Vonnie Lavers, Green Party Candidate

Vonnie Lavers, Green Party Candidate for Boundary-Similkameen
Vonnie Lavers, Green Party Candidate for Boundary-Similkameen

When Green Party candidate Vonnie Lavers said she once worked as an executive assistant to the president of Syncrude Canada, I needed to mentally pause. This didn’t align easily with my perception of her party. Aren’t Green and Syncrude as incompatible as oil and water?

In a wide ranging conversation in the sun room of our home in Hedley, Vonnie talked freely about her life, beginning with the early years in Port Saunders, a small community in Newfoundland. We would learn that although she is committed to the preservation of our environment, life experience has alerted her to a variety of additional societal challenges. “We lived in poverty the first 8 years of my life,” she said in answer to my question. “I was the second oldest of 8 children. My parents are Metis and I’m also Metis. I did housework, picked berries, helped bake fruit pies, cleaned fish. We ate moose, bear, rabbits, fish, plants and berries.” Her early experiences gave her an appreciation for the role a healthy environment plays in sustaining all life. “We need to think about the future of our children.”

We began to see Vonnie’s grit and capacity to be proactive when she spoke of her time in a trades and technology college after high school. “I received a phone call from my parents one day,” she recalled. “They said I’d have to quit my studies. There wasn’t money to pay the $35 a week room and board. I had worked and had enough hours for EI, but being in school made me ineligible.”

She reflected for a moment, then smiled. “I sat on the doorstep of MP John Crosbie’s office 3 days. I guess he decided I wasn’t going away so he invited me in. After hearing me out, he arranged for me and other students to collect EI. That took away a lot of anxiety.”

After completing her courses, she managed a summer government work project. When she overheard 2 men talking about opportunities in Fort McMurray, she told her mother she’d like to go there to work. The response was, “we’ll have to see what Dad says.” Undeterred, Vonnie replied, “you’d better persuade him because I’m going.”

The move to Alberta would be important in her education outside the classroom. She would grow further in her understanding of the complex issues every society must contend with.

In Fort McMurray her college training and work experience persuaded John Lynn, president of Syncrude, to hire her as an assistant. During these years she witnessed the prospering of Syncrude when oil prices rose, and also the difficult times when prices declined sharply. She recalls seeing a bumper sticker saying, “please God, let there be another boom. I promise not to pee it away this time.”

The years at Syncrude gave her an understanding of the role natural resources play in providing good jobs. Extensive travel and reading alerted her to the need to ensure our environment is not overly exploited. “Even the Saudis are diversifying, moving into renewable energy. We need to allocate more funds for research and the development of alternative sources. There are good job and business prospects in this.”

She’s still enthusiastic about an opportunity she was given at Syncrude to make a positive contribution outside the corporate offices. A committee she chaired donated $3 million annually, primarily to child related programs and the arts.

Growing up with 6 sisters and a brother gave Vonnie a keen appreciation for family. “Our entire society is based on family,” she observed. “It’s important we sit down together for supper. We also need to be connected outside the family. We can’t just be taking all the time. We have to give back. Family and friends support us in the valleys of life.”

The president of Syncrude became her mentor and encouraged her to prepare for further accomplishments. At age 28 she enrolled in Mount Royal College in Alberta. Since then work, community involvements and business ventures have broadened her perspective. She can speak knowledgeably about Portugal’s response to drug and mental health issues, depletion of wild life in Zimbabwe or an apartment building in New York where at Thanksgiving the tenants come together around long tables in the hallway for a potluck meal.

Vonnie has an offer on her Kelowna home and plans to move to the Boundary/Similkameen constituency. This Green candidate is about much more than just the environment.

Green Party Candidate Vonnie Lavers with Dave Cursons, Campaign Manager
Green Party Candidate Vonnie Lavers with Dave Cursons, Campaign Manager

Poundmaker, A Role Model For Today’s Politicians

This painting of Chief Poundmaker was created by Richard Lindemere, grandfather of Hedley's Bill Day
This painting of Chief Poundmaker was created by Richard Lindemere, grandfather of Hedley’s Bill Day

In this 150th year of Canadian nationhood, our politicians could benefit from an examination of the life of Poundmaker, the Saskatchewan Cree chief. He lived during a time when his people were in great distress and turmoil. White settlers were invading the prairies and pushing his people off their land. The immense buffalo herds on which they depended for their livelihood were being hunted relentlessly. Government treaties were forcing them onto reserves and restricting their movements.

