Valerie’s Voice in La Ronge

I connected recently for coffee with a couple of people I haven’t seen for some time. As we reflected on the intervening time, it gave me an opportunity to look back on some of my early experiences in La Ronge.

I’ve been here almost 18 years. It’s actually the longest time I’ve lived anywhere in succession. I’ve been in the same apartment for just about 16 years. It’s amazing how time flies.

Lac La Ronge has always been a busy area in my experience. I never, in all my nine-and-a-half years at The Northerner, had any problem keeping the paper filled each week.

Now, it’s the whole north once a month and definitely a challenge from the perspective of more communities spread over a longer time frame .

But, as I reflected, I remember how many people worked up here on local and regional issues in the communities across the north. Much was happening in fishing, sports, trapping and more. There was a passion with people working here on so many levels.

I remember elder trappers taking at-risk youth onto the land to teach them trapping skills, a proposed ecotourism initiative that somehow never got off the ground in the end.

There was much imagination about what could be done in the north. Communities seemed to have more autonomy than they do now. So many of those jobs and people are gone now.

I remember often going into Mistasinihk Place and it was a hub of activity; now it’s much fewer people.

Decisions that were made here about local life and resources, have gone south now along with many jobs. Many jobs have gone all together.

One of our biggest losses, NORTEP/NORPAC (Northern Teacher Education Program/Northern Professional Access College), a hugely successful university program in La Ronge for more than 40 years.

We are seeing something similar come back thanks to the Lac La Ronge Indian Band (LLRIB) partnership with Métis Nation Saskatchewan in the creation of NSITEP (Northern Saskatchewan Indigenous Teacher Education Program), which is in its fifth year in La Ronge.

We are seeing decisions coming out of the south made by people who seem to have no idea about the north, our people and our ways of life here.

While we are seeing an increase in land-based learning throughout our First Nation communities, which is hopeful, we have much happening here that reflects the south, more than here. 

I also hear there is an increase in uranium mining coming in the next few years, which, in my experience, has been a challenge to creative or ecotourism.

A group formed, For Peat Sake: Protecting Northern Saskatchewan Muskegs, in response to a potential peat mining operation moving into the area south of La Ronge. We have found so much of the world understands that it’s much more advantageous to leave the peat in the ground for future protection of our environment particularly in the areas of wildfire and flood protection, amongst much more.

And the clearcutting happening across the north to our forest is nothing short of heartbreaking for those of us who live here and understand the importance of the of the forest.

For northerners, we have long drives to go south for some of our needs to be met, and we see the wreckage. I know I feel sad, angry and even depressed when I see these areas and pass truckloads of logs heading south.

We, who live here, understand the value of the forest, not only for us living here, but for the world around us, particularly in the light of climate change.

Countries around the world have banned peat mining, countries that have been dependent on it, are seeing its value.

We try here to wake people up, but, when the decision makers come from another area of the province, they don’t see what we see. They see what they want to see.

I want to ask them. If I came to your house, walked in and said, I like that furniture in your living room, I’m just going to load it up and take it home. I think it would look great in my living room. What would be their response? But, we are having a hard time opening the eyes of the decision makers in terms of northern forests.

It comes down to, for me, what does the world I want to leave my children, all children, for their future, look like? My answer: I sure want to leave behind a much better, healthier world than we have right now. It’s not good enough on so many levels.

We are leaving a world that is not sustainable right now. Many prophets are telling us in so many ways. We need to change our thinking/practices, pay attention and stop this long-term destruction for short term, maybe, gain.