of meteorites and vocational schools

Dear Uma : Once again, you are ahead of me with news of the North; I was out of town and missed the media buzz about the lawsuit between the Liard First Nation chief and the ex principal of the secondary school.

Dear Uma :

Once again, you are ahead of me with news of the North; I was out of town and missed the media buzz about the lawsuit between the Liard First Nation chief and the ex principal of the secondary school.

I won’t offer an opinion of who is right and who is wrong in this case; I cannot begin to imagine all the ramifications of this lawsuit, so I am not about to try, but what grabbed my attention was the statement the chief of the Liard First Nation is said to have found the idea of a vocational school a poor one; an attempt to create a cheap labour pool for the Yukon.

There are any number of courses on offer for local First Nation people in this community at any given time. The courses range from one day to a weekend to an eight-week course. Participants are often paid to attend and, upon completion, are often given work-related gear; steel-toed boots, hard hats, safety vests, etc.

Sometimes there are cash bonuses upon completion.

They are taught to flag on highway projects or to cut brush for the Fire Smart program. They learn hospitality industry skills, like waiting tables in restaurants. Some have learned the skills necessary to work underground in mines, or to drive a truck.

Sounds like the creation of a cheap labour force for the Yukon, doesn’t it?

I have met and spoken to one young man who proudly showed me eight certificates he has received from different courses he has taken. Does he have a job? No.

Why would there be opposition to having those First Nation people who are interested learn a way of earning a living that gives them some dignity and power in the work world? A few years spent in a vocational school gets a diploma declaring one has become an electrician, a physiotherapist, an accountant, a plumber or a computer programmer, to name a few of the courses on offer at vocational schools.

There is more than a diploma to be earned from attending a vocational school: like any learning institution there is the networking that occurs among the students and the development of friendships that may not have happened otherwise. The simple discipline needed to attend classes is a useful habit to learn, as is the labour of learning itself. These are life skills every bit as valuable as the courses themselves; they are skills that are used every day for the rest of one’s life and seem to automatically lend themselves for a lifetime of learning in every aspect.

My research shows there are plenty of jobs for folks with vocational school diplomas, and not just in the Yukon, though Watson Lake, for instance, could use some plumbers, electricians and a physiotherapist or two.

Not everyone is meant to go to university; indeed, it has been shown only a small percentage are, and that is not to say the rest are stupid, or in any way incapable of learning.

To refuse to provide another avenue of education and training, another avenue to learning and to earn is a stance hard for me to understand.

Of all the ludicrous spending I have witnessed in my few years in the North, this proposal actually seems like a valid way to spend some of those federal dollars.

Hopefully, a school built here now would avoid the mistakes of past public buildings; the flat-roof thing is baffling, for instance, in a place that can rely on heavy snowfall. It may be OK but for the confusion that seems to result about who is responsible for the removal of those tons and tons of snow from flat rooftops, a conflict that, last winter, led to the closing of the curling rink and one entire wing of the elementary school. The school is still closed; some of the tutors are conducting their work in closets!

The town of Watson Lake would benefit economically from having a vocational school as students would come from all over the territory to attend. They would need housing, groceries, clothing, gas, dogs and entertainment.

Who knows, some may decide to stay and make this their home. They would start businesses, hire people and buy homes.

Depending on what was on offer, it would not be unreasonable to hope to attract students from other parts of Canada. An influx of newcomers would lead to new ideas, new visions for the town.

As to what could be on offer, when I was a newcomer I thought a flight school would be a good business to have here; the airport is already in existence, with hangars available, and the lake would be perfect for teaching students to fly planes with floats and skis. There are mountains near enough for them to also get some air time flying in a more challenging landscape.

A friend of ours, a pilot, visited us last summer and when I told him my idea he thought it was indeed both practical and possible. In a long, beer-fueled evening, he and Pete and I planned the whole thing, right down to the colours of the classroom walls. Should the new mayor and council of Watson Lake want to know more, I could provide the diagrams, drawings, and figures we came up with that night. They would need to be cleaned up a little; cocktail napkins don’t provide the ideal surface for ink.

On another, possibly unrelated, subject, December 13 is the date for a meteorite shower that should make for a good showing as the moon is new.

Winter nights in the North are marvellous, so entirely magical that no excuse is needed to go out and stand in them; a meteor shower is simply a bonus, and the Geminid meteoroid stream is said to be the strongest and most reliable of meteor showers.

It is unusual, too, in that it is reputed to be a meteoroid stream whose parent body is not a comet like other meteor showers, but a minor planet named 3200 Phaethon.

Also, it is unique in that it has fewer, but larger particles.

The ‘larger particles’ piece of information slowed my enthusiasm. Out of the 4 billion meteors that fall to Earth on any given day, most are miniscule in size. If the Geminid offers larger particles, couldn’t that sting a little, should one happen to fall on one before falling to Earth?

It was 1954 that one meteorite injury was scientifically verified.

Annie Hodges of Sylacauga, Alabama, was struck by an eight-pound meteorite that “crashed through her roof and bounced off a radio and into her hip while she was napping.”

It was the first extraterrestrial object to have injured a human being.

Well! Not only was Hodges not standing outdoors, wonderstruck, but she was having a siesta: nobody, anywhere doing anything is safe. If it is your time to be hit by a meteorite, you will be hit.

Apparently, the victim was badly bruised, but able to walk.

Seeking more information, specifically on human beings being hit by meteors as they stand, wonderstruck, watching a shower, I find that the chances of being hit by a meteorite are less likely than winning the lottery. The rate of impact to humans is calculated at 0.0055 per year, or, one event every 180 years.

I am going to take a chance.

My chances of being injured while watching the Geminid meteorite shower are about as likely as Watson Lake getting a vocational school.



Heather Bennett is a Watson

Lake-based freelance writer

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