A continuum of responses needed

Spring officially begins tomorrow. For us here in the Yukon the arrival of the first RV vies with the first swan as our marker of the true advent of the season.

Spring officially begins tomorrow. For us here in the Yukon the arrival of the first RV vies with the first swan as our marker of the true advent of the season. Every morning, though, the northward march of the sun now very dramatically notches a new point on the ridge line of Grey Mountain as it rises over Whitehorse. The scent of change is in the very air we breath.

This spring appears to be heralding other changes as well. Always a time of physical renewal, stirrings of a social nature are apparent. Societies as such cannot be said to have consciousness. But awareness of the need for change among the individuals who make it up may reach a proportion that in effect creates a common acceptance of the new directions being called for.

Any change can be situated on a continuum. In the Yukon ‘charity’ has always had pride of place on this ordering of responses. Possibly rooted in the very nature of life on the frontier, whether from a First Nations perspective or harkening back to the rough and tumble days of the gold rush, people here have always given generously when confronted with others in need. Our response to the victims of the earthquake in Haiti most recently stands out. Friends of Haiti wristbands will soon be widely available in the territory to support continuing rebuilding efforts.

Sometimes charity is just not enough. Persistent needs demand answers to very basic questions. Examining root causes can lead us towards social justice solutions. The proud record of Habitat for Humanity Yukon inspired by the leadership of Todd Hardy alone won’t resolve the problem of a lack of affordable housing alternatives here. The coming public review of the Land and Tenant Act might point to roadblocks that must be overcome if lasting solutions are to be found.

Similarly the Whitehorse Food Bank continues to serve the needs of the hungry among us. The more than 1,890 individual Yukoners who have accessed it since it opened barely 11 months ago indicate the depth of the need. Social justice demands that a very basic question must be asked. Why in this land of plenty do families go hungry?

In a couple of weeks a social inclusion symposium will be convened by the territorial government. Select frontline antipoverty agencies and low income Yukoners will be part of a process aimed at focusing on identifying the obstacles holding people back. Hopefully the right questions will be asked.

Have you heard about the local group trying to create a Yukon version of the Nelson Carshare Co-op? It hopes to provide a real financial and environmental alternative to outright car ownership for families who drive less than 10,000 kilometres a year. What about the urban farming group who sees in the vacant lots around Whitehorse the opportunity to grow organic produce for the local farmer’s market? Credit union discussions, co-housing conversations and fair trade marketers all help push us towards the solidarity end of the continuum.

To see ourselves, our own interests inextricably linked to the poor, the hungry, the homeless locally and globally places us in solidarity with them. Solidarity actions require a cognitive shift, the elimination of the us/them divide. It is possible.

Welcome this spring by finding your own place on the change continuum from spreading good will on Main Street by handing out flowers with Be the Change folk or ladling soup at the CYO Hall Weekend Soup Kitchen with the Food Not Bombs network to pioneering systemic alternatives. It is all necessary.

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact pazypan@yukon.net.

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