The Way Forward
Updated: Oct 29, 2020
On May 30th I wrote a blog post about freedom. On that day I knew that tensions over race relations in my own country of Canada, and particularly in the neighboring United States, were heightening but I had no idea that two days later these tensions would explode and #blackouttuesday would happen followed by weeks of protests, rallies, and public calls to create major change.
Freedom. I can't help but reflect on the blog that I wrote and confirm my musings that the version of freedom we have been sold is very fickle, is steeped in colonialism and is not aging well. As Canada hit it's 153rd birthday on July 1st I saw more reactions of anger, confusion, guilt, and general chaos than I ever have. Many people were wondering what we were even celebrating as they were beginning to learn more and more about our nations history of genocide, forced assimilation and unhindered racism towards the Indigenous people who have occupied these lands since time immemorial.
I keep asking myself - what now? What do we do next that actually creates change during this incredibly heavy but essential shift in our society?
In the last couple of weeks I have stopped being as active about my sharing on social media because I've turned inwards to examine where I'm at and figure out what I think some personal next steps should be. The last thing I ever want to be is an ally who doesn't walk the talk so I think these periods of reflection are really important.
One of the ways I believe change actually takes root is by sharing stories. Stories of what our experiences of freedom have been like. Stories of both shame and victory. Stories of how we are affected by racism (and any other kind of "ism") - whether by being on the side of the privileged, the side of the disadvantaged or somewhere in the middle. Sharing our own stories humanizes the debates that we are having...it personifies the abstract and untried. The stories of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Colton Boushie, Tina LaFontaine (and so many more) effect each of us each differently and I think it's important to acknowledge that for some people those stories are too far removed to really allow them to FEEL the outrage, anger and sorrow of those more directly involved.
Distance makes the heart grow fonder but it also allows the mind to disregard that which it finds uncomfortable.
Sharing your own story (even if you think it's boring or uneventful or naive) allows for those close to you to get a glimpse of how systemic racism is intertwined (both obviously and discretely) in each of our lives and has lulled us into being apathetic towards our neighbour. So today I'm sharing my story. For me to share it is both a healing tool for my discouraged heart AND a motivator to keep learning, listening and sharing.
I am a non-Indigenous woman, born in Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan. I currently live in Saskatoon (Treaty 6 Territory, traditional homeland of the Plains and Woods Cree, and Assiniboine First Nations and of the Metis) but my mother's family comes from a farm in Alberta (Treaty 7 Territory - traditional home of the Nakoda, Blackfoot and Sarcee people) and my father's family come from Newfoundland (traditional home of the Conne River Mi'kmaq - unceded territory). My mom's family still proudly runs Speedwell Farms (3rd & 4th generation now) outside of Red Deer, Alberta and it is a place that is incredibly important to us and is dear to my heart. In Newfoundland there are still many extended family members who claim the Rock as their home, and we even have a street named for us in the small community of Conception Bay South (Easons Road if you want to look it up!). Prior to settling in the East and West areas of Canada my family came from England and Ireland.
I have always been aware of racism in this country. I lived in several different communities throughout Western Canada and it was present in every town and city. I know that I didn't always understand and realize what I witnessed was racism and therefore have contributed to it in some way. I am certain that there are moments in my past that I should have stood up and said something but didn't. I am sorry for those times. No matter how North, South or West I lived, the common thread was present: Indigenous people were treated differently. Immigrants and New Canadians were treated differently too. I'm thankful that I had many friends of colour; thankful not just because they were wonderful people to know, but also because it allowed me to see the little things that made being a BIPOC different than being white.
Seeing the different ways my friends were treated and the realities their families faced shaped me in ways I didn't really understand until I'd finished college and was trying to decide what I wanted to do as a career. I knew I wanted to help people in practical ways but it wasn't clear to me exactly who I wanted to work alongside until I witnessed systemic racism happening daily in the places I was working. As an adult I was shocked to see the way that the "real world" treated the people I had grown up with, who I had only ever known as peers and friends; as fellow human beings, deserving of love and respect. It didn't seem to matter if the person was on equal footing economoically or if it was someone who lived on the street, if they were Indigenous than they were inconvenient and a nuisance. I was literally mortified to see such openly-racist attitudes go unchecked and to see how much more the Indigenous people in my city were being rampantly discriminated against than anyone else.
