that I am working on the reserve I hear some very racist things. There is a lot of prejudice. Some people retort that they "feel sorry for me" or that they wonder why I waste my time! There are many racist stereotypes that I am sure you are aware of; but from my experience I have found quite the opposite to be true. The vast majority of my students are more respectful and more diligent than the 'white' students I teach in Red Deer! Yes, there are challenges but, I overcome them through a high standard of professionalism and compassion. At the end of the day I take great pride in my work and find much fulfillment.

I have had many conversations with the owner of the company about his people. One thing that really stands out is what he has told me a lot about residential schools and how damaging they were to families, communities and their entire culture!

Residential schools were the cherry on the cake after hundreds of years of crimes against the Native peoples of this land. Kids were stolen away from their parents and taken hundreds of miles away, many never to see their families again. Many kids died, many kids were sexually abused, many kids were beaten and made to work in slave-like conditions. It was truly horrendous.

Sir. John A MacDonald (the guy on a Canadian $10 bill) was who authorized residential schools and it took century of human rights abuses before our current prime minister Stephen Harper finally apologized. But the cultural healing process has only just begun.

Did you know that it was compulsory for kids 7-15 to attend residential schools?
Did you know that native people required "permission" to wear traditional native clothing?
Did you know that the last federally run residential school (Gordon Indian) closed in 1996?
- See: Legacy of Hope - 100 Years of Loss

What is worse is that I have lived in Alberta most of my life and I went through the public school system and DID NOT LEARN about what my own government had done to these people just a short time ago!

So with all that said; when I teach on the reserve I am acutely aware that my role may be perceived similarly to that of a teacher from a residential school. Since many of the problems Native people face today stem directly from residential schools and institutionalized racism, there are very fine lines which I must navigate. But I am proud to say that I have had many successes teaching and I believe my role is a positive force for good.

After teaching on the reserve for the last year my perceptions have changed. Consider the fact that there is a disproportionate percent of homeless people in Red Deer who are of Native American ancestry. Then consider the violence that they have endured for the last few hundred years! Consider how blankets were handed to them under the guise of charity, blankets laced with small pox! Consider how the buffalo herds, their main source of food, were decimated by settlers who slaughtered entire herds just for sport! Consider how they were rounded up onto small plots of land and tricked into signing unfair treaties they didn't understand! Then consider how the Canadian government, of our generation, propagated racist policies through residential schools designed to "civilize" these people! I could go on, but my point is that extreme injustices have been committed and the healing that needs to take place will take generations.

I take great pride in my ability to overcome language and cultural barriers while instructing my classes. It is a challenge that I love to take. When I first start a class I can feel the tension. I am a white guy from Red Deer coming to their community to tell them what to do. There are students who cannot read so I must administer the exam orally. There are students with learning disabilities so I must use a variety of visual and verbal tools so as to communicate the lesson effectively. There are cultural barriers and racial tensions which I must assuage.

There is one final remark that I wish to make. Since the safety courses I teach are a job requirement for oilfield workers it goes without saying that it is necessary to pass in order to get a job. But for many of the people living on the reserve who wish to work and who wish to better themselves this is an very large barrier to overcome. If they fail H2S Alive because the instructor wasnt willing to put in the extra effort to administer the test orally, or if the instructor just blurrs through the material paying no heed to the learning needs of the students; then doors will close for them. I see my job as a crucial step towards improving their lives. It makes me very happy to know that I am removing barriers. It gives my job a great deal of purpose. I feel like I am part of the healing process. I feel like I am part of the solution.

I want to be part of the solution so let the healing begin with me.

Has it ever happened to you where you found yourself standing in a group of people and the conversation turned to racist, homophobic of sexist? Did you find yourself either joining in or going along with it? Maybe you were fearful to go against the group's momentum?

I have found myself in this situation before. Someone makes a joke about "those indians" or "those fags" and I laugh! I am not a racist, a homophobe or a sexist; but I have in moments of weakness just went along with the conversation. I have laughed. I have said hurtful things. I am ashamed. But I firmly believe that part of the healing process is to talk about it and raise awareness.

My experience teaching on the reserve has been an eye opening experience and it it with new resolve that I say:

The next time I am in a circle of people and the conversation turns racist I will not just stand there and laugh out of fear. I will show some spine and lead by example. There is an easy way to do this without just starting a fight:

Ask questions that raise awareness. 

