On history, equity and community
The idea of equity and creating a more equitable society informs a lot of my positions and values. So, what does that mean? Let’s start with some personal history. My great grandmother was born Victoria Helen Sayese. She was born into a métis family in Glen Mary, Saskatchewan, a métis settlement that would later be converted into one of many farm communities established by the provincial government in order to “rehabilitate” the landless and dispossessed métis of Saskatchewan. I truly don’t know much about my great grandmother’s life, she died the same year I was born so I have no memory of her. What I do know, through speaking to my father is that she spent most of her life trying to hide her indigenous identity. She did not want to be known as métis. She felt that by marrying my great grandfather Angus McKenzie, who also happened to be métis, and by taking his family name which was traditionally Scottish, she was moving up in the world. My understanding is that she was ashamed of her indigeneity, a view which I feel her daughter, my grandmother, also adopted. Growing up, I just assumed everyone had a brown grandma. It really wasn’t something we talked about in our family. I grew up with very little knowledge of my heritage on that side of my family. It is only through time spent on reclamation and and searching for myself that I’m able to share this history with you.
Perhaps it’s also worth noting that on my mothers side I can vividly recall two of my great aunts warning a 12 year old me after a few glasses of wine “Don’t tell any of your friends that you’re part gypsy or they’ll spit on you!” In reference to my maternal grandmother’s Roma/Romani heritage. I didn’t know what to make of any of that at the time. Again, it just wasn’t something we talked about. So why am I sharing this with you? To illustrate that the shame of identity and the effect is has on people can transcend generations. Systems of oppression and discrimination were created to separate people from their land, remove their agency, stigmatize them from the general population or worse. These systems will continue in their function up until they are recognized, dismantled and replaced with a way of being that recognizes the humanity, individuality and history of every person. Humanizing our society and the way we interact with each other.
Now, I say all of this while recognizing that even with the minor hardships I’ve had to endure in my life, I have been blessed with incredible luck and privilege. I am an able bodied, cis-gendered, heterosexual male who despite being métis, passes for white more often than not. Through speaking with racialized friends and family I’ve seen into a world which is made much harder by factors beyond their control. I don’t have the lived experience of their additional burdens but I sure as hell can empathize with them as they struggle to navigate a system that has been built up on the ideals of terra nullius, eurocentrism and uniformity. It’s not as though I don’t have my own experiences witnessing these systems at work, I suppose having loved ones that are affected by them on a constant basis will sensitize a person.
This is where the conversation surrounding equity begins. I would say everyone understands the idea of equality, every person being treated equally with no difference across the board. The word equity seems to be less known by the general population. Equity is the act of equipping individuals with what they need to be successful. (This link offers a more in depth explanation and examples.) Obviously this will vary greatly from person to person, depending on individual needs and circumstances. It is an approach that recognizes the humanity of individuals and allows us to approach problems such as systemic injustices by creating tailored, effective, results based solutions. We have all encountered the dreaded “one size fits all” treatment at some point in our lives and I think we can all agree it rarely produces a positive result. If we want real positive change in addressing injustices we need to roll up our sleeves and do the work needed to address the problems. That involves taking the time and expending the effort to acknowledge our differences, finding commonality and changing the ways in which we interact with our communities and services to ensure no one is left behind in our society. Time and time again we have seen the result of biases and systemic barriers result in discrimination, injustice, and violence against marginalized groups. We see the results in the justice system, the healthcare system and the education system. In acknowledging these biases and barriers we can advance our society and how we collectively deal with these issues to a point where everyone’s basic humanity, dignity and well being is recognized and valued. I don’t think that’s too big of an ask. In order to create an equitable society we need to show one another empathy, reciprocity and humanity. It’s not about who has suffered through the most or the narrative of someone playing the victim for their own benefit. It’s about sitting down with people and having honest and open discussions about what our needs are and how we can mutually benefit from building relationships and a sense of community . Everyone falls on hard times, I’m doing well right now and I want to try and uplift as many people as I can. My hope is, when I stumble and fall, my community will return the favour.