This was such a shock to my system because my parents worked faithfully for the Salvation Army with severely marginalized people, and I grew up interacting with all sorts of people from the perspective of Love and compassion, instead of disdain and fear. My parents worked alongside people of every colour under the sun but it is true that Indigenous people made up at least 75% of the populations they served. Outside of my unusual bubble (unusual because of how much I was not shielded from) I was astounded to see the people I was raised to Love being traumatized by the rest of society.
It's been 10 years since I was able to leave those toxic environments behind and start doing the work that mattered most to me. For the last 10 years I have been working alongside the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Canada's attempted cultural genocide. Who grew up in the system or had absentee parents, either because of their forced removal or because of the terrible symptoms that plague families who have been torn apart for generations. Every single day I see the struggle that exists for Indigenous Canadians who have fallen through the cracks of our society (in reality it's a gaping chasm) because they struggle to know who they are and where they come from.
This is a common example of how systemic racism exists in my province: sometimes people literally don't know where they come from - I have worked with many people who could not identify more even one generation of their family. If you want to know how even just this one thing causes significant barriers for people (of course not just Indigenous people, but all people who have been displaced) - how do you get a birth certificate when you don't know your mother's maiden name or place of birth? How do you get a health card without a birth certificate? How do you get a license or a bank account or rental agreement without some form of government issued ID? Our policies and systems require us to know who we are and where we come from in order to access the many great benefits available to us as Canadians. Yet these polices are created while also knowing that Indigenous people are disproportionately represented in the very systems that rob people of their families...their past...their identity (the Child Welfare System, Residential Schools, the 60's Scoop, and many more). This example is just a small one...there are many, many more out there.
And now I'm seeing a reckoning happening that has been building and building and building for years. A curtain has fallen that has been shielding Canadians from the truth about how some people are so addicted to power that they sacrifice their morality to stay on top...that they willingly kneel on the necks of people who have been deemed worthless based on the colour of their skin, despite that person being a father and a brother and a friend. A fellow human being and child of God. I grew up thinking that white supremacy only looked like Hitler or the KKK. But I've come to realize that white supremacy is ingrained in my own countries governance and structures - not in the same explicit way as Hitler and the Third Reich but in an equally fatal and sinful way. White supremacy looks like employee policies that don't take other cultural norms into account. White supremacy looks like white people creating policies on behalf of Indigenous people. White supremacy looks like educational text books that sugar coat how European settlers took over land through manipulative and dishonest relationships. White supremacy is under-educating people of a certain race in order to limit their ability to advocate for themselves.
So what happens now?
As a non-Indigenous person working with marginalized populations I sit in a strange place sometimes. I know and have seen far too much to claim any level of ignorance. It is not only my responsibility as a person who has privilege to do what I can to push for change, it is also my Calling. When I imagine my future I cannot imagine it apart from doing Reconciliation work. My heart is both broken AND set on fire for it. To not engage in the learning, unlearning, changing, and sharing would be counter-intuitive to me.
But over the last few weeks I have felt very challenged in this Calling - I still have so much work to do. It doesn't matter how many years I've been doing it or how many people I have met or how many conversations I have been apart of. There is still so much that I need to understand and process because I am not the person who is living the reality day in and day out. Yes, I stand beside people who do but I cannot allow myself to assume that I could ever fully know. Yes, I can empathize with them but I cannot ever know what it feels like to worry about how I will be treated because of the colour of my skin.
I cannot change the colour of my skin and that's not the point - despite what a few extremists might think, my skin colour does not make me inherently evil or racist. Being white also does not minimize the real hardships that I have faced in my lifetime. But what it does mean is that I have a different set of challenges and barriers that come with my skin colour than those of another colour. And the difficult reality is that many of those challenges and barriers that I have dealt with can often be found on the side of the oppressor, not the oppressed.
I don't really know what happens now but I believe the answer will come if I am willing to be honest about where I'm at. If I am willing to stand up when I need to stand up and sit down when I need to sit down. If I continue to actively search out answers to my questions. If I don't rely on social media or hashtags to educate myself. If I acknowledge the things that I'm still navigating through. If I am willing to share about the things that I have already worked through. If I willingly sit in discomfort. If I listen to the people around me who have ideas of what to do next.
