The following is a podcast for my community engagement project post-internship in Dhaka, Bangladesh. It has been over a month since I have returned to Canada from Bangladesh. In my podcast, I talk about me experience as a woman in Canada versus what I noticed the experience for women was like in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Please keep in mind that these are all my opinions only and come from my experiences only.
Well, I have made it home to Australia in one piece! After almost two years of living in Canada, I returned to the warmth and sunshine of my great southern land. It is a strange feeling of being home again, and as much as this saying is insufficient, my life is not the same since I first embarked on my international studies. This (my final) blog will detail some of the significant learning’s that have impacted me most. By reflecting in this way I will attempt to explain how I feel my outlook to life, work and politics has changed.
Before arriving in Canada, I had almost no experience or education with the resurgence paradigm, as it is generally understood and applied by the Indigenous Governance program at UVic. In Australia, the language used to describe cultural reclamation and improved cultural livelihoods of our peoples is far more passive and obscure. I can confidently say that studying in the Indigenous Governance program has not so much changed, but narrowed and crystallised how I see the world and understand my place within it. Resurgence as a concept remains the significant learning from the course work over my first year. My challenge was then to not only apply this concept, but extend it when I embarked on the second half of the journey with my wife Madeleine, to Williams Lake.
Before leaving Victoria, I was often asked where I would be after my commitments on campus were finished. When I replied that Madeleine and I would be moving to Williams Lake common responses were ‘Really? Why?’ and ‘Where’s that?’ Even now, in Australia when people ask where I have been, I receive much the same reaction. Looking back, I could not have ended up in a more appropriate or opportune place or space. During the field work, I was astounded by the amount of work being done in the community, as well as some of the ambitions the community had for its short and long-term futures. Some of these initiatives included the building of a new school and community gymnasium, the adoption of a cumulative effects natural resource management monitoring program, the scoping and business planning of a tourism venture on Tsilhqot’in lands, as well as the day to day running of the community. These planning and administrative activities were even more significant considering the funding (or lack thereof) that is available to Yunesit’in. So what were the significant learning’s I have taken away from my time in Yunesit’in?
Firstly, I don’t know if I would call it a lesson but living and working with a First Nation Community has been itself, a unique and rich educational experience. Just observing and eventually being apart of the daily coming and going in the community has opened my eyes and provided me with rare insight.
Secondly, the pressures felt by the community are much the same that are felt by Indigenous communities at home. Whilst this is alluded to and generally acknowledged (that Indigenous people share common experiences throughout the colonized world), seeing it in a real life context is a strange yet affirming thing. Some of these include the many social harms and hazards that are all too common in Indigenous communities. However, the major commonalities that I observed were the everyday acts of living in the world as an Indigenous person. In Yunesit’in, smudging was a daily sight, whether in the home or someone smudging at their front door to ward off harmful spirits. At home, smoking occurs at every major community event. These are two closely related activities that are undertaken for the same reasons. Another observation is the centrality of fish in peoples lives. In Yunesit’in it is salmon while at home, it is yellow-belly. Fish continues to define in a large and meaningful way, peoples cultural identities. This is not a far-off obscure link to culture, it is a daily practice whether fishing, preparing or eating salmon or yellow-belly. From daily acts such as these emanates a strength and satisfaction that is seldom found in the many cities and towns in Australia and Canada. As I observed these daily acts in Yunesit’in and linking these with my own experiences in Australia I continue to ask myself: how do people see this (being Indigenous) as disadvantage?
Finally, First Nations communities occupy a complex and unique socio-political space, much the same as Indigenous communities in Australia. Central to this complexity is the centrality of land. To understand this complexity you need only ask one question: ‘Who owns the land?’ Whilst this isn’t a question often asked by many non-Indigenous Canadian’s and Australian’s, it is often asked and firmly answered by Indigenous peoples – ‘We own the land’. Every social, cultural and political interaction comes from this certainty.
Suffice to say that my life has irreversibly changed. It has been enriched in a way seldom experienced. Whilst this road has been long, arduous and at times, tough, it has been one worth travelling.
