“Education is the New Buffalo”



It is after 4:00pm, February 22nd of the year twenty-nineteen, which was the last moment of the Sustainable Cities program in Calgary, Alberta. As I reflect on our experiences during the program, I realize that I have made new friends and feel more included in my university community. I am very grateful for the opportunity to be involved in the activities organized by the leadership team, including Andrew Barry, Tyler Warnock, and Kelly Kay Spurlock of the Leadership and Student Engagement Office at the University of Calgary.

One of our experiences that resonated with most if not all of our group was the presentation by Cree and Métis Elder Kerrie Moore in the Native Centre.  As she spoke of emotional healing of the spiritual, emotional, physical, and cognitive self, we found ourselves calm and perhaps deeply connected to our truest spiritual selves. As I looked around the room, I saw nods of acknowledgement and appreciation for her profound wisdom and knowledge, particularly when she spoke to each of our identities as being colonized at some point in history.  In terms of social sustainability, this experience helped illuminate the issue of empowering persons experiencing deep emotional trauma, such as the Indigenous-Canadian population. It seems that they are best supported with appropriate emotional therapy and sensitivity.  Elder Moore also spoke about the importance of earth-based learning and teaching in reconnecting peoples with their most healthy and intuitive spiritual selves, in order to build more robust and loving communities.

A certain activity we did with Stephanie from CAWST helped to build our group community through brainstorming social, economic, and environmental solutions for prevalent global issues.  This was also one of my favourite activities throughout the week, since we worked so well in our sub-groups to develop three unique, thorough civic engagement solutions.  Each sub-group was tasked with illustrating their social, economic, or environmental portion of a holistic solution and each other group helped in building the whole picture.  As a small community, I believe our teamwork and feelings of connectedness really increased with this activity.

Additionally, our volunteer experience at the Calgary Food Bank clearly highlighted our strong ability to work as a team and our like-minded thinking.  Although we didn’t like the abundance of plastic packaging used by the Calgary Food Bank, we worked efficiently in our two groups of six to sort assorted food donations into packages and distribute 4000 pounds of potatoes into individual bags.  Perhaps we were left with some unanswered questions about the operations of the Food Bank, however this encourages us to think about how the social, economic, and environmental sustainability related to our experience.

Our week challenged us to think of issues faced by marginalized groups such as those with physical accessibility needs, Indigenous persons, persons burdened by lower socioeconomic status, and populations around the world with limited access to the basic needs of safety, sanitation, and preliminary education.  During one of our last reflections, we identified that the location of the Food Bank in relation to the rest of our city could be a barrier to accessing its resources by people who rely on those services.  Our tour of the East Village, and our week travelling by transit and walking, helped to inform our opinion that the Food Bank is just too far away from hubs of activity and rather specific in its proximity to public transit to effectively facilitate increased social capital. As participants in this university program, and citizens experiencing Calgary’s triple bottom line of social, economic, and environmental sustainability, we are now better acquainted with the impact of our own lifestyles and privilege, and are more aware of opportunities to contribute to our communities in a good way.

-Amanda Chau

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