Global Protests a Dangerous Spark in Oil Country
by Benjamin Hollihan
There were 150,000 in Montreal, 20,000 in Berlin, 10,000 in Lausanne, and 500 in Edmonton. A total of 1.4 million youth across 123 countries absent from the classroom. As a general rule of thumb, many parents do not condone truancy. Skipping school only hurts a student’s future. But what if the student believes that the only way to save their future is to sabotage their present?
On Friday, March 15, a larger number of desks than usual sat empty; a significantly larger amount, as students from across the world took to the streets as part of the global #FridaysforFuture movement, started by 16-year-old Nobel Peace Prize nominee Greta Thunberg. In an inspiring display of the youth taking the future into their hands, the world took notice (if only for moment), an incredible feat in the time of hyper news cycles.
Despite all the fervour, excitement, and empowerment many other youths across the world seemed to feel as they took the future into their own hand, Edmonton did not feel the global repercussions. We live in a city with a population of about 900,000. According to the 2016 City Census, 82,000 people are ages 15-24, the target demographic for these compendious demonstrations. The turnout in the legislature? A decidedly pale 500 when compared with the rest of the world. Was it mere apathy and differing beliefs that kept students from attending, or was an external factor what caused the event’s local anonymity?
Where were the MacEwan #FridaysforFuture protests? The issue may not lie with the student themselves, but rather their cultural environments and the school’s policies, said AJ Trussler, a MacEwan student who attended the protest. When initially hearing about the movement, AJ said they had assumed- because of Edmonton’s and Alberta’s culture around oil- that there would not even be an offshoot of the protest happening here. “I think that one of the major factors that kept our protest from achieving wider success was simply the fact that we live in a city where many young people probably share their parents’ conservative views,” said Trussler. Trussler’s pronounced opinion on Alberta’s hegemony may ring true for many students attending the oft-liberal MacEwan. “We know the kind of people and corporations that we are living under, and we know our neighbours.”
The spare coverage at MacEwan may also have also left a gap in awareness in the student body. “None. I didn’t see anything at all actually,” said Trussler, who discussed attendance policies and heavy workloads as potential major barriers for MacEwan students getting out of the classroom: “students are afraid to skip, because they don’t want to fail just because they were already sick twice this semester.” The Office of Sustainability at MacEwan may seem like the perfect avenue for which protests like this can be supported, but Kerstyn Lane, Engagement and Outreach Advisor for the Office of Sustainability, says that the Office is put into a sensitive position by being part of a publicly funded institution.
Being an environmental office of a liberal public institution in an oil-heavy province can lead to being squeezed politically and financially, said Lane. Students like Trussler seeing absolutely no coverage at MacEwan was deliberate and had several reasons behind it. “As a nonpartisan unit, part of a post-secondary institution, we have zero role to play in organizing protests against government, businesses, or other organizations,” said Lane. “Oil production is diametrically opposed to climate action, and with public climate institutions, we rely on funding from major donors, and those donors may or may not have investments in oil.” There is a clear conflict of values and finances occurring at the Office. And, according to Lane, the protest wasn’t a total failure. “The turnout for that strike is probably 25 times the size of what they used to be. When I looked at the Instagram stories and posts, all I could think was ‘look how many people are there.’”
To a student who helped organize it, the protest was a total success. Caylie Ganam, a Victoria School student, helped organize the protest with Student Strike YEG. “Every single person there was so passionate about being there, and they all cared so much.” What was the difference between MacEwan students and Victoria High School students? Support. “They made it understood that although they could not publicly endorse it, that no one was going to be in trouble. They gave us the freedom to support something that we believed in.”
Change happens from within, but this change may not be something Alberta is ready for yet. As long as institutions within Alberta are funded by oil money, the protests will always be a partisan issue. To Ganam, there is only so long that Alberta can ignore the momentum of a global change, even if it may seem small now. “We are making our mark, no matter how small, and that is what I think is important.”
