Simulating Poverty?

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Daily essentials

I will remember the summer of 2017 as the summer of adventure as I cycled across Canada. It was a charity tour to coincide with Canada’s 150th celebration. A charity to raise funds and awareness to help end the cycle of poverty.

One aspect of the tour included one member who shared a daily reminder informing us of the specific First Nation’s traditional lands we were camping on each night, unceeded territories, treaty territories or peace and friendship treaties.

It is not coincidental that much of the poverty we experience in Canada is among the first nations communities. A poverty of resources, a poverty of spirit, much of it a direct result of our collective short sighted understanding of what these treaties did not honour or failed to respect.

Shifted luxury

Many times during the tour I heard statements like this. By camping and living out of two laundry baskets we are living a simple life, a life that helps us better understand poverty.

We have left much behind to do this tour. Our beds at home have been empty for two months. The use of our house with all it’s appliances, furniture and yard have been abandoned for the summer.

My reflection

For me living in a tent with two laundry baskets holding all my essentials has been a life of abundance and may I even say luxury. I did not experience being deprived of my daily needs.

All summer I have had a campground arranged for me. All I needed to do is pitch my tent, a brief task each evening and pack up my tent each morning, a slightly longer task each morning.

In contrast to that my son and a friend spent more time this summer doing an emergency repair and basic maintenance on my house than spent setting up and taking down my tent.

Every day I had meals prepared for me by hard working volunteers. All I needed to do was walk up to the buffet table and enjoy a full course breakfast and supper each day. In return I would  wash my own plate and cup before applauding the hardworking volunteer staff.

Each night I had a place to sleep. I had a tent that was dry or a few times I was offered a billet for a night or two. Sleeping outdoors in a weather tight tent has left me refreshed and healthy.

Each day I have had over six hours available to do a ‘gym’ workout while viewing the most amazing and varied vistas that anyone could ask for. Even a high tech gym with quality video wouldn’t compare to the real life experience of smells, sounds, temperature variations, breezes and headwinds. In other words, a multi-media experience could never match the multi-sensory experience. And each day I was congratulated for having put in another great day of commendable effort.

Each day I have experienced the support of a SAG (support and gear) team providing refreshments every 25 kilometers with other people along the road to ensure everything was well. On top of that each turn was clearly marked so as not to let me get lost.

While living out of a laundry basket and a tent I had the benefit of the best technology. I could post pictures of my adventure to Facebook, update my blog on a fairly regular basis. When my cell phone ‘died’ I was up and running again by the end of the day with a better cell phone, a better plan and at a reduced cost.

Poverty

Poverty to me is living a life of uncertainty. Living a life in which each set back becomes another insurmountable burden. Living a life where no one else seems to care. Living a life that has no relief in sight.

Simulated poverty?

I will be the first to admit, that the way I lived this summer did very little to make me more aware of what it is like to live in poverty. Living supported, cared for, provided for, looked after and then given additional consideration when I was experiencing difficulty is for me the furthest thing away from poverty.

However, this charity ride had raised my awareness of poverty. An awareness that has come not from experience as much as it has come from observation. As the tour moved through different regions of Canada, one would have to be blind to not notice the demise in certain regions. One would have to be blind to not see the contrast with the affluent regions.

The signs of contrast are sometimes the seriously dilapidated condition of houses or outbuildings. Other times is was the proliferation of high end cars in the driveway. Somehow it was usually evident when we cycled through a First Nations community. If it wasn’t the condition of the neighbourhood, it would be the increased presence of police or the lack of community services.

Catholic after affect

In cycling through the villages and towns of Quebec the focal point was consistently the Catholic place of worship, sometimes a cathedral, other times a church of less grand proportions. It’s like you could assess the standard of living of a community as a whole by the size of the Catholic focal point. The traditional houses within the town or village would all be very similar.

In a time when the Catholic church was a vibrant part of the community, the poor would be looked after, the rich would contribute to the church. The wealth of the community for the most part would not be seen in the statement of affluence represented by individual houses, but rather in the size of the church.