So, where to from here? Well at the moment it is nice being home around family and friends and working again. 2017 has been designated for both Madeleine and I as a time to re-group, re-asses and re-energise. Formulating a plan for the next chapter following this year is our priority however, we have time and space to think about our options. Importantly, we are factoring in how we can make Canada part of our plans once again. As we sit back and reflect on our time in the true north, we both have a distinct feeling of having unfinished business there. We have made some wonderful life-long friends and are actively seeking to make sure that the fire that was lit within us in Canada does not burn out. Watch out Canada, we may be back before you know it!
I’m sitting here in the jungles of West Java, Indonesia, reflecting. The past six months seem to have lasted a lifetime. My mind is flooded with glimpses of joy, of meaning, of angst and anxiety, my body reacting viscerally to each memory. With many questions riddling the pages of my notebook regarding best practice, ethics, impact, sustainability, brokenness, and hope whirling around my mind.
Each time I speak about my experience I find there is a new flavor, a new facet of my experience that surfaces; or one that was known that seems to resonate more deeply than before. As a verbal processor having a week to reflect, to talk, exploring these experiences have exhausted me in the best of ways. Reforming the narrative that I recited for the past few months, molding my angst with the change and the improvement that I’ve seen. I feel at peace.
I wish I could synthesize and articulate my experience in a cohesive way, one that wraps a nice bow around the whole experience; that provides answers to questions, and conclusions to beginnings. However the more I try, the harder it becomes.
Instead, you can join me in the series of questions I’ve encountered here, and perhaps those might give you a better glimpse into my experience.
Do the dogs ever sleep?
Is the mop long enough to kill the spider on the ceiling?
Whose cow is this?
Is it dangerous to try to pet a yak?
Why is everyone alwaystalking about ‘china’?
What are people doing? How are they doing it?
How am I viewed? How will my behavior either challenge or reinforce these perceptions?
Where am I placed within the hierarchies of this culture?
What is the organizational history that underpins the current structures, methods, and tools used?
What does it mean if I were to challenge, or introduce new practices?
What does it look like for me to work alongside this organization?
Where is the line between paternalism and empowerment?
How does staff communicate disapproval to each other, and how do they communicate when they do not agree with something, or someone?
What is the workplace culture around conflict resolution?
What does support and accountability look like in this organization?
How can I communicate critical feedback in a way that honors, loves, and cares for the individual and/or organization?
How can I support staff resiliency, capacity and hope for change?
Is it worth investing large amounts of funds in imperfect change?
When systems seem corrupted, how do you ethically engage and participate?
When developing a program, and when writing a proposal, how do you protect your heart from feeling the weight of the issues your program is tackling?
How do writers or researchers care for themselves when they experience compassion fatigue?
When various social issues are deeply interwoven and widespread, what can we really do to create change?
What small changes can create larger change?
What can I leave behind to serve as a resource to my co-workers?
Am I leaving this organization in a better/stronger place than when I entered it?
Some answers to these questions have come quicker than others, while others lead to more questions or a complicated web of answers. And even though the answers have not come easy, I’ve somehow stumbled upon the bow that wraps up my experience.
Gratitude now permeates each and every challenge and success. I am a different woman, a different practitioner, a different global citizen because of the people and circumstances I’ve been able to learn from. I’m thankful for the patience extended to me by my co-workers as I struggled to communicate, broke typical social norms, and probably asked more questions than they were comfortable with. I am grateful for how Nepal has taught me about the power and perversion of systems and culture, of the good that can work at times in the midst of corruption, and of the functional and/or dysfunctional relationships between donors and grassroots organizations.
Gratitude is my bow.
Having spent the past week in the West Java Hills, Indonesia, a slight detour on my way home to Canada from Quezon City, I have had plenty of time to reflect on my internship in the Philippines. This reflection time has allowed me to think open-mindedly, yet critically, about the country in which I spent the past six months, and especially about the growing phenomenon of migration around the world.
Thinking specifically of in-bound migration in the North American context, there have been attitudes of welcoming acceptance by some, and intolerance and prejudice from others. It is all too easy for those who are pro-immigration to criticize those with a negative outlook on the matter, or brush them off as “ignorant” or “racists”. But does this attitude not contribute to fostering its own “us versus them” mentality? The open-minded, hospitable Canadian (or North American in general) and the immigrants they so wholeheartedly welcome, versus their unenlightened, bigoted counterparts?
