Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Keep Conversing

After seeing this post shared by one of my friends on social media, I felt the overwhelming weight of a heavy heart. Where to even begin with the issues in this? I sighed. Shook me head. Felt a little deflated.

I wanted so badly to respond out of impulsive emotions. Out of outrage and despair.

Then I remembered a quote I heard recited recently by a panelist at an event I attended titled, "Beyond the Women's March: Inclusive & Intersectional Organizing". The quote was something along the lines of, "you know what you know, and you don't know what you don't know" - you have to meet people where they're at. And instead of accusing someone of ignorance, take time to share the knowledge you have. 

Especially right now, we have seen that divisive tactics are not productive in working towards progress. And so, I took a few deep breaths. I responded with the simple fact, "There are over 60 Indigenous languages spoken in this country.", and put it to rest.

I thought this was a succinct statement that reflects upon colonialism, white supremacy, Indigenous rights, societal privilege, etc. As someone who cares deeply about reconciliation, who is educated in Indigenous history, who has traveled to remote Inuit communities, and who has studied anti-oppressive practices; my words were a clear indication of how disapproving I was with this post.

For someone who doesn't know what I know, who hasn't had the experiences I have had, those words were not enough. If I wanted to truly convey my thoughts to this person, I would have to invest some emotional labour. 

I had been cautioned, "You cannot teach a fence post!" in reference to this specific individual. But I think that this mentality is detrimental to opening space for dialogue about these issues which is so extremely valuable. You cannot give up on people, no matter how hopeless you might feel. Continue to resist. Battle until you can't anymore.

While I don't think I did much damage in changing this person's mind; I gave it a shot. And maybe, just maybe, some of my words sparked something in this person. Maybe I opened a can that they have never considered before. Maybe I tugged at some heartstrings. 

Maybe, or maybe not. 

Even with the smallest of likelihoods, it is worth a try. Communication is an innate human behaviour grounded in cooperative and shared intentions. Keep conversing. 

Here is my response:

Dear blank,

I wanted to take the time to share my opinions on this recent post you made on Facebook. I am doing this not to spark an argument but because I truly believe that people with differing views can benefit from listening to one-another and trying to understand the other person’s perspectives and learn where they might be coming from.

Reading this quote you shared by Wilfred Laurier, I was frustrated particularly by the line, “There is room for only two languages here, English and French.” Not only is that inaccurate; since languages are intangible, they do not occupy physical space and therefore there is room for infinite languages in any given space. On top of that, the history of Canada’s official languages is rooted in colonialism, oppression, and silencing of Indigenous voices. There were over 60 languages actively spoken by First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people before European settlers began trespassing on this land. To say that there is only room for French and English in this country is extremely hypocritical to the point Laurier is trying to make (Direct quote: “We won’t accept anyone, I’m saying anyone who will try to impose his religion or his customs on us”). European settlers came over here to Turtle Island and imposed their languages, religions, customs, etc. on the people who were here before us.

Not only did European settlers impose their languages, religions, customs, etc. but they also practiced horrendous acts of violence and oppression against Indigenous peoples. The forceful assimilation of Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture through the residential school system has had systemic, intergenerational, and traumatic legacies on the Indigenous community. The federal government’s forced relocation of Inukjuak Inuit from their homes in Quebec to the High Arctic has had consequences that transmit throughout the health and well-being of many Indigenous peoples. Because of this colonial history; we as Canadians – both you and I – have a moral responsibility to actively work towards reconciliation and decolonization.

This post you shared fails to acknowledge and recognize those whose land this nation is situated on. It fails to consider the colonial history in which Canada was born out of. It does not acknowledge that French and English, as Canada’s two official languages, are, in themselves, an imposing of customs.

The reason I am frustrated is because I know we can do better. If we start by acknowledging our privilege as white settlers here in this country, then we can begin to open our hearts and our minds. White privilege means that us white folks have been afforded societal privileges that benefit us in a way that people who are non-white do not experience.  When we acknowledge that privilege and hold that as a centre-point for considering ideas such as immigration, multiculturalism, and diversity; then there is so much space for love, compassion, acceptance and inclusion. There is room. If only we dig deep enough, open ourselves up enough, to find it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

United Against Seismic Testing

This is the beautiful hamlet of Kanngiqtugaapik (Clyde River), Nunavut which I had the great privilege of visiting in July.

In just over two weeks, on November 30, 2017, the community will stand before the Supreme Court of Canada to oppose seismic blasting in their waters. The Canadian government failed to properly consult with the community (as required by law) before granting permits for companies to blast the Arctic in search of oil.