Overcoming Artistic Barriers Through Self-Action: ᐋᒋᒧᐃᐧᐣ – Acimowin
Two Edmonton artists are hoping to create equal representation for Indigenous artists through the best way they know how: doing it themselves. Marcus Thunder and Allysa Pierre are the curators of an Indigenous art show happening in Edmonton entitled ᐋᒋᒧᐃᐧᐣ – Âcimowin. Âcimowin (pronounced “a-chi-mO-win”), which according to the two means ‘story’ in Cree, is an attempt to encapsulate the intentionally theme-less show.
Pierre went in-depth to describe the process of naming the event. “We were trying to find something that would tie a bunch of works of art together, and what we figured when we were first starting off with the show was not to have a theme, because having a theme creates barriers, which is the opposite of what we wanted to do with this. Story just kind of grouped everything together an umbrella term for it, because we are creating a story for the art through what we’re doing.”
At the last show Pierre curated, the two noticed a severe lack of Indigenous representation, and felt a responsibility to further the destruction of barriers in the art world by calling upon Indigenous artists to create a representative show with them.
Thunder discussed the underrepresentation within Edmonton’s arts community. “I think it’s important because being an Indigenous person, I’ve never really seen an art show that is exclusive to Indigenous artists.”
Pierre elaborated on the significance of Thunder’s idea. “It kind of came to our attention that there isn’t a lot of Indigenous representation at shows that we have been to or been a part of, that’s kind of what brought us to this. There are so many Indigenous artists in Edmonton itself, all over Canada, all over the world, but for some reason people aren’t doing the work to have them equally represented. The show could’ve happened a really long time ago by somebody else, but it hasn’t. Working to make more events inclusive like this because inclusivity isn’t a one time deal, it’s something that should work towards constantly, until it becomes the norm. Because if it’s not, then what are we doing?”
What are Thunder and Pierre aiming for in the long run? Thunder said they hope to “inspire more local artists to put their work out there,” to take the risk regardless of the exclusive atmosphere living in a “pretty conservative city” can put on an artistic scene. Thunder went on: “[Indigenous peoples] already face a lot of barriers in this society, so I would just hope to inspire more Indigenous artists to get out there and work hard.”
The event, which includes music, film, photography, painting, starts at 6:30 p.m. on this Saturday, Jan. 26. It is being held at Coral Plaza, 6768 99 Street, $15 admission. Tickets can be purchased from their Eventbrite page, or at the door (cash only).
The SMHeartCard: An ambulance in your pocket
The SMHeartCard (pronounced like “smart card”) is a new, portable method of carrying around medication to be used in the event of cardiac chest pain and heart attack. It is essentially what an EpiPen is to anaphylactic shock. Colin Blais, a nursing student at MacEwan, is working with the card’s creators James Stewart and John Mackey to raise awareness about the medication and get the SMHeartCard out to people to save lives. The tiny red card holds four pills of aspirin and three of nitroglycerin.
“It’s like an ambulance in your pocket. It’s basically what paramedics will give you when they arrive, the only thing missing is the heart monitor,” said Blais.
Mackey gave some background on the card: In December 2017, Stewart and Mackey were both faced with a similar problem: they “had family members at risk of heart attack, but who had no accessible medication to carry around with them.”
So the two began research and development on a portable form of nitroglycerin. It had to be stable at body heat temperatures, and resistant to breaking down from jostling. Eventually, a product was designed, developed, and patented. There was only one step left in their process: to test it. They got Neal M. Davies, the University of Alberta Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences Dean, on board. Davies agreed to put the medication through rigorous testing under his supervision. According to Mackey, Davies reported that Mackey and Stewart “had managed to create a stable form of nitroglycerin that is safe at 50 to -20 Celcius, and, more importantly, will not explode in your pocket.”
The heart to this card is the nitroglycerin. Previously, nitroglycerin was only available as a liquid, which came in a bulky — relative to the card — spray bottle. Nitroglycerin is extremely unstable, and reacts or degrades rapidly when exposed to light, water, heat, and vibrations. The SMHeartCard stabilizes the medication by keeping the pills in a bed of something called K33, a compound which keeps the nitroglycerin in a safe and portable format.
Using the SMHeartCard in the event of a heart attack is simple: take the four aspirin (the big white ones), then take one of the three smaller nitroglycerin pills and put it under your tongue. If after five minutes, the symptoms have not subsided, take the second one, then the third after another five minutes. And don’t forget to call 911!