Born in 1842, Poundmaker was the son of a Stoney father and a mixed blood mother. His uncle was an influential chief of the Eagle Hills Cree. Later he was adopted by Crowfoot, chief of the Blackfeet, and lived there for a time before returning to his people.

He was endowed with leadership ability and probably learned a lot from Crowfoot. Robert Jefferson, farm instructor on the Poundmaker Reserve said later, “his bearing was eminently dignified and his speech so well adapted to the occasion as to impress every hearer with his earnestness and his views.”

In 1876 the Indians of Central Saskatchewan negotiated a treaty with the government of Canada. As a member of the negotiating team, Poundmaker sought to obtain the most beneficial deal for his people. His discerning mind questioned the intent of the government and he expressed his concern. He wanted the government to provide his people with instruction in farming and assistance after the buffalo were gone, in exchange for their land. The government did not promise this and he said, “I cannot understand how I shall be able to clothe my children and feed them as long as the sun shines and the water runs.”

He was made a chief and in 1879 he accepted a reserve. He moved there with 182 followers.

For a time the government did provide food, but in 1883 the rations were reduced. It was rumoured that the rations would soon be eliminated entirely and the people left to starve.

The winter of 1883-84 was extremely severe and Indian agents complained that many people would not live until spring if the government didn’t provide more provisions. The government ignored these pleas and Poundmaker’s young men became restless. Young Crees and Stoneys, as well as Metis, began assembling on the Poundmaker reserve. They set up a warriors lodge in the centre of the camp and thereby, in accordance with tradition, took over decision making. Approximately 1000 people gathered and participated in a Thirst Dance.

The government sent a column of 325 men to arrest a band member. Poundmaker declined to give the man up, and offered himself instead. This was refused and government forces attacked Poundmaker’s camp at Cut Knife Hill. After a 7 hour battle they retreated in disarray. The warriors wanted to pursue them and could have dealt them a serious blow. Poundmaker was still greatly respected by the young men and when he counseled against further bloodshed, they listened.

At the same time, the Metis were in armed opposition to the government. When a group of them captured a government supply train Poundmaker intervened, ensuring they were protected and well treated.

After Louis Riel was defeated at Batoche in 1885, many of Poundmaker’s men wanted to continue the fight but he understood the futility of this. At a gathering of the band, he said, “ I know we are all brave. If we keep on fighting the whites, we can embarrass them, but we will be overcome by their numbers, and nothing tells us that our children will survive. I would sooner give myself up and run the risk of being hanged, than see my tribe and children shot through my fault.”

He and some followers gave themselves up and were immediately arrested. Poundmaker was put on trial for treason. The men he had saved from the Metis testified he had treated them generously and with compassion. Even so, he was sentenced to 3 years in Stony Mountain prison. Due to fear of a full blown revolt if he died in prison, he was released early. In ill health, he departed broken and dispirited, feeling betrayed by the government. While visiting Chief Crowfoot, he died while participating in a dance.

Poundmaker was a man of great honour and dignity. He was guided by a selfless desire to secure a good life for his people. Our nation would benefit if more politicians observed his honourable example.

Inspired By Hardy Cyclists

Cyclists At Manning Park
Cyclists At Manning Park

On the drive home from the Coast yesterday, we passed a lone cyclist struggling up a long incline. I thought of stopping and asking about his motivation, but I realized he wouldn’t want to lose his momentum. I really do admire and respect these seemingly intrepid souls who test their physical endurance and inner will by challenging British Columbia’s mountains. Sometimes I think I’d like to join them but I realize I’d need to train for at least a year and even then would walk up some of those climbs.

It’s that time of year. We’ll be seeing hardy cyclists again, in increasing numbers, making the arduous climbs. Then applying brakes on the long descents.