Presentations

For me the presentations done by Partners Worldwide and World Renew was the most effective awareness raising for me. In sharing their stories I realized that my living situation this summer exemplified luxury and more to the point, privilege. The presentations showed time and again that as the issue of poverty was understood and then addressed, that people began to live with a sense of hope.

It’s the poverty of spirit, and the conditions that create a sense of hopelessness that needs to be addressed. Hearing  about projects where people and families are mentored, provided with resources and training helps me begin to understand the amazing impact we can make.

A spirit of hope develops when we work with the poor in a way that shows a love for neighbour – respecting their dignity, recognizing their skills, befriending them ending the injustice that has deprived them of self-worth and in that way push aside the spirit of poverty.

My life of luxury and privilege will continue when I move out of my tent and back into my house. I will be more conscious of looking for ways to bring hope to those living in poverty.

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Fort Qu’Appelle – SK

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Dream Big – Fort Qu’Appelle mural

Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan.

July 17, 2017 was my first time in Fort Qu’Appelle. I had ridden to Fort Qu’Appelle with my cycling buddy, a short 80 km ride from Regina. We had traveled down some quiet roads, enjoying the tranquility of the open skies. It was likely the rough condition of the road that accounted for the lack of traffic.

20170717_090056As I was cycling along I noticed a highway maintenance truck waiting along the side of the road. I stopped to talk with the operator when I noticed he was driving a tarring rig. I asked if the plan was to tar the road today. His response was, “Yes, we got to fix this highway.” I expressed surprise that he called it a highway. If this is considered a highway then we don’t have much hope for what it called the Trans-Canada Trail.

I was assured that the tarring wouldn’t begin till all the cyclist had passed this point They were still waiting for the tar which was scheduled to arrive in about an hour. This being Saskatchewan that would likely mean a three hour wait.

When we arrived in Fort Qu’Appelle, having ridden with a tailwind most of the way, I decided to stop for a blizzard at the local DQ. We rode through the drive-through but got no response. Turns out they were open but busy getting things set up for the day. I warned the staff of two that there were about eighty riders headed into the town. Within the next forty-five minutes the place was overrun by almost half of the cyclist.

After setting up my tent I hiked into town with my riding buddy. Two blocks in we reached Broadway Ave. Judging by the layout this was definitely the main street. With a Bargain Store a half a block from the Dollar Store there were some obvious signs of entrepreneurial competition in town.

20170717_130914After meeting several friendly and welcoming locals in our stroll along Broadway, we encountered a quiet park with a Four Season mural. Some first nations women from Sandy Lake just four miles up the road picked up conversation with us. They liked the idea of posing for a picture. They had found a spot in the shade, probably their regular spot and had almost finished their bottle of rum by noon. I had the clear impression that they spent most of their time in this parkette between two stores. Other than a bench in the shade and a mural there was nothing else there. You could say they had each other.

We passed the local hardware store which seemed well stocked with up to date equipment. Of interest was a fold up 160 watt solar panel and controller for $499. The attendant was explaining how this could be hooked up to 3 or 4 deep cycle batteries and maintain the power needed for an RV.

What caught my interest even more was a pickup and trailer parked on the side street beside the hardware store. The signage on the back of the trailer – Vermin Exterminator – caught my interest. The way the trailer was parked and packed up it looked like to school desk like arrangement one set behind the other. I decided that I would prefer to be the person sitting on the back ‘desk’. I knew I definitely wouldn’t want to be the driver when everything was set up.

As we were looking at the trailer, the owner Ron walked up. Turns out his well known no-name business provides a much desired service – exterminating gophers, beavers, coyotes and skunks. He set up one of his stations with a holder for his gun, and just as important a flag so he can keep an eye on the wind speed and direction. (Assured him that as cyclists we were well aware of the havoc that the wind could cause.) The ‘desks’ as well as the gun stand were on a swivel. Next to the gun is a counter. His record is eliminating 740 gophers in one day.

