on reading politics and the comfort of yukoners

Best Uma, Thanks for the book; I’ve been meaning to read it for ages. You and I’ll be having endless online discussions with this one.

Best Uma,

Thanks for the book; I’ve been meaning to read it for ages. You and I’ll be having endless online discussions with this one.

My own writing is coming along OK, thanks. It’s not really interesting to talk about; it’s one of the “educational” ones, which means it makes money, but isn’t a lot of fun.

I still work the same five hours every night, late; some things don’t change and now I’ve got a good reason to stay in bed till nearly noon.

There’s no daylight till then, and it’s dark again by four. Lovely!

If it isn’t too brutally cold, I try to get out for a walk every day, but I still have hours to do things like read, watch documentaries online and occasionally ponder which craft to learn.

There is a library here, and a willing and helpful staff, led by a woman who looks like a casting agency provided her, so perfect is she for the role.

I’ve borrowed craft books from the library, spending many a happy afternoon with a pot of tea and said books, imagining the delight of friends and family as I gift them with cunning knitted or woven things, or even a clay mug of my own design.

These daydreams are so satisfying there is no real need to actually go to the bother and expense of acquiring materials, or learning how to knit or weave or throw clay.

Just as well, the trailer doesn’t really have room for such goings on.

I apply the same indisputable logic to not learning how to cook.

Yes, the trailer has a kitchen, but it’s small; there’s no room for such stuff as cookbooks, utensil thing-ys, or all those kitchen appliances guaranteed to save time and make the food look wonderful.

Poor Pete! He was convinced all it would take to turn me into a cook was to live in a country without cheap labour.

I keep reminding him his first wife was a culinary genius and look what happened there.

Now, too, I can explore the politics of my new home, and attempt to figure out who the players are and the nature of their game.

No, dear Uma, I am not transforming into a person who is tremendously interested in politics; I leave it to everyone else of my acquaintance to spend hour after hour around various tables endlessly discussing the machinations of their society.

My interest is, as it has always been, desultory. I merely like to get a basic sense of what is happening in the place I happen to be living in at any given time.

I have found politics in the Yukon decidedly primitive. It’s a microcosm of North American politics; all about successful predators.

From what I have seen so far, there seems to be a plethora of short men running things up here, in politics as well as business, thereby flying in the face of the statistics that claim most successful CEOs and other leader types are tall men.

I am reminded of that lovely old proverb “When small men cast a long shadow, you know the sun is setting.”

The thing that amazes me (I am always so glad to be amazed!) is the seeming dedication on the part of elected officials to “utilizing” this vast wilderness.

The Yukon Party, which at this time is the territorial government, is all hat and no cattle.

They are trying to market what doesn’t belong to them.

It seems the aboriginals here are the last hurdle to be cleared before full scale raping and pillaging of the land can commence. 

And some of the First Nations leadership looks a bit pale-skinned in their eagerness to turn the wilderness into cash.

On the one hand there is much admiration for and pride in the territory; an appreciation for the relative lack of human population and unspoiled Nature, while the other hand is busy attempting to decimate the wilderness, increase the population and make everyone richer and able to live as though they are in suburbia.

The latter ambition contributes to my amazement; I don’t believe that in my life I’ve lived anywhere where people enjoy such a pleasant standard of living.

I admit my life has been spent living mostly on continents other than North America, and yeah, yeah, yeah, of course I know that hundreds of thousands of people in North America suffer poverty and all its attendant ills.

But here, in Watson Lake, Yukon, folks appear to be in fairly comfortable circumstances.

If there are homeless people, I haven’t seen them.

Everyone seems to have winter clothing; vehicles are mostly new, or new-ish, and if there are residents living in tents, dugouts, or lean-tos made of spruce boughs I have yet to stumble across them in my meanderings, admittedly limited.

Yet there is that tired aura of hunger; hunger for more, more, more.

In keeping with growing knowledge of the times, there are gestures to environmental considerations, but they are feeble at best; a messy little recycle centre and some cloth bags in the grocery store.

This community still burns garbage in an open pit, though I understand that is about to change.

Whitehorse has CPAWS, and an organization called the Yukon Conservation Society, both of which would appear to have support in the capital city.

In Watson Lake, however, there is nothing similar, not even a branch of the aforementioned organizations.

I don’t know whether there could be any connection, but there also seems to be a dearth of music, theatre or art in our little town.

From reading the Yukon News, which comes here every few days, other similar-sized and some smaller towns in the territory have active arts communities, while Whitehorse is a veritable hotbed of avant-garde behaviour in all aspects of art.

Speaking of this newspaper, of which I devour almost every word, there are local businesses, once distributors, who quit giving room to the paper some years ago due to nastiness written about the premier, who also happens to be the local MLA.

Given the town is demonstrably pro- Premier Dennis Fentie — the last election results apparently demonstrated a solid support for his continuing in office — one can only speculate why there would be such an atmosphere of insecurity.

Since we moved here we haven’t met a lot of locals, largely I suppose due to my hermit habits and Pete’s absence for work.

When he gets home for his two weeks, there are domestic chores, and after living in camp he enjoys just being quietly at home.

Usually he is the one who creates our social life.

On my own, I have met few residents, but those I have scraped an acquaintance with seem to be fairly worldly.

They travel, they have many and varied interests, and are on the whole, colourful, independent and engaged individuals.

It makes me wonder — where are those people who make decisions such as refusing to distribute one of the two major newspapers in the whole territory?

In the common experience, any and all printed matter contains the possibility of offending someone, but this is one of those blessed countries that, so far, don’t ban expressions of opinion.

Except in Watson Lake, I guess.

Though the premier maintains a home here, complete with wife, I’ve yet to see him in person.

Of course, I may not recognize him; the only photos I’ve seen are from the Yukon News, which means they’re probably altered.

That would explain why he looks like someone from the FBI’s “most wanted” file.

Other sources of information available without leaving home are CBC North and a Whitehorse station, CHON-FM.

I like the latter better for local news; it features more First Nations, but the country western music favoured there is a difficulty for me.

Speaking of First Nations, there’s a lot to learn about them, and their relationship with the town.

I haven’t been here a year and already the familiar smell of racism has assaulted my nostrils.

The aboriginal people have the look of wariness that comes with oppression and a history of shabby treatment at the hands of the invaders.

I’m glad you’re enjoying the stories. I need to write them as a relief from the work of writing the textbook.

Hi to Andrew, and hugs to you both.


Heather Bennett is a writer based in Watson Lake.