When we arrived at the the Manning Park Lodge, 3 young, very fit cyclists were taking a break. I asked one how far they had come and where they were going. “We came from Hope this morning,” he said. “It took about 3 hours. We’ll be getting back on the bikes shortly and returning.”

I was amazed. He wasn’t breathing hard and didn’t appear weary. He exuded enthusiasm and a physical zip I haven’t experienced for decades. I noted that there did not appear to be an ounce of fat on these young men. Obviously they are in the prime of life and enjoying their health and youth.

I could have been envious of these cyclists but I decided instead to be happy for them.

He Is Risen!

The Empty Tomb (pinterest photo)
The Empty Tomb
(pinterest photo)

In his 30th year, Jesus of Nazareth began propounding religious and social ideas that confounded and antagonized the Jewish religious elites of his time. He arrived on the scene during the reign of Caesar Augustus, and lived into the rule of Tiberius. Without an army or political party, his message brought more significant, lasting change than all the powerful Roman emperors combined. In the 33rd year of his life, the Jewish religious authorities succeeded in persuading Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, to crucify him. According to accounts by Biblical writers like the former tax collector Matthew, he was resurrected on the third day and spoke with his disciples. It is this death on a cross and miraculous resurrection that will be celebrated by Christians around the globe this Easter.

The Roman empire had been cobbled together by 2 ambitious but uneasy partners, Caesar Augustus and Mark Anthony. Throughout its existence, the empire was held together by a web of intrigue, assassinations, political marriages, betrayals, poisonings, and war. Women were valued primarily for forging alliances. In Rome there were numerous temples to various gods, and men of nobility, including emperors, wished to be identified as near gods. Conquered nations usually suffered under a huge burden of taxation. Disobedience was often dealt with by crucifixion, beheading, poisoning or drowning.

In this septic atmosphere of mistrust and scheming, the Jewish religious leaders had managed to acquire a measure of political power. Their authority was lodged in the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council. The council consisted primarily of 2 parties, the Sadducees, which at this time held the majority of seats, and the Pharisees. The Pharisees believed there would be a resurrection of the dead but the Sadducees did not. On other points of lesser importance they did agree and had developed an all encompassing system of religious rules which the people found virtually impossible to follow. The religious rulers could bar people from the temple if they didn’t comply. Since Jewish culture centered on religious traditions and especially on the temple, there was fear of being shut out.

It was not an auspicious time for the appearance of a man who claimed to be the Son of God. The Sadducees and Pharisees quickly became suspicious because he contradicted much of their teaching. They held to the “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” philosophy. “Love your neighbour,” they said, “and hate your enemy.” Jesus urged the people to “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.” The chief priests and teachers of the law deemed his teaching to be heretical and sent spies to question him and report to them.

Jesus warned against the corruptness and false piety of the religious leaders. “They like to walk around in flowing robes,” he said, “and be greeted in the market places and have the most important seats in the synagogues. For a show they make lengthy prayers.”

Equally galling were the miracles. When he healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath, they accused him of breaking the law and began plotting to kill him.

Evidently the people were desperate for greater substance than the rules and platitudes offered by the pious, corrupt religious leaders. Crowds gathered around him, sensing his authenticity

and liking his positive message of forgiveness and hope. This fervent adulation aroused fear and jealousy in the Sadducees and Pharisees. When he brought Lazarus back from the dead, a member of the Sanhedrin said, “if we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away our place and our nation.”

Late one night, Judas Iscariot, one of the 12 disciples betrayed Jesus with a kiss in the Garden of Gethsemane. At dawn the religious leaders brought him before Pontius Pilate, demanding he be crucified. Jesus had warned his disciples this would happen.

Reluctantly, Pilate sentenced him and he was crucified between 2 criminals. One joined the scoffing. The other said, “Lord remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus replied, “today you will be with me in paradise.”

Several writers in the Biblical New Testament report that Jesus died on the cross, was placed in a tomb, and was resurrected 3 days later. This Easter, Christians around the globe will again greet each other with “He is risen!”