According to Blais, the way that the SMHeartCard works is as follows: the aspirin helps to reduce or break down blood clots in the vessels around the heart. The nitroglycerin, a vasodilator, helps to widen the blood vessels. Blais emphasized the “importance of getting more oxygenated blood to the heart, which is what the two medication’s goals essentially are.” In some instances the clot will simply be pumped away, allowing your heart to function properly until the paramedics arrive.
Blais is friends with its creators, having known about the card since its inception. He was the one that proposed it be sold on campus here at MacEwan University, believing in the necessity of spreading the word about the card and making it accessible. The card is $20, and can only ordered on their website www.smheartcard.ca. Currently the card is bought without the medication inside. There is no prescription needed to fill it, and the aspirin and stable nitroglycerin needed to fill the card can be purchased for just a few dollars.
Currently the refills are only available at “two pharmacy chains across Alberta, Anderson Drugs, and Dispensaries Limited, but within a few weeks, widespread pharmacies will carry the medication. Pharmacies are constantly in contact with us trying to get the medication, they love it. Even some national chains,” said Mackey.
The next pop-up shops featuring the SMHeartCard will be on Nov. 15, and Dec 3 and 7, in Griffins Landing in Building
There was a strong reinfusion of non-hockey-goer life in Edmonton’s downtown last weekend. Nuit Blanche, Edmonton’s version of the all-night art festival that began in Paris during 2002, was held Saturday, Sept. 29. Well, Saturday night to Sunday morning. This year’s festival went on from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., with 30 projects divided into 10 large installations in the theme of Light and Illumination, focusing on gentrification and the cost of beauty in our city.
The festival spanned a large portion of central downtown, from 96 Street in Chinatown to the EPCOR Tower. The projects ranged from giant interactive projections to spinning lights, a tunnel of spiral glow to experimental electroacoustic music. Another installation was titled Vignettes, a series of different spaces filled with art inspired by Jay-Z to Alice in Wonderland.
I had a chance to sit down with the Board, Chair, and President of Nuit Blanche Edmonton, Todd Janes, to talk about the festival. If you do not know Janes’ name yet, you will soon. Over the past three years, Nuit Blanche Edmonton, under the guide of Janes, has been involved with Edmonton Design Week, Edmonton Culture Week, and their own separate festivals, which have attracted thousands of people cumulatively.
Over the phone, we discussed the history of Nuit Blanche in Edmonton. The inception of the festival stemmed from Janes, his two friends, and a late night of drinking — as good ideas often do — in 2013. The idea behind bringing Nuit Blanche to Edmonton was in part due to a feeling that many of the larger festivals had grown stale and lost their charm, it having been replaced with dollar signs (looking at you, Folk Festival). Why name it after a pre-existing French festival, though? Ideally, for recognition of the similarities between the two. Nuit Blanche is an independent, globally interconnected grassroots festival. And a festival based on filling the night with light fits perfectly into Edmonton’s long dark winters.
There is something about Edmonton art that never fails to bring the city together. Janes recalled how even the first year brought out over 50,000 people. In the past there was always a large number of new families and new Canadians alongside the young (and old) hip, art-going crowd. Janes talked about “quintessential moments” of the festival: moments when the magic of being present in a large crowd, all flocking to observe and absorb the art, brought Edmontonians closer together, such as the seizing of the street by pedestrians in 2015.
One of the issues that Janes wanted the festival to address was that of gentrification that is currently occurring in our downtown core. Janes mentioned how people are often suspect of contemporary art, and for good reason. Artists are so often viewed as a detached and privileged folk who become more concerned with fame and fortune than creating authentic art. It is ensured to be free. The idea is that these installations allowed us to view our downtown core differently, to examine the cost and meaning of developing (or forcing) beauty in the area. Ideally, Janes hoped that we could learn more from our city by walking it, to humanize what is now becoming a downtown flooded with corporate glass giants.
Janes mentioned one of the most important aspects of this festival for him, is to create accessible art that brings everyone together. This art is as much something to enjoy as it is something to make you think. Free through grants and sponsors, meant for everyone, and intended to be without pretension, this is more of the art that Edmonton needs if we wish to keep the spirit of our city alive during a time of immense change to our architecture and core.