Sunday, August 12, 2007

July 19 to August 12, 2007

July 19 to 22, 2007
Sioux Valley Dakota Nation, SK

While at St. Norbert Behavioural Health Foundation in Winnipeg, we were asked to visit Sioux Valley Dakota Nation after our Brandon event. Bob Bone, Director of Health, invited us to stay for a few days and we camped beside the Sioux valley Recreation and Health Centres.

We met the two FASD workers and shared research, experiences and ideas. The Sioux Valley Dakota Nation Powwow was held that weekend with people attending from hundreds of miles around. The events were spectacular with hundreds of dancers participating. As at all powwows, the food was abundant and delicious. We particularly enjoyed the bison burgers on bannock buns, several times.

The community is spread over a fairly large area with a very small, and costly, store and gas station, and VLT casino located near the band office, rec/health centre, police station. The nearest significant grocery store is about 40 km away.

The people talked openly about the issues on FASD on reserve and their concerns and efforts. As in most communities, the rate of change is slow but at least they are actively working for change. It is interesting that the First Nations are more willing to recognize the issues of alcohol and FASD than the non-native community and yet the incidence of FASD in the non-native community is just as high, or higher than in the native communities. The highest risk group is actually middle to upper middle income white females.

The perception that alcohol and FASD are primarily native issues may well stem from "official" government studies that are 10, 15, 20, 22 and 25 years old. All were of tiny remote First Nations communities and in each case the authors stated that the statistics were not to be applied outside those communities. Health Canada has not done equivalent studies in non-native communities, as if white folks don't drink. The studies were also done before the Canadian diagnostic criteria were set.

These studies play into the official attitude that First Nations have a higher than normal drinking problem. Nothing could be further from the truth. Health Canada states that the incidence of FASD is 1%, and is based entirely on those 5 studies. The reality is that Statistics Canada's Canadian Health Survey and birth statistics show that 37% of Canadian children are prenatally exposed to binge drinking and another 42% are exposed to multiple bouts of 1 to 4 drinks per occasion, with a 95% confidence level. All will be affected to varying degrees. Almost 80% of children are prenatally exposed to high levels of a known teratogen and mutagen - alcohol. The study published at clearly indicates the rate of FASD is likely well over 10% and is likely about 15%, at a minimum. About 20% of children are receiving Special Education, the vast majority for conditions of types known to be caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol.

While about 20% of children are receiving Special Education, there are many who have not been officially "identified" and who tend to fall through the cracks. Only a small percentage of Spec Ed students can be eliminated from the list because of genetic causes. Yet even many of those excluded for genetic causes should be included because prenatal alcohol is a known mutagen.
These children are at high risk of ongoing problems throughout their life.
It is also an ongoing truth that the First Nations are the most generous and financially supportive of our mission.

July 22 to 24, 2007
Regina, SK

We were accommodated at the Ramada Inn in downtown Regina the night prior to the event. It is a lovely hotel with a negative attitude toward dogs. As we went to check out, they attempted to charge an extra $12 for Dutchess. After a pointed discussion they waived the fee. This is the first hotel that has tried to charge extra for a dog. This will be remembered.

We were hosted in Regina by David and Crystal Forsyth. They are birth, adoptive and foster parents to quite a brood of children with FASD issues. A wonderful family. Dave works as a corrections officer in a half-way house and is always on-call.

The event began with a Smudge Ceremony performed by an Elder. As part of the ceremony, several of us, inluding the RCMP representatives, built a ceremonial tree with tobacco tied into the corners of cloth squares of red, white, yellow, black and green, and the pieces attached to a tree branch. The small tree is to accompany us throughout our journey and be present at each event. We then shared a peace pipe. The ceremony was quite extensive and very moving. The elder had previously participated in a First Nations walk across North America from the Pacific to the Atlantic.

The two RCMP officers, dressed in the original red coat uniforms with white pith helmets, then led us through the park to the Legislature. Saskatchewan Energy provided the BBQ in the park across from the Legislature and the Minister of Health Promotion was among the guest speakers. The temperature was in the mid-thirties celsius but in spite of the heat, a great time was had by all.