Through a series of mindful questions and gentle nudges the conversation will shift and so too will the group sensibility. 


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Need Enform H2S Alive or Red Cross First Aid training? 

For pricing and scheduling see: 


Also, Alberta is about to enter a provincial election and my wife Krystal Kromm is the Alberta Party candidate for Red Deer North. 

Check out her website to learn about her platform!

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Starbucks Cups - Landfill Gluts

Hey everyone,

Today I was at Bower Ponds in Red Deer playing at the park with my kids and I couldn't help but notice the near overflowing garbage can nearby! I looked inside and noticed that it was mostly full of "disposable" beverage cups. So I took a picture and made a "tongue-in-cheek" comment on social media about how seeing this made me feel. This started a conversation which has carried on all day, so I have decided to collect my thoughts and write a blog about it.

"Hummm... It seems that there are 2 main companies
producing garbage here and I feel guilty for
going along with it..."
If you're wondering why these cups don't get recycled check out this Bloomberg article. The article lays out how it is not economically feasible to recycle them. Which really begs the question, how much would it cost if we had to pay the environmental costs upfront when we buy a cup of coffee?

This may just be the million-dollar-question; literally and figuratively. From start to finish what are the environmental costs incurred in order to get a cup of coffee? 

1. We clear wetlands and forests to make roads and pipelines to drill wells. Then we build huge refineries and load the oil onto boats and ship it to china. (Shhh... but sometimes the oil spills...)

2. Then people working in near slave-like conditions toil in dirty factories to make our disposable cups and then ship them back across the ocean to us. Then diesel burning trucks haul the cups hundreds of miles in each direction.

3. Then we idle in our cars while waiting in drive-thru's, with a cue of others like us wrapped half way around the block. There are lights turned on in the building all day and night and somewhere, far away, a coal plant is bellowing plumes of smoke. The building is encircled in pavement often covering over once prime fertile farmland. There's a 10 square foot patch of artificially maintained grass next to the sign, kept alive by chemicals, giving us that reassuring feeling that nature is near! 

4. Then after all that we pay our city taxes so all this material can be landfilled. Rainwater then soaks down and leachate chemicals fill up and must be constantly pumped out and treated in a never-ending battle to prevent groundwater seepage. Again, prime real-estate and farmland is contaminated and will be so for many generations.

I'm not even going to talk about how we got the coffee bean...

So you tell me; how much would a cup of coffee cost if we had to pay it's "true" cost upfront and didn't have the option of passing the environmental costs down to future generations?

With all this said, we could just refuse. We could just refuse to buy products that couldn't be reduced, reused or recycled. This concept is aptly called the "4 R's"; reduce-reuse-recycle & REFUSE! 

I have a special shoutout to Jeff Rock; who kindly gave me a reusable cup after hearing me rant about this subject once. He probably echoed Ghandi and said "Be the change you want to see in the world." 

I have, however only used the cup a bunch of times and thus far have failed to put my words into meaningful action. I have preached about this for a while and still can be seen doing un-sustainable things... What's the solution?

Closely related to this subject is the topic of reusable bags. Today I was at the grocery store. The clerks are trained to ask if I want bags. I always respond guiltily that "yes, I will take some plastic bags and do my part for the landfill". As the clerk was bagging my groceries I wondered what it would take to actually get me to change my behaviour, as I have been trying to change this habit for sometime. To which I reasoned the only possible way to change my behaviour would be to force me to. In other words the only way to get me to stop using plastic bags would be for the government to outright ban them! I suppose the same goes for the "disposable" cups. Maybe the only way to get me to outright and altogether STOP USING DISPOSABLE CUPS would be for the government completely ban them!

The idea of such strong government intervention into our personal lives really flies in the face of my normal response to things like this. On most issues I say we should be "educating instead of legislating". But I wonder if this issue is urgent enough that it would be appropriate to take the extreme measure of banning bags and cups? After all the ocean is becoming inundated in plastic and our landfills are burgeoning to capacity with things we should be recycling.

Even though I am educated about this subject I still fail to make my words into actions. Is merely educating people about recycling going to work for us? Has it worked for us?

