Saskatchewan·Point of View

Resilience is hardwired into our Saskatchewan DNA. We will get through this pandemic together

Let’s remember the lessons of our ancestors and elders and embrace the spirit of resiliency as we work through the current crisis together.

Remember the lessons of our ancestors and elders

Eddie and Wilhemina Moen, with baby Ernie, enjoy lunch in the field. (Supplied by Shawn Moen)

Saskatchewanians are perpetual "next year" people.

When we have a crop disaster, there is always next year's spring seeding. When the Riders lose (as was the experience for most of my youth), the next Grey Cup is not far away. When the weather dips below –40, we bundle up and continue on with our lives.

Resilience is hardwired into our Saskatchewan DNA. We overcome. Year after year, generation after generation. 

Let's remember the lessons of our ancestors and elders and embrace the spirit of resiliency as we work through the current crisis together.

A communal legacy

Like many Saskatchewanians of European descent, my family has lived in this province for more than 100 years.

The soil around our homestead was first worked by Moens in 1907 and Elias A. Moen thereafter secured our family's Letters Patent from the Dominion of Canada. Southwest Saskatchewan was in the process of being settled by an influx of Europeans from outside the British Empire.  My family made its home north of Cabri. We work that soil to this day.

To maintain rights on the homestead, Elias had to build a house, break a specific amount of acreage each year (10 acres in the first year and increasing each year thereafter), and reside on the homestead at least six months out of each year in the first three years. Keep in mind this was without modern comforts and amenities, without infrastructure and in the face of the cold, harsh Saskatchewan winter.

The original house on the Moen homestead. Shawn Moen's parents still live on that land to this day. (Supplied by Shawn Moen)

If a homesteader was able to persevere in these conditions for seven years, the British Crown granted title to the applicant farmer. Some people were not able to persevere, but many did.  Often they were pulled through by community effort.

Many of us share similar family stories and, in turn, a communal legacy.

Good neighbours made sure that all had enough to eat, checked on each other in poor weather, helped break land and bring in the crop.

We did it together. We remain.

Milllenia of resilience

Rewind the tape several millennia. The spirit of resiliency is not exclusive to the European pioneers. Our Indigenous brothers and sisters understand well what it is like to live on this great land and to manage crisis and disruption.

The effects of European settlement continue to be unpacked. Hopefully, many of them will be addressed and resolved in my lifetime.

Indigenous people faced (and still face) plenty of hardships — some similar to my ancestors and others starkly different. They lived year-round in a harsh land and weathered new settlement, economic disruption and shameful attempts at eradication.

They did so together. They remain.

Surviving the Great Depression together

Many Saskatchewanians are descendants of the Great Depression.

In the "Dirty 30s," the combination of global financial collapse and severe perennial drought brought calamity to the Prairies. Sound familiar?

The grandchildren of the early pioneers — people like my great grandmother Wilhelmina Moen, a strong matriarch who worked at the Land Titles Office, was an early CCFer and drank dandelion tea — remembered the lessons of the early 20th Century.

We continued to sing, laugh, worship and celebrate. We continued to check on our neighbours.

We did so together. We remain.

Bill Bechtel (Wilhelmina Moen's brother) breaks sod on a homestead in southwest Saskatchewan. (Supplied by Shawn Moen)

Beauty in complexity

We hear it a lot: the strength of Saskatchewan is in its diversity.  But in that diversity we also share a commonality.

Many of us have roots that are Irish, Ukrainian, Indigenous, Chinese or, with respect to more recent Saskatchewanians, Sikh, Somalian and Syrian. Our ancestors have similar lived experiences.  Our people collectively understand how to live through crisis and do so with joy and laughter and celebration amidst all the messy fear, anger, uncertainty and sadness.

That complexity is the beauty of our existence. It makes our province unique.

We are the children of Palliser's Triangle, the place that was long assumed to be uninhabitable by the country planners out east. We are the humble prairie folk that are occasionally diminished or ignored by those in the "Big City" — tough as tempered steel, kind as a welcoming hearth on a cold winter day and practical as a Prairie day in July is long.

We will remain

Our grandparents knew there was hope on the other side of the Great Depression. The same is true with this new Great Disruption.

We now have the opportunity to rethink relationships and supply chains, reconsider how we care for one another and show our best selves. This is a time for us to take care of our neighbours and for the rest of the country to take note.

It also represents an opportunity to rethink past relationships, consider how to ensure that all members of our community share in resilience and imagine what Saskatchewan will look like when winter finally breaks (as it always does) and it is once again time for seeding.

Fellow Saskatchewanians, let's lean into our common spirit of resiliency.  Take comfort in the fact that your ancestors and elders have prepared you for this moment.

We are together. We will remain.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

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About the Author

Shawn Moen is the co-founder and CEO of Saskatoon's 9 Mile Legacy Brewing, a nano brewery located in Riversdale. He is a proud Saskatchewanian and has law degrees from the University of Saskatchewan and Osgoode Hall Law School at York University.