|Slave Lake on fire, May 16 2011 Courtesy L Ramsey|
When you live in a rural northern community, you’re vulnerable. You’re vulnerable to fires and floods and insects. You’re vulnerable to the unpredictable weather, the vagaries of the economy, the transient nature of your friendships as people come and go. Sometimes you’re trapped by highway closures. And you put up with these things, because that’s what it means to live in the north. You put up with unreliable internet, limited public transportation, bad roads and the increased likelihood of highway accidents, few restaurants, limited cultural opportunities. You watch your kids go away to school because that’s where the universities are. And you put up with these things, because you’re a northerner. You’re strong. You don’t complain. When there’s nothing to do, you make your own fun. When there aren’t good restaurants, you learn how to cook. When you need something, you ask for help-even from total strangers. You use your ingenuity to overcome the roadblocks that nature and geography has thrown in your way. And even though you work as hard or maybe harder than your urban southern neighbours and you don’t get the same benefits from your tax dollar as they do, you put up with your challenges because you’re a northerner. That’s what you do.
|Courtesy Nik Neville|
But after a while it starts to wear on you. You discover that your hospital no longer has an anesthesiologist or a surgeon, and you get a bit worried. When you learn that young women who are expecting their first child have to go to Edmonton to give birth, and their families have to take days off work and stay in hotel so they can be with them, that doesn’t seem right. And then your government decides the medevac centre needs to be moved further from the city hospital, adding crucial time to emergency transport, that kind of gets under your skin. And when you find out your town is losing its air ambulance “to serve you better” and they’re moving your own air ambulance to a the city where no one uses an air ambulance because they actually live where the hospitals are and now the time to hospital is at least another hour, well- that just kind of makes you mad.
So you do what your social studies teacher told you. You contact people. You call your MLA but she doesn’t return your message. You contact the Minister of Health and you don’t hear back. You talk to opposition MLAs- still nothing. You find out your local government hasn’t been consulted and they are calling for a face to face meeting, and nothing is done. You talk to Alberta Health Services and they stick to their talking points that “this is better for all Albertans”. So you start a petition and within a week, 1200 people have signed it. Many of these people have their own stories about how their lives were saved by air ambulance. They’re mad. They contact their politicians. But no one answers their pleas.
So what do you do? You rely on your northern ingenuity. You rally. You stick together. You fight for what you deserve. Because you’re northerners. And that’s what you do.