Seismic blasting threatens all life in the Arctic. Powerful air cannons emit huge blasts of sound to penetrate the seabed every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in search of oil deposits. These explosions disrupt migration paths of marine animals like narwhals, belugas, and bowhead whales. 

For millennia, Inuit have lived in harmony with the land and sea in the Arctic region. They are determined to keep their sustainable culture alive. Seismic blasting is a direct threat to the healthy marine life on which Inuit depend.

I stand for Indigenous rights. Tell the Canadian government to stand with Clyde River and uphold their commitment to protect Inuit rights as enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Strength is in numbers: "Please join us in the battle to protect our community." - Jerry Natanine, Clyde River, Nunavut

This is a great article featured in UpHere magazine on "Breaking the Silence":

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Education is a pathway to liberation.

Here we are, five years after starting my studies in the academy. Ninth semester of paper writing, group projects, quizzes, readings, exams, etc.

And yet here I am, 9:59PM on Thursday night, just getting a start on my assignment worth 25% of my final mark, due tomorrow at 8:30AM. And not only that, but I am doing anything I can - like writing on my blog - to distract me from the task at hand. I'm even interested in the topic I'm writing on. It's about Blind Sports Nova Scotia and it's capacity for community building. I love those things. But oh so sick of academia.

I feel like a cog in this institutional machine. I spend hours on end pounding away at the keyboard, strain my eyes staring at the fluorescent backlight of this computer screen. Then sometime next week or in the next few, I'll get a notification on a website that assigns a number to the quality of my work. I'll either smile or curse for a passing moment, and then it will be done.

I'm not saying that I'm utterly unfulfilled. I have gratitude for this opportunity I am privileged enough to have. Especially in light of yesterday's National Day of Action - yesterday I marched through the streets in solidarity with my comrades all across the country, my fellow students; many of whom are struggling to afford to eat, some of whom are $38,000 in debt thanks to the pursuit of higher education, and many of whom are suffering from mental health issues because of the demands of tying to juggle two part-time jobs while keeping up with their coursework. These are the reasons we march.

Tuition Fee Increases 
(all data taken from the Canadian Federation of Students website:
Cuts to public funding for postsecondary education by the Canadian government has resulted in dramatic tuition fee increases. Tuition fees in Canada have increased by more than 137 per cent since 1990. In justification of these increases, both governments and education institutions have conspired to build a narrative that post-secondary education is a privilege and a personal benefit. We know better than this. We know that this user-fee model of education benefits only the affluent. The catastrophic cost of post-secondary education is pushing away students from lower-income families from accessing higher education and skills training.

Student Debt 
With rising tuition fees forcing no other choice for students to rely on loan-based financial assistance, student debt is at record high levels. The cumulative amount owed to the Canada Student Loan program today is over $19 billion and is increasing at a rate of almost a million dollars per day! With the average education-related debt at $28,000 for graduates from an undergraduate program, it is the lowest-income students who end up paying the most for their education as they must repay both tuition fees as well as the accumulated interest on their loans. These drastic levels of debt impact the life decisions graduates will make for years to come, like starting a family, buying a house, etc. which are all things that will stimulate our economy.

Marching Down Spring Garden Road
Photo Cred: Patrick Fulgencio

Women Warriors of the Nova Scotia Student Movement
Photo Cred: Patrick Fulgencio

Yesterday we marched to demand for universal access to education, education justice, and public education. Universal access, meaning that it doesn't matter who you are or where you come from; each and every person would have access to higher education and skills training without barriers. Education justice, because the students who are being priced out of post-secondary are disproportionately racialized, Indigenous, queer, people of low-income families, and people with disabilities. That is not right, and our education system must not perpetuate the marginalization of these communities. And lastly, public education because education benefits society as a whole. Education stimulates economies.

What is so inspiring about the student movement is that women are at the forefront - especially trans women, black women, and radicalized women. Also in the forefront are our Indigenous brothers and sisters, drumming away as we march down unceded and unsurrendered Mi'kmaq territory.

The amazing chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students, Bilan Arte, says:
"We need a post-secondary education system that dismantles barriers instead of building them, A crucial first step is the fight for free education."  

Education is a pathway to liberation.

And so, here I am, now 10:44PM with that assignment still due tomorrow at 8:30AM, with such polarizing feelings. I value this education so tremendously, and yet I am doing everything in my power to avoid the research required to write this paper. Hmmm.. our minds are hard to understand.