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Black swans and Night Dragons

Yukon College social work students crowded into the room behind the main dining hall at the Cultis Bay camp of the Kluane First Nation on the southeast side Kluane Lake.

Yukon College social work students crowded into the room behind the main dining hall at the Cultis Bay camp of the Kluane First Nation on the southeast side Kluane Lake. They had come there back in the summer of 2005 to participate in the required cultural immersion course for their bachelor of social work degree.

The elder asked to speak to them that night pointedly addressed her remarks, though, at two teenage boys from her First Nation’s community there with us.

The quiet intensity of the words of the elder commanded everyone’s attention. At first it seemed that her intention was just to scold the two young men for their laziness. However, her real concern for them and by extension all of us listening to her became apparent.

She foresaw a time of travail coming. It was important, she urged, to take the time to learn basic survival skills from their elders, ones that had helped them endure hard times. If the young attempted to understand the life lessons the elders had to offer, they would be well served whatever challenges may befall them in the future.

Strong cultural roots and sense of identity coupled with a community-focused ethic could assist anyone in facing uncertainty. The elder likely would not have known that her words would have resonated well with vaunted academics and well-published contemporary prognosticators similarly trying to force us to prepare for the possible consequences of the future unfolding before us.

Some commentators see increasingly common outlier “black swan” events coming on as the result of our gambling too many times on “progress/profit before all” bets on our future heedless of social or environmental costs. A black swan event captures the idea of a surprise, major impact occurrences that seems largely unpredictable though in hindsight should have been apparent.

Pandemics, Night-Dragon style cyberattacks on key infrastructure like energy grids, or environmentally triggered economic disasters can be seen as black swan events.

They also could be something like the outcome Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano wrote of in his Upside Down: A Primer for the Looking-Glass World. “Consumer society is a booby trap. Those at the controls feign ignorance, but anybody with eyes in his head can see that the great majority of people necessarily must consume not much, very little, or nothing at all in order to save the bit of nature we have left. Social injustice is not an error to be corrected, nor is it a defect to be overcome; it is an essential requirement of the system. No natural world is capable of supporting a mall the size of the planet ... (If) we all consumed like those who are squeezing the earth dry, we’d have no world left.”

As for the consequences, Chris Hedges notes in his recent book with Joe Sacco, Days of Destruction Days of Revolt, that “No one is immune. The suffering of the other, of the Native American, the African American in the inner city, the unemployed coal miner, or the Hispanic produce picker is universal. They went first. We are next. The indifference we showed to the plight of the underclass, in biblical terms our ‘neighbour’ haunts us. We failed them, and in doing so we failed ourselves. We are accomplices in our own demise.”

Hedges sees that “Revolt is all we have left. It is our only hope.” Others like those in the Idle No More movement or meeting around the Truth and Reconciliation Commission here next week call us towards another possible future based on mutual understanding and respect.

Dawn Waring, who holds a PhD in biblical studies and currently teaches at St. Stephen’s College in Edmonton, Alberta, will also be here next week speaking at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 18 at the Whitehorse United Church at 6th and Main Street on “The reality of life for Palestinians in Bethlehem behind the Israeli security wall.” She is just back from spending three months with the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel.

These events and a host of others locally offer us the chance to become engaged in active community building. Together, fully aware of our potential and our responsibility, we can make our future more black swan and Night-Dragon resistant.

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