Being that the trailer is designed as a two person operation, Ron said he is very particular who he takes along as his shooting buddy. He always takes the back seat – smart guy. As the back seat guy he swivels in a 180 degree arc over the back of the trailer. The person in the front seat swivels in a 180 degree arc towards the front of the trailer. If the operator accidentally hits the truck Ron reasons that it can be replaced. It’s a bit harder to replace a fellow operator.

Found a health food store so I could pick up some Nuun, an electrolyte to keep me sustained while riding during the extreme ride days. They also had some iodine for internal use. It was great to see a store carrying quality health vitamins and supplements.

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Hudson Bay Co. 1897

While taking a picture of an original Hudson Bay Company store I was cautioned by Leon a First Nations local. As he drove by me he stopped and said, “Hey man, you got to be careful.” I was crouched beside a flower planter in the middle of Broadway. After he parked his car he was proudly giving me the history of the Hudson Bay Company store. Clearly the store had been repurposed. He was adamant that another stone building just around the corner was even older.

As I was walking away from Leon I mentioned I was looking for a bike shop. He directed me to the pawnshop which he assured me had both tires for sale as well as bikes. I kindly declined as I wasn’t sure how reliable their stock might be. I wasn’t able to find a bike shop in town. I might have to wait till we get to Yorkton.

20170717_132648Walking along we soon found ourselves in front of the Peace Hills Trust building, a Star – Blanket – Cree – Nation building. The signage indicated some helpful services for the indigenous population for the area, the Cree. The sign indicated that the building housed the Treaty Land Entitlement Office. The other offices in the building included Sask First Nations Safety Assoc., Q-Bow Child and Family Services Inc. and the office for Red Dog Holding. The sub-text on the sign was “Advocators of Community & Personal Developments.

I found a Coop at the end of Broadway’s business strip. My only reason for going in was to satisfy my longing for some orange juice. I decided that a 1.75 litre bottle for $2.70 was a better deal than a half litre bottle for $3.25. I would have no problem downing the whole 1.75 litre bottle before the afternoon was done.

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Eddie’s favourite bakery

In front of the Valley Bake & Coffee Shop, known for it’s Bavarian Pastries we met Eddie. As he approached the bakery door he stopped and waited. He seemed curious about seeing two ‘strangers’ in town. We got to talking. He was retired for 3 year but couldn’t believe he was that old already. He had been farming but now wasn’t able to work. The farm work had taken a toll on his body.

In the 1990’s Eddie and his brother were running a beef farm of 240 head of cattle. A few years ago, due to drought conditions he was forced to sell most of his herd. He had been farming for a couple years with his herd reduced to 40 head. When he couldn’t make ends meet he sold seven quarter sections, the last of his land, for $150,000. A few years earlier he had gotten $75,000 for a section of land. When he moved off the farm he still owed money on a farm.

Eddie wished he still had his herd of cattle because today the price for beef are very good. He’s getting used to living in town and enjoys coming to the Bavarian bakery. He is reluctant to buy goods there because then he needs to work it off.

Fort Qu’Appelle is not much different from many other towns we have cycled through. Particularly the smaller towns. There are many places where the contrast between wealth and poverty can be seen. While there were no indications of it being a thriving town, the realty office showcased properties ranging from half million to a couple million. Obviously they were catering to a very select market.

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Ron’s Roost

Later in the day when I biked ten kilometers along Echo Lake I realized why they had a high end selection of houses. That’s where I saw some whimsical stuff like a toilet at the end of a driveway.

The main highway highlighted many of the recognized national franchises. If one is driving through the area the real character of the town remains hidden. The heart of the town could be seen two kilometers off the highway. In the downtown section one can enjoy local baking, cooking and friendly service but best of all was meeting the interesting local folk.

Meanwhile we are set up with tents and campers housing the 90 riders and support staff making the local elementary school look like a refugee camp. The refugee camp appearance hides the reality of who are housed there overnight. The appearance of poverty and transience is only incidental. We have the privilege and luxury to move on as we choose.

We are riding and raising money to help end the cycle of poverty both here in Canada and in other parts of the world. To more fully appreciate the purpose of Sea to Sea it is helpful to meet and speak with people who are dealing with poverty – whether that is poverty of spirit, or economic poverty.

