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Oh, Canada: Nonprofit professionals and decolonization (Part 1)

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How can nonprofits support Reconciliation and decolonization? Xlerate Day organizers want to further the conversation and support the process, with Jada-Gabrielle Pape (Saanich and Snuneymuxw Nations) and Katherine (Kat) Dodds, co-creators of Drawing Wisdom, a collaborative initiative of creative agency Hello Cool World. Xlerate Day is a nonprofit marketing and fundraising conference, and they have asked Jada and Kat to lead a plenary session on Reconciliation and decolonization at their event on September 28 in Vancouver, unceded Coast Salish territory of the Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish Peoples.

We speak with Ryann Miller, director of nonprofit services for Care2 and one of the organizers of Xlerate Day, as well as Jada and Kat about the session and what they hope to achieve in supporting Reconciliation and do-colonization. This is part 1; part 2 can be read here.

Note: this interview includes the term “settlers/settler Canadians”, meaning non-Indigenous Canadians.

Can you give us some context for Indigenous Reconciliation in Canada?

Kat: What we know of as the Reconciliation movement has come out of the Truth and Reconciliation process, which started through pressure on the Harper government. There are 94 recommendations in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) final report.

Jada: They’re called “calls to action”, and we should note there is nothing legally binding, no obligation from anyone to take action or do anything. If we look at the truth and reconciliation commission that happened in South Africa, the recommendations that came out were all legally biding, and forced the government and businesses and civilians to take action as a way to rectify apartheid. We have not done anything like that in Canada, that’s not an accident, that piece is missing.

That is a major oversight, which is part of where the question comes from: is this action, or is it token gestures? That’s a lot of the conversation around Reconciliation, is how much authenticity and how much integrity does it have?

Governments may make a lot of noise about things they’re doing but if they’re not doing things through the guidance and leadership of Indigenous people, they can put things in motion that actually undo some of the good work that people have done. Part of why we keep bringing the conversation back to the government, is it’s not the work of Indigenous people to do this, and it’s not work of individual citizens, it’s the work of the government. Historically, the federal government created this situation, and we believe it is their responsibility to rectify it.

In the work that Kat and I do, we strive to have absolute authenticity and integrity with all of it, so that nothing we do is token; and that it is meaningful and contagious, and it brings people in and welcomes them to keep doing this work.

Kat: In light of our audience of nonprofits who are for the most part not able to be actively political, what is important to note is that the conversation around Reconciliation has started, and through it all non-Indigenous Canadians have been challenged to face the truth about the history of the country. The Calls to Action, while not legally binding, place a responsibility on progressive organizations who care about social justice to find a way to take action and be part of a movement to create tangible change. Dialogue is the starting point to this, but alone it's not enough.

Jada: We have our strong views about Reconciliation and government, but we’re by no means the voice of all Canadians or all Indigenous people. There are people who feel differently.

What inspired you to make the topic of Reconciliation and de-colonizing a part of this non-profit conference?

Ryann: Almost everyone I know and my clients and friends in the social profit sector, are really engaged and care and are trying to make the world a better place. I know the attendees are an engaged and conscious group of people, and I wanted to bring in the idea of Reconciliation and decolonization into this professional setting at Xlerate Day. Settlers haven’t progressed enough, when it comes to the TRC, when it comes to the 94 Calls to Action. I think fundraisers and social profit professionals want to do something but either haven’t started looking or don’t know where to start and are looking for a nudge on the right direction. Having this conversation around what decolonization can look like in your workplace is not a big deal, it’s a small step that will hopefully lead to many more. The first step, in a roomful of people all working together to make things better, is to talk about this, out loud, unpack what it means, share insecurities, whatever that looks like. I don’t think it’s that hard a step to make, and conversely, it’s easy for us to use this opportunity with Xlerate Day to start to approach what this looks like.

What do you hope to accomplish and what are the takeaways for attendees after the Xlerate Day session?

Jada: One of the really big dreams that I have after a workshop is that this will become people’s central preoccupation: how they can decolonize, in all of the creative and professional endeavors of their lives? I like people to be so moved that they can’t think of anything else, but, “How can I do it, how can I live it?”

Kat: For those of us who are settler Canadians, or non-Indigenous, having our mindset shift a little so we stop defending our privilege, it’s what all these movements are trying to get at.

When we have the aha moments and we stop trying to defend our place, we can instead imagine how to apply these values that we’re hearing in our day-to-day work. Not how to “do something for Reconciliation”, but how can I change the work I do, to have more courage, use more wisdom? To not take that space from people whose voices we should instead be amplifying.

Being aware of how we use language, and not being afraid to question ourselves, I myself in this interview almost said, “give voice” to someone, but actually I don’t want to say that about anyone. People have a voice, I don’t need to give it to them, I need to make space and amplify their voices. Even those adjustments in our internal dialogue about how we think about these things, is a really great start to not being prescriptive but being transformative. Long-term change requires empathy, and empathy doesn’t come from learning atrocities, it comes from engaging, listening and connecting with another person.

Ryann: Confidence. The empathy is vital absolutely, but once you start to take small little steps like me being able to be more confident in the language we use, like using the word settler — and I can explain and justify that, if someone asks. But that gives me the confidence to take more steps, and take more actions. And the confidence allows people to build on it, like Jada referred to.

Kat: Some of these words that some people think of as strange and reactionary — like the word settler. That’s part of what I like to say in this conversation — white people like me, be a little “unsettled” — just take a pause from all the privilege!

I do think there is a bit of urgency — it’s only been a short time since the Truth and Reconciliation Report came out, Don't forget the truth in "Truth and Reconciliation". The government is not the be-all and end-all, but it does affect all our movements, and along with the church, it did the work of Colonization. So thinking about what kind of mandate we want our leaders to have around Reconciliation, not just what we ourselves want to do but how we can really make commitments that are actionable in the short term and show some results in ten years. Because this is systemic.

At whatever level you can, whether in your personal life or your organization, work for justice for Indigenous people, and work to educate others. Thinking about this as 'de-colonizing' places the context of this conversation in the very foundations of nation-building. Can we, through our organization, create decolonized spaces? We should try! And this also means celebrating Indigenous resistance and resilience, holding space for this narrative too.

Part 2 continues next week, with examples of how nonprofits and individuals can support Reconciliation and decolonization in their everyday lives.

You can learn more about Jada and Kat’s Drawing Wisdom Project at www.DrawingWisdom.ca, or their website.Read more about Xlerate Day and get tickets here for their September 28 nonprofit conference being held in Vancouver, unceded Coast Salish territory of the Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish Peoples.

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