Editor’s Note: The following was written by an offender at Pe Sakastew Healing Centre in Maskwacis, Alberta. The star blanket mentioned in this story will be hung in a local Fort McMurray school and will be used for Aboriginal cultural teachings for staff and students. From there it will be placed in the Fort McMurray Museum.
The journey begins over a year ago in the Pathways Healing Unit at Grande Cache Institution. A piece of paper with colours and patterns on it was given to me. These colours appealed to me a lot and for some reason I knew I had to keep the piece of paper. As time went by, I forgot about that piece of paper which was safely tucked away in my hobby paperwork.
Later, at Pe Sakastew Healing Centre in Maskwacis it all began with being asked if I could help with a donation to Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Calgary. That is when I started to make blankets to give to a good cause. As I worked on them one by one, I felt confident that I was getting better at it. I was content. I was happy. I thought, “Whoever ends up with this will be happy.” I found serenity and came back to a place in my life that used to make me happy. I felt happy helping others. I had no idea of the magnitude of what was coming next. No one was prepared for the test that was placed upon the people of Fort McMurray.
I spent many nights staying up into the wee hours of the morning watching the news and seeing the heartbreaking stories of families and other people losing their homes and earthly possessions. Many of them had to leave in a moment’s notice, not knowing if they would have anything left when they returned. Watching the lone highway from the sky was a sight I will never forget. Bumper to bumper traffic of evacuees fleeing for their lives.
One night I was up until sunrise watching a young family being interviewed on the news at a restaurant facility of some sort. The parents were visibly upset while sharing their story of despair and not knowing what the near future would bring them. Their two little ones were preoccupied with eating their meal. They were oblivious to what was happening to them and they went on just like any other day in a child’s life.
That was the moment I knew I wanted to do something. I didn’t know what, but I knew that I was stubborn enough not to let it go. My heart was aching and that lump in my throat was too much to bear. I was overwhelmed with emotion. I fell asleep with heavy thoughts about the sense of purpose I threw away long ago. I wanted to help again.
I thought about what I could do to contribute to a cause that was desperately in need. I had no idea. I was in my room going through my paperwork from the year before and I came across something I hadn’t seen since I put it away. All of a sudden, I knew this piece of paper had found its purpose. I took a closer look at it and realized what the colours on it meant. The way the colours were placed was a symbol of what was happening in Fort McMurray. I am still in awe of how the timing of everything fell into place.
I went into our storage room for materials and started looking through what little we had, with the hope of completing a project for a very good cause. I found what I needed and had just enough to complete the diamonds that would make the centre star on the blanket. Here is what the colours on the blanket represented:
Blue (outer) – Fort McMurray is at peace and harmony.
Purple (outer) – There is a challenge in the distance and it is noticeable.
Red (outer) – The fire is imminent and is a threat to Fort McMurray.
Orange (outer) – The fire begins to consume the city.
Yellow – This is the height of what is now known as “The Beast”.
Orange – It begins to move on.
Red – The fire is reduced to smolder and is slowly dissipating into obscurity.
Purple – The recovery begins and the people start to return home.
Blue – One day, Fort McMurray will be at peace again. The time to heal begins and perseverance will pay off.
If you noticed, you saw that the story and symbolization begins on the outside of the star. As we go inward, the diamond gets wider as the height of the crisis grows. As it calms down, the diamond gets smaller. As you reach the centre, the inner blue of the eight diamonds are together. This means that Fort McMurray has come together and will prevail through this crisis. The white background is simply recognized as life. The yellow and blue borders of this blanket simply mean that I ran out of material and used what I could to complete this project.
Not long after I started this project, I had the idea to hold a fundraiser where the money raised by the blanket could be given as an individual donation to the relief efforts in Fort McMurray and matched by the provincial and federal governments. We discovered that there was a deadline for individual donations and that it was that very same day. We had to work fast. Everyone involved worked together and the goal was accomplished.
The biggest surprise was also the craziest possible twist in the story: my blanket ended up in Fort McMurray. I am still in shock. I am happy and honoured that I was a part of this. I hope it inspires others too.