July 25 to 26, 2007
North Battleford, SK

We drove to North Battleford and met Coleen Sabraw. She showed us the event site beside the old fort. The North Battleford Early Childhood Intervention group hosted us overnight in a lovely motel on the edge of town.

That evening a mother skunk visited our doorstep looking for food. She was quite relaxed as she browsed around the walkway and cars - her tail was down. Even the presence of other people did not particularly bother her and nobody became confrontational. :-) Apparently she has a small brood and the hotel has contracted a company to catch and release them. They have caught 3 babies so far but mom continues to elude them.

The event on the 26th included a walk from the Old Fort through the downtown area and back to the Fort for a BBQ, again hosted by Saskatchewan Energy. More speaches and again a great time was had by all.

July 26 to 27, 2007
Saskatoon, SK

On our drive back to Saskatoon we encounted the First Nations "Missing Sisters Walk" on the Trans Canada. The walk is to raise awareness of the number of First Nations girls and women who have disappeared and the lack of concerted official efforts to find them, compared to efforts made when a white woman goes missing. Saskatoon had a terrible reputation under the previous police chief and has replaced him with the former Chief from the Regina Police. Young natives were driven by police officers to remote areas in the outskirts of the city in sub-zero temperatures and dumped. Some died.

The native runners took turns carrying a symbolic staff. David and Casey ran with them while I used our van as a safety shield from traffic. They took several breaks but in all covered a significant distance with them on the ground. We joined them at their lunch break and talked about the issues. The father and sister of one of the missing girls were there. Their sister was a university student when she disappeared three years ago. We pledged our mutual support and as we were leaving they presented us with T-shirts of their walk.

We drove back to Saskatoon and stayed at Motel 6 as guests of the FASD Support Network of Saskatchewan. Lovely accommodations with an indoor salt water swimming pool.

Beverly Palabroda of the FASD Network was our host. The event was held on the 27th at the Saskatoon Zoo and Forestry Farm. On arrival we discovered that dogs were not permitted on the grounds. However, after a bit of fancy footwork and persuasion, (we were the guests of honour at an event that also included the Minister of Health Promotion) we were allowed to enter. The chosen location was in a hedged area known as the gazebo. As always, Dutchess was no problem and stuck close to us.

There were a number of guest speakers, including the Minister of Health Promotion and the Chief of Police for the City of Saskatoon. As he was leaving, the Chief of Police presented a Saskatoon Police ball cap to David. David wears it proudly. His next event was to meet with the Missing Sisters runners. I am certain he will be the change the runners are seeking.

The Minister of Health Promotion talked about a number of FASD initiatives they are supporting. I do hope some of their work makes it into Ontario.

As part of the events, we were presented with the Mentor Handbook: Working with Persons with FASD and other Cognitive Disabilities. It is a Saskatoon Supported Housing Project in Conjunction with the FASD Support Network of Saskatchewan. It was funded by the Saskatchewan Cognitive Disabilities Strategy, Province of Saskatchewan.

I was presented with the Métis sash and their blue and white flag by the Métis Nation. The Métis people are known for their finger woven sashes. The sash holds cultural distinction and pride. The sash does not only hold sentimental and cultural value to the Métis. It also served as a tumpline (scarf that holds heavy objects to the back), first aid kit, rope, clothing, wash cloth and towel, saddle blanket and the ends of the sash would also serve as an emergency sewing kit on trips. The flag with a white infinity symbol on a blue background, was flown on June 19th, 1816 at the Battle of Seven Oaks, under the leadership of Cuthbert Grant, who led a Métis brigade on the Assiniboine River and seized the company post at Brandon House. The yellow colour, which has been removed from the Manitoba sash, may appear in exceptional situations. Representing gold, it can be woven onto both sides of a sasha presented by the Métis community to an individual it wishes to honour. (The same system is being contemplated by the Métis National Council and if adopted would be known as the National Order of the Métis Sash.)

The sash presented to me includes the yellow colour. I am deeply honoured to have received it.

The black added to the new sash, represents the dark period after 1870 during which time the Metis were suppressed and dispossessed of their land by Canada. In the years that followed, Métis were beaten or shot on the streets of Winnipeg, and bounties placed on those who had collaborated with Louis Riel. Many Métis people moved west, north, east or south. Those who stayed behind were forced of their land and became squatters, living mostly on road allowances.