And despite my Calling to work in this field of racial reconciliation, I am coming to terms with the reality that I must be willing to listen to the ones who are the experts - and those experts shouldn't really be white people. I need to come to terms with this not because I have any doubt in BIPOC being experts but because as a white person who has a passion for this work, I want to be one of the experts. I honestly do. I want to know the answers to this problem and inspire people to act on them. And maybe to some degree I can get close to being an expert - but I am not the one who will lead the rebuilding of nations because I am not a descendant of those nations.
And that's OK.
It's hard for me to be OK with it because I care so much, but I am learning to be OK with it anyways. I'm realizing that I have a responsibility to be in the places that I can influence decolonization efforts of my own nation (Canada) in order to clear the path to allow those experts to lead Indigenous people through the process of rebuilding their Nation. And the beauty of this realization is the additional realization that I can do the work of decolonization no matter where I work or what role I have. Decolonization will only ever be a reality if those of us on the ground level of our communities decolonize ourselves. Who do I personally have influence over the most? My kids. So it's my responsibility to ensure that they grow up knowing truth and knowing how to love people the way that Christ Loves us. To raise them to value differences and to see colour and to acknowledge their role in creating a better future for everybody. To not fear what they don't understand but instead be inspired by it to keep learning. To respect every human being and to celebrate the unique Image of God in them.
To me, the heart of decolonization is to teach the next generation how to do better.
So that's one of the big things I'm working on right now - finding my footing as a non-expert. I'm also working through some of the things that I don't know enough about yet and therefore have unintentionally allowed myself to be afraid of. I admit that some parts of decolonization scare me simply because I don't understand what they mean and therefore don't understand what the repercussions of them are. For example, right now I'm working on understanding what "Land Back" means to the process of decolonization and reconciliation. It's something that has made me nervous because my unsubstantiated assumptions are that my families home in Alberta will be compromised in some way. I am willing to admit that that scares me a lot. So I'm learning and unlearning a lot about what "Land Back" actually means. I'm also working on understanding how the role of the RCMP and local law enforcement impacts Indigenous people. Again, I am willing to admit to having fears at the thought of not having some form of police service. But what's important for me to consider in these days of unrest is whether I am right to have those fears - if I am right, how does reparation happen between Indigenous people and police services? If I'm wrong, what are the other options that we haven't tried before?
There is a part of me that feels extremely exposed sharing the above information with you. But I believe change comes from sharing stories. Not just any story but real stories. Stories that take courage to tell. That leave us feeling a little vulnerable. That leave us open to the insight of others so that we can grow into better neighbours, better Christians and better leaders to the next generation.
Are there things about the conversation around racial reconciliation and decolonization that make you nervous? That you don't understand? That's OK. This is a learning process for all of us. And just as our natural bodies experience growth, our hearts and minds experience it in the same way - with growing pains, confusion and seasons of rebelliousness. But eventually we get to the point of understanding, empathy and grace. Give yourself the time to get there and I'm here if you need help along the way.
Below I am sharing my personal learning resources re: Canada, Indigenous History and Truth & Reconciliation. This list is by no means exhaustive and I am still finding more and more resources as I continue my along my own learning journey. I also want to acknowledge my own shortcomings when it comes to learning about other people's of colour experience in Canada - this is something I will be working on.
1) Create authentic relationships Indigenous people - this is the best way to learn, hands down. Seek out local learning workshops (there are many), cultural events and learning centres! Meet people and genuinely engage with them! Diversify your circle of colleagues!
2) Reading Resources:
Book: "From Where I Stand", Jody Wilson-Raybould
*(other books will be shared as I make my way through them)
Website: https://nctr.ca/map.php (check out the reports section for tons of resources, including the TRC's 94 Calls to Action)
Website: https://www.mmiwg-ffada.ca/ (Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls)
3) Online Learning:
Saskatchewan-based Course: https://staat-training.com/
Reconciliation Course: https://www.reconciliationeducation.ca/
Online Tool: https://www.beaconnectr.org/
Canadian Government Perspective: https://www.rcaanc-cirnac.gc.ca/eng/1400782178444/1529183710887
4) Helpful google searches:
What does Land Back mean in Canada?
Police and Indigenous People in Canada
What does "we are all Treaty people mean"?
History of Indigenous Canadians
What is the Indian Act?