It’s interesting to note that the bison is a mere skeleton, yet against that background someone had the courage to still dream big. To me, the skeleton represents the depletion of  personal, family and ancestral resources due to years of mistreatment by European settlers with whom they thought they were sharing the land and its resources.

What will it take to change the story for out first nations people as we recognize Canada as a nation for the past 150 years?

Aboriginal Blessing

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Memorial of the mix between Methodist church and First Nations  people

Traditional and unceded territories

Being the long term stewards

First Nations people who lived here

Never claiming ownership

 

Traditional and unceded territories

Their own land but not owned

Their own land but not claimed

Welcoming migrants to share the land

 

Traditional and unceded territories

Assisting struggling migrants

Hospitality from the heart

Gradually betrayed

 

Traditional and unceded territories

Their land usurped by migrants

No reservation about stripping the resources

Making reservations for aboriginals

 

Traditional and unceded territories

Second class citizens, barely a voice

Object of a legislated apology

Subject to government decisions

 

An aboriginal blessing bestowed on us

As we prepared to cycle through varied landscapes

Valleys, Rivers, Meadows, Ravines, Peaks

A prayer for each person

 

Each day we honour the nation

Whose land we cycle through

Remembering the history of

Traditional and unceded territories.

 

When will we return the blessing

How should we return the blessing

An apology can be postured

While a blessing issues from the heart.

Good Friday or My Day in Court

Puslinch Township
Ellis Chapel 1861

My wife was taken aback when a police officer delivered a summons requiring me to appear in court. I assured her I hadn’t been up to any mischief lately… as far as I could remember. My memory being what it is since I had a brain injury did not give her much comfort.

I was surprised to find out that I was to appear as a witness to my own car accident. I found it rather strange, since I was the so called victim in an accident, to be called in as a witness

for the defense. The other driver was being charged since she hit me while I had the right of way when I approached the intersection.

I was wondering what good my testimony would be. Off course the light was green when I went through the intersection. Of course she made a dangerous left turn, going into the on-coming lane without being able to see if it was clear. That’s why I didn’t stop.

When I showed up for court and introduced myself to the crown attorney. She asked me only one question. What colour was the traffic light? My obvious answer was, “Green.” She told me we were going to trial as the other driver was contesting the charge against her. Her defense was that I had run a red light. She asserted this despite the statement from a disinterested witness who had a clear view of the whole scene unfolding in front of her.

After some formal introductions and statements being read, the driver pleaded guilty to a lesser charge. In the end the judge levied a fine of less than $50 and no demerit points. I was not called to take the stand since the accused had been convinced, just before the court went into session, pleading guilty to a lesser charge would service her interests better. Once the judge had issued her judgement the crown attorney came over to me, apologized for the light sentence and told me I was free to go home.

Some Thoughts

This conviction left me with a strong sense of injustice. The other driver’s poor judgement, or impatience, or inattentiveness has had a huge impact on my life not to mention many people I’m closely connect with.

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My Good Friday Tree

My initial thoughts about the reduced sentence, being like a slap on the wrist was, “unfair”. On the other hand, a harsh penalty like a heavy fine and several demerit points would not have changed my circumstances. Further, I reasoned, she had not intended to cause bodily harm. However, I did take offense to her claim that I had run a red light. However, that was only in discussion with the crown attorney. That statement never came to the judge.

The crown attorney, in dealing with the matter, had no idea whether I had been injured in the accident or what kind of injury I had sustained. That was never part of the discussion. I had no reason to inform her. Though, my injury would likely have impacted my time on the stand if I had been called to witness.

I had been advised before going to court that the key issue was to have this matter settled in my favour. As long as the other driver was given a guilty verdict the court would have served my interests. The light sentence had no negative impact on her insurance. The guilty verdict has direct positive impact on my insurance. You could say that the greater injustice was done to the insurance company. They would not be able to collect a higher premium for the costs the other driver has incurred.

In the end, the court appearance was a bureaucratic exercise, not a place where justice would be meted out. Had I gone into the court feeling vindictive, I would still be unsettled about the plea and verdict. There have been court cases where the failure of the courts to decide a suitable sentence have been much more momentous. Good Friday historically not excepted.