"Green signifies fertility, growth and prosperity for the Métis Nation. It means we must move forward and reclaim our rightful place in Canadian History."

Both the Eagle Feathers presented at Winnipeg and the Métis Sash presented at Saskatoon show the importance placed on this mission by both the First Nations and by the Métis peoples.

July 27 to 29, 2007
Thorsby, AB

Todd and Joyce Brown and their 4 children invited us to stay with them at their farm about 45 minutes southwest of Edmonton. When the Ride was originally scheduled to use horses on the route, Todd planned to join us for a few days. However, even without the horses we were welcomed guests and enjoyed our time with them. Todd took us raspberry picking in the bushes where he grazes his horses, while Joyce drove to town to pick up some freezies. Delicious. Todd's favourite horse is a Tennessee Walker. It has a very unusual gait and is extremely smooth to ride.

I also enjoyed an outing in Todd's horse wagon as he was training a new horse beside her experienced mother. We drove around several sections of land and as we returned the weather threatened to turn ugly. A large cloud had formed resembling three saucers vertically with a green core in the upper saucer - a tornado warning sign. Todd put away the horses while I watched the cloud for changes. They do have an underground tornado shelter. We had torrential rains but fortunately no tornado.

Todd is a firearms instructor and we thoroughly enjoyed discussing everything from FASD to politics, firearms legislation, etc. Our stay with the Browns was wonderful, relaxing and educational.

Todd also put me in touch with Const. Mark Wage of the Lethbridge Regional Police FASD Unit. We will be seeing him on our return trip through Lethbridge after the Calgary event.

July 31 to Aug 1, 2007
Edmonton, AB

Unknown to me until we arrived in Edmonton, both Casey and David had been corresponding on MSN with girls from Edmonton. They wanted to meet the girls face to face. Unfortunately, Erika, the girl David had been writing, was visiting New Zealand at the time. We did arrange for Casey and David meet Aidan at Aidan's home. They had a wonderful time and we arranged to take Aidan to the Royal Alberta Museum the second day. Casey and Aidan have totally fallen for each other. On our third and last day in Edmonton, the boys sneaked away from the event which was being held a few blocks from Aidan's home and spent the day at her home, with her parents. As they had not told me they were going (they thought I might say "no") I was concerned and annoyed when they finally showed up. They have both continued to drive me crazy trying to get me to change the itinerary so they can go back through Edmonton. Can't happen. Casey is glued to his cell phone in MSN conversations with Aidan and his other friends. Hmmm. I thought the trip would pry the boys loose from their electronics. :-)

With the change in our schedule from August 20th to August 1st in Edmonton, we were invited to share an already planned BBQ to thank workers and volunteers working with individuals with FASD. It was not an event planned for us. Beverly Allard and Magdelena Soric of the Bissell Centre, Well Community - Well Families, hosted us at Borden Park for lunch. It was a good afternoon with good food and great company. Many of the adults with FASD received awards for their progress, important symbols of success too often denied to those with FASD.

Aug 2 to Aug 4, 2007
Calgary, AB

We stayed in Calgary with old friends from Bright's Grove, Ontario - Emily and Jim Brown and their sons, William and Christopher. It was wonderful to renew and update. Emily and I had been Scouting leaders in Bright's Grove. She was a Beaver leader and I was a Cub and a Scout leader. Jim is the Kyoto/Environmental representative for Shell Oil. Emily also started the Therapy Dog program in Sarnia with their retriever, Duncan. I plan to have Dutchess participate in the program on our return to Sarnia.

Calgary has grown dramatically since I was last there. It is literally bursting at the seams but every company is having trouble finding enough people to work for them. There is a severe labour shortage. We hiked through Griffith's Woods Park along the Elbow River beside the Tsuu T'ina First Nation.

William was working in a new job at a department store and caught a shoplifter.

