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Oh, Canada: Nonprofit professionals and decolonization (Part 2)

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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.

The organizers of Xlerate Day spoke with Jada and Kat about the session and what they hope to achieve in supporting Reconciliation and de-colonization. This is part 2; click here to read part 1.

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

How can a reader start to de-colonize or support Reconciliation in a regular day?

Kat: Being conscious of your own privilege is a start. Consider how to create cultural safety in all your interactions and create an organizational culture that does this too. Speaking as a business owner, a concrete specific example I can give, which any business owner out there can do, is to commit that when I’m doing work that is engaging with Indigenous people, issues or communities, Jada is my partner in this work. If we’re working with any group of Indigenous people, that group has to be a part of the process of determining what comes out of it. These are all ways in which we move away from doing gestures to changing our way of thinking and acting and being deeply inclusive, especially that we end up working as peers together around the issues we call care about. It’s a way business owners and nonprofits can work to engage and actively decolonize.

Jada: One of those ways is to hire Indigenous people in remote and rural communities, where there isn’t a lot of work on reserves, and people can work remotely from their communities online. People can draw on the expertise of Indigenous people before they consult others. In addition, people can build into their workplace ways that they can have mentoring programs that are specifically designer to mentor Indigenous people — not just youth, because everybody needs a job. It builds up employment for our people, where poverty is a massive issue. Another thing people can do on a day to day basis, personally not professionally, is to become very informed about why this country looks the way it does. Go and read the 94 calls to action — go and read the entire TRC report, it’s a beautiful document, and is worth people’s time. Start a book club with it, engage with your friends on a really deep level, do it in a group so you’re not traumatized. Another piece on a day-to-day basis, is to remember that this information might be new to them as they learn it, but it isn’t new to First Nations people. We’re not education platforms, we don’t need to answer for others’ awe and horror about this history. This isn’t just our history, it’s Canada’s history. When someone learns about it and gets overzealous, they ask the first Indigenous person they meet about it — we don’t need to hear that, we don’t need to feel that. That’s a way to be responsible with this information as you uncover, it’s not new to Indigenous people as you learn it.

Jada and Kat, you do work with organizations on de-colonizing; what are common questions participants have, and how do you answer them?

Kat: The question we have all unfortunately heard, is the stereotypical "Why can't they just get over it?" We need to remind people that colonization is still ongoing, that the effects of systemic cultural genocide from history are intergenerational and that the negative effects of ongoing racism are still quite appalling. Think of the boil water advisories, sub-standard schools, the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG), suicide and health problems. But for settler people, we need to stop being blinded by shock and sympathy and recognize that these are "our problems", because they are ultimately our fault, especially if we do nothing with this awareness we now have.

What are some examples you’ve seen of nonprofits incorporating Reconciliation in their work, whether it be in their mission delivery or peripherally?

Jada: Learning whose territory your organization is on is important. I’ve seen an organization recently, the Collingwood Neighbourhood House, where every single one of their staff, from janitors to program staff, is taking cultural safety workshop (learning about the shared history of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people), and they’re all taking it together, and they’re all learning the phonetically correct name of the people whose territory they’re on. They also created a plaque at the front door that says whose territory they’re on and they have a pole for the front of their organization. They’re hired a fantastic young carver and put it up.

Kat: They’re also doing a training, a project we’re working on, which will be required by every city of Vancouver early childhood educator, five short films and then a guide, and that will become a permanent part of the training for every early childhood educator who has a license. If an organization is keen on going further with this, you can find someone who can do more in-depth training for your staff, which Jada and I do offer.

Jada: I was inspired by the folks at Science World — they trained all their front line staff on what to say, whose territory they’re on, when they’re doing tours. But they also developed curriculum that goes out into schools, all about Indigenous people and sciences. I don’t know where they are with that currently, but that’s one of the steps they wanted to take, just using an Indigenous perspective on they work we’re doing rather than always taking a settler perspective.

Kat: I would also say the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has been doing this through their annual fundraising dinner in Vancouver: two years ago they brought in Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, and this coming year Justice Murray Sinclair will be their keynote speaker. Also New/Mode & Open Media with their Recognition2Action initiative. Amnesty International Canada has taken on the MMIWG issue. Organizations like Women Against Violence Against Women have Indigenous counsellors and have been working on creating cultural safety. Environmental organizations have been working with many First Nations on some of the recent court challenges around Site C dam, Kinder Morgan and Enbridge etc. Nationally and internationally, Inter Pares, based in Ottawa, has been actively tying in work they do with responses specific to the TRC Calls to Action.

Of course, it's also important for this work to be constantly examined and deepened, not just feeling like 'okay, we've done something."

Jada: I think it’s important that we recognize the act that we do that is one-time, it’s huge and important but we need to build on that for the next act, so what is the next action.

Ten years from now, what do you hope a similar session would look like?

Jada: I want it to be common knowledge that every aspect of politics in Canada, whether it’s to do with environmental, education, health care, whether to do with Indigenous people or allies or settlers, I’d like everyone to recognize that it touches us as Indigenous people, and that it is all done on unceded territories, and even where there are treaties, those were done with coercion.

Kat: I hope in ten years, Truth and Reconciliation doesn’t need to be explained to people and that there’s some sort of accountability around this, from whatever government is in place, otherwise it’s something that is a trend or a fashion and probably forgotten because it wasn’t done willingly the first time. I hope we can do something deeper.

Jada: In ten years, I would like the conversation to really be about recognizing that when they make decision without Indigenous people, that they are continuing colonization, that everything is happening on our land. And while that is uncomfortable and frightening for some people and very emotional, it is paramount that people that can in that discomfort to do the right thing moving forward.

Kat: I hope that every progressive organization has examined how they can contribute through whatever their area of focus is. For example, what if every organization that focussed on water issues included as their mandate to make sure there was clean drinking water on every reserve? What if every Canadian international development organization also looked at mitigating poverty closer to home?

For those of us in media and communications, we should take seriously “nothing about me without me" as a value, and work to create space for Indigenous stories of resilience, to listen deeply and to collaborate, and to seek out the root causes of resilience, and then to water those roots so that they grow.

Jada: This is what we hope to do as our shared project Drawing Wisdom — to model being Indigenous people and Allies, sharing stories of resilience, working with organizations to deepen their decolonizing work through creative decolonizing strategies while creating spaces and resources to grow this work in a good way.

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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