Maybe there is a "free market" solution. Maybe all the businesses will get together and act altruistically? Maybe if all these coffee shops and places that sell disposable cups were to come together, they could invent a sustainable system?

What would that look like?

Would they all charge an upfront "environmental fee" the way we do with cans and bottles? Then would they offer a refund back at the drive-thru window when a customer placed a used disposable cup into a special receptacle so the cup could be recycled? Would all the added emissions of hauling the cups back and then refining the plastic and paper, offset the gains made by doing so?

Bah! What a mess we have created for ourselves? I doubt there is a way to make our current system sustainable. Companies like Starbucks and Tim Hortons brilliantly created demand for disposable cups where before there was none; now we are all addicted and whiny when we are told to kick the habit. Just like the Keurig cups, we've been sold something we didn't know we needed and will not give up the convenience without a fight.

I long for a Star Trek future where we can just tell a machine we want a coffee and it will simply "materialize" in front of us. Then when we are done supposedly it will just de-materialize and leave no traces? Maybe we'll do this for cheeseburgers too and then after were done gorging ourselves, the fat will de-materialize as well!!!

Ok Im going to bed... :p


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Have I persuaded you to change your habits or will you be like me, cynically standing in line for another cup?

Are you feeling guilty too? Is it enough to make you change?

Ok... I'll try to change... One step at a time...


Final Note: Thank you Starbucks for setting out your coffee grounds for gardeners to take for free. That was a good move. I have collected many bags for my garden!

Sunday, 1 March 2015


Hey everyone,

I recently spoke with some of the senior members of my Rotary Club and they told me about something that they used to do in Red Deer called "Plant A Row". It's a very simple concept and here is how it works.

1) Get a bunch of volunteers together who are willing to work a garden.
2) Get some accessible land donated to use as an urban farm.
3) Get some supplies and seeds donated.
4) Grow a garden.
5) Donate the food to whoever needs it.

It is a simple idea and apparently it used to work really well. All it needs is a few leaders to come together and make it happen! And now is the perfect time because spring is right around the corner!

There are a lot of hurdles to over come at each step and here are a few of my ideas:

1) In order to make this sustainable we need a core group of volunteers; but the work of gardening can easily become a burden. So realistically I'm thinking that it would be feasible to do weekly rotations. Say one group of 5 or 10 tend to the garden over a week and then another group tends the garden the next week. If there were several groups then volunteers would only have to commit to a few hours once every other week or so. Either way the more the merrier!

2) Getting land sounds easy but I'm not too sure how to go about lining that up. The dreamer in me visualizes turning some city owned land into the garden. Maybe even the space on the North Hill just south of the Parkland Mall between the northbound and southbound lanes on Gaetz ave. This space would be perfect as it faces south, gets good drainage and has limited foot traffic. Another benefit is that it is highly visible and that would generate lots of public interest! But realistically this may be too grand and I may have to find somewhere else like Mitchener centre or the college.

3) As for supplies, I know that the city strongly encourages community gardening and there may already be resources available. There may also be potential to get supplies donated from a hardware store if they get permission to put up a sign or something. Or maybe if we agree to donate a certain amount of the crop to a charity they would help with the upfront cost of getting the seeds?

Also if a good site is found it would be a good opportunity to showcase how composting can be used to enrich the soil and sustainably increase yield. I wonder if a grocery store would donate all their throw away produce to the cause so it could be composted on site and used to enrich the soil? A large compost bin could be built nearby and after the fall harvest it could be added to the garden making it ready for a highly productive growing season the following year!

4) Growing a garden is rewarding and enjoyable. If something like this were to happen there would be many new friendships forged. It would have the added benefit of making people more connected to their community and their own food supply. Also this would raise awareness about environmental sustainability.  - WIN! WIN! WIN!

5) Since the main objective of this endeavour would be to donate the majority of the food to charity after everything is said and done this could be very beneficial to the community. There is need all around us from the Food Bank to the Soup Kitchen to the Ronald McDonald House. This idea could be part of the solution to fill those needs. 

So I am going to put out the call!

Is there anyone interested in helping to get this started this year? If so please let me know. Once we get enough people together we will setup a time and a place to meet and we'll go from there.

What do you think?


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