Recently I had the opportunity to complete an online survey from the Government of Alberta in regard to the Horse River Fire, the formal name for the wildfire some call “the beast” and that I just refer to as a “life altering event”. As I punched in my answers I recognized a growing sense of anger within me, and by the time I had finished the survey I realized the small flame of anger that had flickered inside me from the first question had grown into a full-blown inferno by the end. I had no idea I was still so very, very angry about the wildfire, and the most troubling aspect was that I had no idea who – or what – I was angry with.
We are into the recovery and rebuilding phase now, with our first tenuous steps already taken in those directions. And I have over time come to wrestle down many of my emotions on the fire and the ensuing impacts on me, those I love and the community I call home. As I worked through the anger the survey had provoked I began to realize that I wasn’t so much angry as I was distrustful; and the truth was that the wildfire event in 2016 in Fort McMurray shook my confidence in every regard.
I am, for the most part, a trusting individual. I move through life with a general sense of confidence in myself, in others, in my community and in my government. In May of 2016 this confidence was not only tested but truly held to the flames, and I found myself not only questioning but doubting myself, every level of government and even my community’s ability to survive an event that was by any measure unprecedented. The anger I felt stemmed from the shaking of that confidence, the rattling of the very foundation upon which I have built my life; and I recognized that there is a monumental task ahead of our community far more challenging than simply rebuilding homes. We need to rebuild confidence, faith and trust.
I understand that everyone was doing their absolute best in an unprecedented situation during those days in May of last year. I do believe there are many important questions to be asked and improvements that could be made, lessons learned from an experience none of us could have expected to occur. And in fact I know my own response, both personal and professional, could have been improved, so it is not that I stand in judgement of others; but I do believe the fundamental confidence and faith we had was shaken, and in some cases broken.
There is some remarkable work taking place in our community. The Wood Buffalo Recovery Committee, the Recovery Taskforce and the Social Recovery Taskforce (a group of representatives from local social profit organizations) are accomplishing amazing things already. I strongly suggest reading this document for a better understanding of the recovery process and learning the goals of recovery in both the short and long-term. And while there are many goals, I think most of them can be summarized in one statement: we need to rebuild confidence in Wood Buffalo.
Confidence in our governments. Confidence in our economy. Confidence in our resiliency. Confidence in our strength. Confidence in our response to emergencies. Confidence in our community.
And perhaps most significantly confidence in ourselves, the very people at the core of this event and who have been through an experience virtually unprecedented in our nation.
This rebuilding process is much like rebuilding the homes that we lost to the flames. We must rebuild a solid foundation based on faith and trust in our elected officials and the administration of municipal and provincial governments. We must rebuild the framework of trust in our economic recovery. And we must rebuild our confidence in our community and ourselves.
There should be no doubt that this is a daunting task. All those who step forward now – particularly candidates in the upcoming municipal election – need to recognize that rebuilding our community will only be successful if we can rebuild the trust, faith and confidence that was shaken or even lost entirely in May, 2016.
And it will not be easy.
The anger I felt when completing a simple survey reminded me that no matter how far I have come – and how far I think we have all come – there is a residual flame of that experience within me. Just as the Horse River Fire still burns, even months after it took so much from us, the experience still burns inside me, needing only the slightest puff of air to fuel the fire.
And I don’t think I am alone.
I don’t want to imply that I do not have faith in the people in Wood Buffalo; if I didn’t, I would have left this community long ago. I have tremendous faith in the individuals who have chosen this community as their home and I have every belief that we will rebuild. But there is no doubt this community feels differently to me than it did on May 2, 2016, and the factor I have identified is that we experienced an event that shook our faith, trust and confidence in the very things we once took for granted: our safety, our security and our shared future.
I won’t and don’t pretend to have the answers. I know that on May 4 when I woke in a hotel room in Edmonton I did so determined to contribute to the rebuilding of my community in whatever manner was necessary and no matter how long it took. Last week I was reminded of how badly my confidence had been shaken, and I realized that while I have begun to rebuild this faith and trust it will take more time than I had anticipated. And perhaps that is the very key: acknowledging the loss of confidence I experienced, allowing others to also acknowledge theirs and doing whatever I can to help them rebuild it while rebuilding my own.
As I sat and finished that survey I wondered why I was feeling angry, and for a moment I tried to tell myself I shouldn’t be and to change how I felt; but when I explored it and allowed myself to feel it I was able to define it, and once defined it became another brick in the wall of my personal rebuild. It became a moment of realization and recognition, and it became one small step forward – in rebuilding confidence in myself and my community.