While I do not dispute the importance of equality and fair treatment in migration, I think that the attitude taken towards those who do not share this belief needs to change. Many of us seem to find it easy, and sometimes almost noble, to be open-minded towards those who are new and different in obvious ways, but struggle to extend that same mindset when dealing with our neighbors, family members, or even strangers, whose opinions are at odds with our own. It is easy to use the reasoning of “cultural differences” to explain things that we may inherently disagree with or not understand. In contrast, it is much harder to offer that same open-mindedness to those who we believe must share our same “Canadian values”. Recognizing the reasons why immigration has become such a controversial and volatile topic is an essential step towards removing the negative connotations the word immigration brings. Instead of dismissing outright alternative viewpoints as bigotry and racism, discussing the views of those who differ from our own will go along way towards fostering a more open attitude towards immigration.
In conversations and debates surrounding the hot topic of immigration, rather than judging those who do not share the same beliefs, we must ask ourselves: Why? Why does this person disagree? Where does this belief stem from?
When asking these questions, I think one will find that a great dealof these negative opinions regarding immigrants and immigration may stem from feelings of insecurity and being discounted. Rather than brushing off these conversations defending immigration as being beneath us or pointless, by approaching those with whom we disagree with the same tolerance and respect as those who we are defending, discussions have the potential to become impactful conversations, rather than dissolving into defensive arguments. I strongly believe that this type of education and open discussion is the only way of truly dismantling all “us versus them” mentalities and embracing (or at least accepting) immigration and the benefits it can bring to our societies. In a time where some are actively seeking to close their borders, others may have to open their minds to this perspective to bring about this acceptance of immigration.
Nearing the end of my internship, I find myself thinking a lot about what I’ve learned and what I will take back with me to Canada. I feel like I cannot adequately communicate the lived experiences and realities of migration that I’ve seen so many people experience…that I cannot do these stories & realities justice. As the dominant narrative in the West regarding migration largely lacks compassion and is focused on fear and othering, it is important to consider how I communicate what I’ve learned and what I’ve seen in order to have some sort of positive impact on the perception of migration and freedom of movement, especially for those currently affected by negative rhetoric. I feel that I, and my fellow interns, must challenge this troubling narrative and actively engage those promoting it in critical discussion.
Why is the current narrative so problematic?
While it may differ depending on the country, the dominant narrative in the West paints migration as an epidemic, like it is something that must be appropriately managed or eradicated altogether, as though those coming into Western nations will cause irreversible damage to the country and its people. Many newcomers are viewed as dangerous or taking away jobs from “real” Canadians, or Americans, or Europeans. In essence, freedom of movement and migration is the exclusive right of a select few, depending on the country in which they were born. The most apparent problem that this poses is that it creates a negative, unfair, and quite frankly the wrong perception of migrants. It influences public perception into something distorted that encourages othering, fear, and hate. This affects how the general public treats newcomers and subsequently their emotional and physical safety. Further, the current narrative influences policy. It affects how the nation moves forward in regards to rules and regulations bringing in newcomers. Lastly, this narrative grossly lacks compassion. It does not humanize these individuals and fails to consider that actual lives are affected by it.
How can we influence/ shift the current narrative?
All of us have had these experiences where we have been exposed to individuals who are directly or indirectly affected by this sort of rhetoric. We were a part of organizations that worked to amplify these peoples’ voices, as well as enhance their rights as workers, their right to mobility, and their right to information. We have heard stories of struggle, ambition, success, and hard work. We have come to better understand the circumstances that push people to leave their home countries, the fear involved with doing so, and the hope of a better future. As such, we are equipped with real cases that embody the intricate stories of a migrant. We have facts on our side that can help instill compassion in individuals who do not see migration in a positive light in order to shift the dominant rhetoric into something that is less hateful and more accepting. Strategies for doing so may include open-minded, insightful, and critical discussions with different groups of people. It is important to actively engage individuals who may not agree with us in order to better understand where their thoughts stem from and to provide them with information they may not receive from anywhere else. Something else we could do is make the information available through other avenues, such as our local newspapers or news stations, radio stations, community/ city meetings, or school presentations. Further, we have the option to engage directly with our country’s leadership. Why not set up a meeting with our respective mayors or MPs? Or write them letters? Or even encourage our family and friends to do the same? This would put pressure on leadership to shift the narrative into something more positive in the mainstream as well as a shift in policy that is more welcoming.
