Racism and Treaty Relationship. There’s been a lot of talk around town lately.
Almost a self congratulatory pat on the back may be in order.
There’s been the Mayor’s National Summit for Racial Inclusion at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and my most recent talking place experience – the Living our Relationship professional development at Lower Fort Garry for the teaching staff of four “inner city” schools.
It’s preaching to the choir in some cases. Granted, the choir is gradually getting bigger.
Imagine 180 teaching staff meeting at Lower Fort Garry on a bright, sunny Monday in September, being wooed into the reasoning behind living out treaty relationship.
For some, they’ve heard it before. For others, it’s been only recently that residential schools and the probable outcomes have been on their radar. The most recent newcomers will claim they’ve worked their way up from nothing, or the government should be making jobs for all people.
We played a game to shake us from our learned stances – Alien Invasion. Treaty One Officer at Parks Canada, Allen Sutherland, directed us to close our eyes.
“Imagine,” he said, “one week from now, an alien ship lands in your city, your community and you are closed off from the rest of the world. The aliens are friendly at first. They are providing miracles and exciting inventions, but they slowly take over . . . ”
We broke out into groups to mull over a couple questions pertaining to the alien invasion. And so by uniting us as human beings, we projected our concerns and insights. As some so obviously stated, we knew who the alien invaders were referring to.
Marc Kuly had us place ourselves along a continuum. Where did we think Winnipeg as a whole stood in regards to racism.
The most polar opposites joined together as we formed a circle. We numbered ourselves off beginning with the “ones”, the one who felt Winnipeg was the most racist and the one who felt most optimistic. I spoke with the other “six”.
As I perused the gathered educators who were standing outside before one of the stone houses in the fort, all were listening and attentive to Kuly and Sutherland speak about the site specific details of the signing of Treaty One. Back then, two thousand people were in attendance, spilling out beyond the gates of the fort. It took nine days to negotiate Treaty One – some of that time to gain releases from the penitentiary.
Early that morning, commentator and playwright, Ian Ross, said that the only sure thing is change. Some people embrace it. Like women, he implied, First Nations people have faced historical inequity. Could we as educators change the way we have been looking at things?
I received a Facebook invite to the AYO (Aboriginal Youth Opportunities) Us Summit, the counterpoint to Brian Bowman’s One Summit – the response to the January Maclean’s article that named Winnipeg as Canada’s most racist city.
Gathered on the grassy meeting bowl, the Oodena Circle at the Forks, we watched and listened to a young group of activists respond to their take on racism in Winnipeg.
There were appearances by Rosanna Deerchild and the premier. The fire keepers of the Us Summit facilitated interactive eye contact and conversations between us as we descended into the bowl and circled round the speakers and drummer’s platform.
Break out, group style – people gathered to discuss mutual concerns related to racism such as Child and Family Services or “Harmony between all peoples”.
The One Summit felt a bit more “gated” although my husband and I were welcomed into the lecture hall as we were about to walk away without having registered.
Standing ovations for each speaker – an eloquent delivery by author Joseph Boyden, encouragement against white supremacy by Reverend Gerald Durley, contemporary of Martin Luther King, and a tearful and comic response by Aisha Alfa.
As I was stopped at a red light late last night I watched an older man shakily push his shopping cart across the street. It bothers me that people need to walk beside my car window and beg in Winnipeg. It’s the first day of fall and it will be getting cold.