Telling the Story

I had opportunity to tell the story of my court appearance several times. Needless to say, family members and friends found the ‘slap on the wrist’ sentence highly unfair. Understandably so.

In one conversation a woman was particularly outraged about the light sentence. She just couldn’t see how our court system would allow that. I then mentioned that the driver who ran into me was in her mid 70’s. That completely changed her opinion of the judge’s decision. Somehow the driver’s age had a huge positive impact on her sense of what is a fair sentence.

I reflected on that with her and suggested that if the driver had been a 21 year old male, her outrage would have been greater. She agreed. Then I took the discussion a step further. I asked her how she thought the conviction might have played out if the driver had been an aboriginal Canadian.

It would be pure speculation. However, based on the incarceration rates among the Canadian population a different verdict could have been very likely. Our biases run deep. Our biases have a way of blinding us to what is a fair conviction and sentence.

When someone messes up we are quite judicious before giving the benefit of the doubt. We will first size up the person. It seems like a person needs to earn the privilege of being judged less harshly. If we are through birth or other factors part of the right demographic we are awarded that privilege much more readily.20151012_122052

In a recent CBC discussion a rather telling and powerful phrase was shared in reference to the aboriginal population in Canada. One spokesperson was adamant that when it comes to aboriginal Canadians, they are over policed and under protected. It isn’t the lack of policing that is necessarily the problem. It is the manner in which they are treated, by the police, by the court system and by the prison system.

How often don’t we speak before we check our biases? Our biases have a way of colouring what we do and say.

Saying Goodbye

Since today is Friday, part of our peleton meeting included saying goodbye to the riders who are leaving the tour this week. There were about 25 riders giving their goodbyes. Many riders had been with us for one week.

After sharing my comments I realized there were things I Had meant to share that did not come to me at the time. So let me repeat what I shared And what I had wanted to share.

This ride has heightened my awareness of the different faces of poverty. This struck me when I Was at the SAG stop at the Homer Watson carpool in Kitchener. As we pulled in on our expensive bikes a run down car pulled in to a parking Spot near our snack table. The driver stepped out of her car with a small bag of household Garbage.  The sign on the garbage bin read “no household garbage.” My initial response was one of minor indignation. Almost at the same time I realized I had no idea what this woman’s story was. Maybe she could not afford the tag to put her garbage At the curb. Or maybe she had no curb at which to place her garbage.

There were many people to thank in helping me meet my challenge of unicycling 200 km of the 1400 km that I Had the privilege of riding. To complete those 200 km I received the Gracious help of many a cyclist that happened to come upon me in a moment of need. Not having learned to free mount a 36″ uni prior to this ride I had to rely on a fellow rider with a sturdy shoulder to offer assistance.

I also want to thank the SAG volunteers for exchanging my bike for my unicycle so I Could pick the most suitable sections to ride. This was not always convenient. Yet I saw a Real willingness. It highlighted for me that poverty is also a real inconvenience.

I appreciated the riding time as an opportunity to catch up on people I Had not seen in awhile and meet new people and hear their story. The tour is an intentional community organized so people would look out for each other.

This has been my first experience with a multi-day cycling ride. I had done a reasonable amount of training but had no idea what to expect. The experience of the past two weeks would want me to do a full ride, the Lord Willing, the next time a Tour like this is planned.

The challenge, coming from this tour is how to continue to advocate for the poor, how to recognize the systemic changes that need to happen to address the issue, and how to make Personal lifestyle changes that leaves more room for The poor. This includes recognizing what purchases contribute to the issue of poverty.

Some of the tour people thanked me for using the unicycling to give the tour and the cause greater exposure in the press.

Today I decided to take it easy. Leaving historic Brockville I took the time to take pictures of the unique house designs, the historic sites,  the stone walls and the incredibly rich and varied vegetation.

Tomorrow we ride into Montreal. Very a fitting destination a We will be hosted at a First Nations school for the weekend. The appropriateness of this has not been lost on the riders.