Jim and Emily took us to Calgary's Heritage Park, an operating reconstructed village from the late 1800's / early 1900's. What an extraordinary asset for a city. Emily, David and Casey bought the ride passes and took full advantage of them. The three days passed too quickly. The Calgary event is scheduled for our return trip on August 28th. I do hope representatives from Hobbema FN, Siksika FN, Tsuu T'ina and other local FN's will be able to attend too.

Aug 4 to 7, 2007
Donald Station, BC - Home to Steve Thomas, instigator of the Ride.

We drove through Banff and Lake Louise, AB on the long weekend. Both towns were packed with tourists and the campsites were full. We decided to see both places on our return trip when they might be less busy. We continued on through Field and Golden to Donald Station. Donald is about 20 km west of Golden. It has a post office but no stores.

We stayed with Steve and his house guest, Jeff, for several days. As always, Steve was a gourment cook. The boys were each taken on a trail ride through rugged mountain terrain and learned a great deal about horses. We also enjoyed an evening wagon ride through the fields with Steve's Belgian horses. Steve provides wagon rides in the winter at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort.

While driving on a country road at dusk, a white tail deer ran across the road, barely missing the van. In spite of watching carefully for deer and driving slowly, it happened without warning and in an instant. Another night my spotlight picked up two deer grazing in a field beside the road. The boys went for a walk with Jeff along the mountain trail and encountered more deer and a mother Black bear with two cubs. The cubs scampered up a tree and everybody kept a healthy distance.

It is unfortunate that money and circumstances have prevented Steve from continuing the Ride in BC. After all, the Ride happened because of Steve. It was his vision and determination that made it happen in the first place. We will be visiting again on our return trip.

Aug 7 to Aug 9, 2007
Glacier National Park, BC

We climbed through the Rockies to the Rogers Pass where a sign claims the elevation is 1330 metres above sea level. Our GPS shows the elevation to be 1343 metres based on 12 satelites. Fuel at the Rogers Pass station was $1.31/litre compared to $1.11 in Revelstoke.
At the Glacier National Park Welcome Centre at the height of the Rogers Pass, we were provided a campsite at no charge, again because of the importance they place on our mission. We spent two delightful days camped beside a glacier fed creek at Illecillewaet's Brooks Loop campsite. It is a historic site with the remains of huge stone pillars that were used to hold railway tracks that ran in a figure eight loop to help trains climb the Rogers Pass. The surrounding trails were beautiful.

On the first morning a vehicle accident to the west of us had knocked out the power for the entire park. We drove to Revelstoke to get supplies and look around. On August 9th we drove to Mount Revelstoke National Park and took the 26 km road toward the summit. The final path is a 1 or 2 km climb to the fire tower lookout (a choice of paths depending on your physical abilities). We climbed through alpine meadows and passed small lakes and pools. The view from the fire tower was truly magnificent in all directions.

Aug 9 to 12, 2007
Sicamous, BC

Prior to the beginning of the journey, I was contacted by Rob Himmelspach, owner of Hill Billy Jack's in Sicamous, BC and offered a generous donation of T-shirts for the Ride. I sent a package of our transfers to be printed onto the shirts.

When I called to arrange to pick up the T-shirts on the way through, Rob invited us to stay on their Cedarview Acres farm, in their bunkhouse until our next event in Kamloops. In addition to caring for their own horses, they provide board for many other local horses. What a beautiful setting and a wonderful family. Rob and Peggy along with their children Jolene and Billy and Australian shepherd Hawkeye have made us at home. The bunkhouse is beside a paddock where we are welcomed in the morning by their horses. It is truly an idylic location.

In the morning, Rob and I went to his shop where he runs both his T-shirt printing and embroidery business and Blue Rock Electric. He has been in the electrician business for many years. His expansion into the graphics production business has been fun and rewarding. He sells through the Internet as well as to many corporate clients he has done electrical business with over the years.

One evening after dinner Rob took us to the mountain lookout overlooking Sicamous. Again the scenery is magnificent. Much photography. Peggy took the kids swimming and the next day we went to play miniature golf and test the D Dutchmen Dairy Ice Cream outlet and zoo. Sicamous has a small year-around population that swells dramatically in the summer. Alberta oil money has driven property prices through the roof.

As I write, it is August 12th and we must move on to Kamloops for our event tomorrow.