Katherine Gilks, Projects Coordinator
Happy New Year! Welcome to 2020.
As customary around this time of year, especially when the decade number changes, we are currently flooded with articles about "how things have changed" and reflecting on the recent past. On a personal note, we get Christmas letters (or social media compilations) from friends and loved ones that give us highlights about what they have done since the previous Christmas.
In that vein, Heritage Saskatchewan has had a very good year. We are celebrating our tenth anniversary - this time ten years ago, we were but a wee baby organisation that had not yet had its first Annual General Meeting and our current staff team had not yet come together. To see some of the many highlights of our first decade of existence, check out other pages on our website: our research projects, our flagships Heritage Fairs and Heritage Awards, our Living Heritage projects, and the Saskatchewan Index of Wellbeing, among others. The Saskatchewan Index of Wellbeing won an award from the National Trust for Canada in October 2019, for which we are very proud, but the work surrouding it is just beginning. Stay tuned for more updates!
Now, on to 2020. Also customary around this time of year is making resolutions for the future. Perhaps we resolve to live a healthier lifestyle or be more attentive to our friends. Perhaps we resolve to take up a new hobby, skill, or trade. Perhaps we resolve to change our habits. There are even some who resolve to make drastic life changes. (I will never forget reading a book in middle school about a young man who decided to send out his wedding invitations on January 1 for the following December 31 - only with a question mark for the bride's name. This is not a recommended New Year's resolution.)
As my colleague Kristin Catherwood described in our previous blogpost, our work at Heritage Saskatchewan going forward will be grounded in the Truth & Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action (TRC), the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), and UNESCO's 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
Some of the Sustainable Development Goals are presented in a form that may seem lofty and unachievable, but there is no point in saying "less poverty" and "less hunger". We want "zero poverty" and "zero hunger". We need to aim for these things - as a popular inspirational quote says: "Shoot for the moon and you will land among the stars." However, most of the Goals are iterated in a relatable fashion: "reduced inequalities"; "affordable and clean energy"; "responsible consumption and production"; etc.
Saskatchewan is a province that struggles with the concept of climate change (let alone "climate action", another Sustainable Development Goal) and how it will affect our heritage. Our oil and gas industries have kept small communities out of poverty and allowed our economy to flourish. We need vehicles to transport us the long distances between our communities (as well as an infrastructure to support these vehicles). Air travel is essential to our more remote regions, not to mention highly important to all of us for business, visiting family, or exploring other places in the world. We need to heat our homes during our long, cold winters. We need heavy equipment to run our agricultural industry, which is still our flagship industry at the core of our provincial identity. "How are we going to survive the winter?" is always our first question.
From personal experience, taking action to live more sustainably is difficult. For example, I have grown very accustomed to plastic bags, to the point that paying a few extra cents for them at the grocery store has just become part of the bill. Reusable bags are more expensive and I have to train myself to bring them to the store with me. (This is one of my New Year's resolutions.) In general, reusable items are more expensive at the outset, such as $25 for a pack of cloth paper-towel alternatives, even if they are less expensive over time. This can make the first switch seem prohibitive for many.
But the key is managing our expectations and habits. Changing our shopping habits is more difficult than the cost of reusable bags, as I mentioned above. For at least two generations, plastic has equalled cleanliness in our minds. We have become accustomed to our plastic straws (so that we do not have to drink from a glass that someone else has used, even though it has been washed) and our plastic-wrapped food. Our shiny new products come covered in plastic so that there is nary a dust speck on them when we take them out of the box.
In doing my Christmas grocery shopping, I picked up a bundle of carrots that were still lightly coated in soil. I found myself staring at them, thinking "why do I feel the need to cover these in a plastic bag?" My ancestors would have tossed them into their basket without a second thought to the dirt until they were ready to prepare the carrots for cooking. My 21st-century expectations of what is considered clean was making me hesitant.
Many of us look nostalgically to the past when our grandparents or great-grandparents lived more simply and more sustainably than we currently do. While we conveniently forget how quick most of them (and us) were to adopt plastic and styrofoam and gasoline-powered cars, looking to the past can remind us that we can indeed live a more balanced and sustainable lifestyle. We do not have to go back to the past and give up all modern conveniences (some of which are actually necessities, like medicine), but we need to figure out what habits we can change. We can figure out how to integrate sustainable development into our lives. We can innovate while still keeping in mind that we need to survive the winter.
As we enter a new decade, sustainability is becoming ever increasingly important. UNESCO's Sustainable Development Goals are not aimed at destroying economies, but are about adapting to balance the needs of the planet and the needs of other peoples with our own. A synonym for "heritage" is "inheritance" - what is it that we want our grandchildren, our neighbours' grandchildren, and future generations to inherit from us? Which habits can we resolve to adopt so that our children and grandchildren follow sustainable behaviours without hesitation?