ARTS & CULTURE | Love and Discord in the Second Worst City in Canada

By Margaret-Anne Enders —

Back in May, Williams Lake was designated by MoneySense magazine as the second worst city in Canada in which to live. This is not the first time Williams Lake has made the list, so it may seem like old news, but I still get riled up about it for a few different reasons.

First, the criteria they use is narrow. The designation is based on the following criteria: “high unemployment, low average household income, negative population growth rates, a dismal culture industry, and, for the most part, high crime.” The beautiful surroundings are not given a mention, nor does it talk about our fantastic, world-class mountain-biking trails. The article doesn’t mention that there are rivers and lakes and wilderness camping within an hour in all directions. It doesn’t say that commuting time is 15 minutes maximum from one side of the city to the other and that we don’t even know the meaning of the words “rush hour.” It doesn’t mention that you can buy a house in Williams Lake for less than in other urban centres. It certainly doesn’t mention the number of people who move here just intending to stay for a short while and end up putting down roots because it is a great place to raise children.

Second, how the criteria is evaluated is either erroneous or uninformed. The crime rate is one of the big factors most often quoted—and is most often quoted erroneously by looking at per capita crime, which includes only city residents, instead of the wider region that Williams Lake services. Of course, there is crime and there are victims of crime, but the stats make Williams Lake sound like a very unsafe place to live, and that, for most people, is not the case.

And a dismal culture industry? Williams Lake has a thriving and vibrant culture scene: the Studio Theatre, Performances in the Park, the Art Walk, the Women’s Spirituality Circle gatherings, and the new and popular Safety Meetings are just some Williams Lake’s amazing offerings. In the short span of five weeks, Boitanio Park was the setting for the Children’s Festival, National Aboriginal Day, Small Town Love, and Canada Day, as well as the weekly Farmers’ Market. There are countless local bands, some of whom are world-famous, and the Youth Fiddle Society has more than 40 members. Sometimes, I don’t go to events just because there are so many things happening, I need a day to stay at home and relax. However, when I do attend, what stands out for me is the appreciation people feel for having such talent and opportunities in our community. There is a sense of connection to other people and to this place we call home.

The third reason this list gets my goat is that it doesn’t even mention one of the biggest issues that actually does matter and is a huge problem for the community of Williams Lake. If the article had said that Williams Lake is an unappealing place to live because of the high level of racism, then I could agree with that. It is a real problem in our city—and indeed our country. Some of us, those with white skin, often don’t realize that there is such a level of racism, as we don’t experience it, and we believe we don’t practise it. We are sadly mistaken. It can take some awareness education and some brave soul-searching to see how we contribute to the stories and structures that keep assumptions alive and inequalities in place.

The final report on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been released and many recommendations have been given. These recommendations matter. We, as a people, can urge our governments to act on these recommendations. We can make it an election issue. We, as individuals, can take steps on our own journeys towards reconciliation. In our area, we have some note-worthy guides: Chief Roger William and former chief Marilyn Baptiste, both of the Xeni Gwet’in people, internationally recognized and successful in leading their people in legal battles to have the title to their land recognized and upheld; Bev Sellars, former chief of Xat’sull First Nation, noted researcher, and author of the award-winning They Called Me Number One; and Chief Ann Louie of T’exelc – Williams Lake Indian Band and Chief Donna Dixon of Xat’sull First Nation who continue to keep the pressure on the government regarding the Mt. Polley tailings breach and clean-up.

However, guides can only do so much. People have to learn to listen, to follow, and sit with the discomfort that comes from giving up some control. There are no easy answers to the complex problems that exist because of the injustices of the past, but having the desire to set things right with an attitude of respect is a good first step. Other ideas include attending Orange Shirt Day activities, going to a pow-wow, learning basic greetings in Secwepemc and Tsilhq’otin, and learning about the effects of residential schools.

In terms of countering racism in general, we can make our own community welcoming towards newcomers. We can recognize the skills, intelligence, and inherent worth of those who have ended up in Canada, either by choice or by chance. We can challenge our own assumptions about who belongs here and who doesn’t. We can remember that Canada is home to people of all skin colours and ethnicities.

When communities are reduced to statistics and relegated to a spot on a list, there is so much that gets missed in the gloss. Williams Lake is a place of connection. Connection to nature. Connection to the arts. Connection to each other in community. It is also a place where connection is broken and where hurts and injustices based on race continue to grow. Right now we are at the cusp of a period of growth and change. What future will our community choose? Where on “the list” do we want to be and how will we work to get there? I, for one, want to live in a city known for its natural beauty, its appreciation of diversity, and for the kindness of its people.

 

In her work with the Multicultural Program at Cariboo Mental Health Association, as well as in her life as a parent, partner, faithful seeker, left-leaning Christian, paddler and gardener, Margaret-Anne Enders is thrilled to catch glimpses of the Divine in both the ordinary and the extraordinary. To find out more about the Women’s Spirituality Circle, call her at (250) 305-4426 or visit www.womenspiritualitycircle.wordpress.com or on Facebook at Women’s Spirituality Circle in Williams Lake.

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