The conversation does not begin or end with us. Rather, our words and actions are only a small fraction of what is required to instill change. That is not to say that it is not important. Everyone has a responsibility when it comes to social change, and that responsibility is translated into different forms of action depending on circumstances. I think it’s so important to always remember our common humanity and let that shape our lives and how we perceive the world.
For my final blog post, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts upon completing my 6 months in Nepal. Attached below is a conversation I had with fellow intern, Bethlehem Daniel during our debrief in Indonesia.
In this short writeup, I reflect on a workshop I designed and facilitated during one of the Centre for Global Studies’ Global Talks sessions at the University of Victoria. The interactive workshop centered on using applying theatre as a viable tool to perform the ‘not-yet’. I invited participants to brainstorm on issues that relate to refugees/internally displaced persons for collective action characterized by ‘educated hope’.
My current research is on violence and the ways that it can often dehumanize those who are already vulnerable. I am preoccupied with exploring how certain groups are targeted and the legacies such violations leave on the collective consciousness of a community. I am interested in the case of Jamaica specifically, because I was born and raised there but I am also interested in comparing Jamaica against other countries known for similar levels of state violence. Growing up in Jamaica I saw police violence first hand and I saw it often. The fact that the “Tivoli Incursion” has stayed with me 7 years after taking place, speaks volumes about the kind of mark it left on all of us Jamaicans, especially those who were home at the time. In the narrative to come, I talk a bit about Tivoli, about violence generally and how all us Jamaicans are implicated each time a baton is swung.
“Even though the captive flesh/body has been ‘liberated’… the ruling episteme that releases the dynamics of naming and valuation, remains grounded in the originating metaphors of captivity and mutilation so that it as if neither time nor history, nor historiography and its topics, shows movement, as the human subject is “murdered” over and over again” (Spillers, 1994: 459).
The bodies in Tivoli were disposable long before the siege. The people were poor and black, which, in Jamaica like so many other former colonies, translates into a kind of prolonged invisibility. The people of Tivoli were mired in a kind of poverty that saps your optimism but they persisted.
The community of Tivoli, in 2010 was controlled by the Shower Posse, which was run by the area Don, Christopher “Dudus” Coke. An international drug and gun runner, Dudus, helped to keep Tivoli afloat. The man is an enigma, who wasn’t only a criminal but in many ways was a lifeline for many in his community. When the U.S. government demanded that he be extradited, the Jamaican people held their breath. One of two things would happen, they would either come for him or we would give him up. I prayed they would come; have them do the work themselves. Our police and our politicians had been getting bloody on their behalf for decades and there is something about taking a beating at the hands of your own. It leaves collective scars that just will not heal. Instead, we rounded up teams, strapped with automatic weapons and sent them into people’s homes and their schools and their churches. When the guns were laid down, Dudus was not found and 70 bodies were hauled off to the morgue. What we saw here was the dynamics of naming and valuation unfolding. The people here had no value, no voice and their lost lives have become nothing more than a footnote in our bloody history.
The Tivoli Incursion of May 2010 left at least 70 dead at the hands of the police and the military. Tivoli was left battered after the siege. It hasn’t yet recovered with no sign that it will. But how we do we remember those that have been lost when much of the narrative about the Tivoli Incursion was that the right kinds of people were done away with? This is the kind of rationale that emboldens the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and the Jamaica Defense Force (JDF). We are Tivoli and Tivoli is us. What happens when the uniformed and armed come for the rest of us? Who decides which communities and which people are disposable? Who decides which kinds of folk are worth our grief or our demands for justice? We decide. We are implicated.
They were and moments later they were no more, and they were altogether forgotten before they were even buried. They are in death, as they were in life, an afterthought in our collective consciousness. And our failing to remember them and grieve for them implicates us in their deaths.