School division apologizes after Christmas concert deemed 'anti-oil'

Mike Gunderman, whose daughter was in the show at Oxbow Prairie Horizons School in Saskatchewan, took to Facebook to express his concerns about the play, saying the concert was a “kick in the groin” to anyone working in the struggling oil industry.

'No political agenda,' board of trustees chair says after parents raise concerns about Thursday concert

This image from the holiday show's book of music gives a good sense of the content of the production last week at Oxbow Prairie Horizons School in Saskatchewan. (Hal Leonard / Publisher)

A Saskatchewan school division has apologized after parents raised concerns a Christmas concert last week had an anti-oil agenda.

On Thursday, the Oxbow Prairie Horizons School's annual concert featured a show titled: "Santa Goes Green."

This didn't sit will with some audience members, as Oxbow is a community where a good number of workers are in the mining and resource industries. In fact, the town's logo prominently contains a pumpjack.

Mike Gunderman, whose daughter was in the show, took to Facebook to express his concerns about the play, saying the concert was a "kick in the groin" to anyone working in the struggling oil industry. The post has since been shared more than 650 times.

"It wasn't even a Christmas concert at Christmas time," he said. "It was blatantly just an anti-oil protest."

Gunderman, who works in the oil and gas industry, said the community is a huge resource-based and agricultural town, and many in the area are employed as a direct, or indirect, result of the oil industry.

"It was just a bit of a shock," he said.

Gunderman said the concerns raised were not directed at the children. He said they did a great job singing and performing, but he felt it was "the wrong message to send at the wrong time of the season.

"Especially when our industry is suffering right now," he said. "It's a tough time for everybody." 

Audrey Trombley, chair of the South East Cornerstone Public School Division where Oxbow Prairie is located, apologized to anyone who was offended by the concert, saying there was never any intention to make the show political. 

"There was no political agenda," said Audrey Trombley, chair of the division's Board of Trustees. "The teacher chose the song because of the rhythm and the beat, and thought the kids would like it."

The website for the town in southeast Saskatchewan prominently features an oil pumpjack. (Town of Oxbow website)

She said the division is "very supportive" of the oil and gas industry, noting the division appreciates the work being done by the industry in the province.

"There was no intent to offend anyone," she said. "It was just a song that had a good rhythm for the youngsters."

Both the school's principal and vice-principal referred to the division for comment on the concert.

Emily Eaton, an associate professor at the University of Regina's department of geography and environmental studies, says the backlash from the Oxbow community shows the power of the oil and gas industry in Saskatchewan. (CBC)

However, Emily Eaton, an associate professor in the department of geography and environmental studies at the University of Regina, said the response to the concert is an example of how much "social power" the fossil fuel industry has in Saskatchewan.

"If we can't even suggest that people wrap their presents in eco-friendly wrapping, then we're really denying the reality that we're in," she said.  "At some point, the rest of the world is moving ahead of us and we're going to be caught behind."

She recently co-authored a paper on this subject for the think-tank the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives that's called: "Crude Lessons: Fossil Fuel Industry Influence on Environmental Education in Saskatchewan."

Eaton said the fact the division was so quick to apologize shows the "enormous power and influence" of the oil industry in these types of communities. She said educators she spoke with are always trying to find a balance between teaching the effects of the oil and gas industry without being too critical. 

"They're all very much afraid of the broader power that the industry has in their communities and the influence that has on parents in their communities."

Eaton said this influence may be having an effect on the opinions people in the area are forming, as she cited polling data by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication that indicates 56 per cent of people in Souris-Moose Mountain, where Oxbow is located, believed the Earth is getting warmer in 2016. 

That's compared to the national average of 79 per cent, the poll indicates.

Trombley said people who want to voice their concerns about the Christmas concert are asked to call the school after the holidays. 


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