Remembering

I’ve realized that I have a new tendency of being cautious. I’m not sure why this is, but I noticed that over the past two months (the first two months of graduate school) I have been very cautious. I have been observing the ways that people interact, trying to determine what is or is not normal or common practice. It’s a strange thing to do I guess, but it comes from a history of being a ‘people-watcher’. I like to watch and observe my surroundings to best decide how I should interact with those surroundings. I’m not sure how I feel about this yet, because I miss being a bit more reckless – throwing myself into any given situation putting 100% of my heart and soul into it.

I don’t do that anymore.

I will do it again though. I’m no longer half-committed to the graduate school experience, I don’t feel like I have to prove that I belong anymore. I do belong, or else I wouldn’t be here. Yes, I am young. Yes, this is new to me. But what better way to learn? Trying to fit in too much was making me extremely anxious to speak in seminars (or even to people outside of seminars) for fear of not saying the right thing, or having interpreted a reading or talk differently. I’m also not content with being a part of my surroundings or a part of the status quo (despite having done this for a bit) and I am going to stand out, I’m going to question things, and I’m not going to implicitly form myself to fit whatever frame or box is in place. I’m remembering who I am and what I like most about myself and getting back to that.

We will see what happens.

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Containing my frustration

Over the summers I work at a bank as part of their Aboriginal Summer Internship Program and in Canada most banks get quite busy at the end of the month for a number of reasons. The end of the month is when most rent payments are due, mortgages tend to close, government checks come in (including social assistance, disability, pension, etc.) and this week was busier than normal because Monday is a bank holiday. Being busy means that there are lines (which could be avoided by using online banking or ATMS), however the bank that I work at is also the only one in town that will cash government cheques for non-clients free of charge (if they have two pieces of ID), making lines a bit longer.

This past week I had one client who tested every ounce of my patience and who subsequently ruined a lot of my faith in humanity. In my time in University and out of Canada I guess that I was exposed to people who genuinely believe that all people are equal and within my program at university I was among people that I shared ideology with. However this one woman yesterday just infuriated me and reminded me of how far Canada still has to go before we can actually be considered an ‘accepting country’.

This woman, who is a complete stranger, acted as though she was speaking in confidence with me and mentioned that the bank would be busy that day because one particular group of people would be getting their paycheques (i.e. welfare). I tried to stop the shock from showing in my features as she walked away. I really didn’t know how to react and was too shocked to react quickly enough. But I felt as though that comment highlights a lot of the issues that we still face in Canada.

Firstly, we need to remove some of the stigma associated with being on social assistance. Social assistance exists for a reason and the vast majority of people do not abuse the system. The people that I see on social assistance use it and need it – sure, there may be exceptions but the exception is not the rule and is not right or fair to paint everyone with the same brush.

Secondly, it really does not matter what the background, ethnicity, culture, age, gender, etc. is of the person collecting social assistance, what matters is that they need the funds and are using the funds.

Thirdly, if you are racist do not act like you are in the right! If you want to say something demeaning about anyone DO NOT DO IT. Just stop thinking that racism is okay, don’t try to justify it. It does not matter what my background is (or what yours is), it doesn’t matter what I look like, it is not okay for anyone to be offensive and/or racist. I don’t care if its a joke. It’s not funny, it is not okay. It is rude, it is offensive and it is harmful.

I’m still angry about this, and probably will be for a while (or at least until that person comes back and I have a better response). How would you have reacted? Do you think that there is any hope of things improving in Canada anytime soon?

Back in Canada

I know this post may seem a bit late, but I wanted to take some time to reflect myself before I shared my thoughts and reflections with the worldwide web. From past experiences, coming back to Canada is always the hardest part about leaving because you struggle with who you are versus who you were, you struggle with your next steps, how to integrate what you’ve learned and how you’ve changed into your life, you struggle with falling back into how you used to be or how you want to be. It’s a major learning experience and it takes some time and reflection each time to decide how you want to decipher it.

This time, I felt as though there was more preparation and the university set up some debriefing sessions to help us determine how to answer those questions. In addition, we aren’t coming back into a former life, we’re coming back to the completion of our degrees and the beginning of something completely new – whether its work, more school, travel, or no plans – so there aren’t old patterns to fall back into.

Personally, there were some elements of placement that I really struggled with, however despite these struggles, I would never trade the experience for anything. I learned a lot about myself while in Hanoi, I developed a completely different sense of independence than I could have in Canada, I challenged myself, and I realized that there are no limitations to what I can do or accomplish.

My time in Hanoi gave me the self-confidence to stand out from the crowd, to be myself regardless of what is happening around me, to stick to my goals, and to shoot for the stars. Prior to living overseas, I never would have imagined that I would be good enough for grad school, that I could get a scholarship, or that I deserved to be noticed in that way. But it really pushed me to work outside of my comfort zone and to recognize my own strengths.

Placement also brought me a lot closer to some of my classmates; there are people that I spent time with in Hanoi that I will be close with for the rest of my life. I’ve made friends that understand me more than anyone I’ve known previously and who are unconditionally supportive. The heart and strength that I’ve seen in my classmates astounds me and I know that they will accomplish anything they set out to do. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to experience placement with such a wonderful and supportive group of people, and I feel even more fortunate to have such incredible people in my life.

Participating in an international experience is about more than school, it teaches you things that you can’t learn about in class or in books. There’s a value to travelling and living overseas that you can’t get from anything else. No other experience encourages you to test your boundaries, nothing else will ever ensure that you learn about yourself and the world in such a genuine manner, and there is nothing equal to it. Regardless of whether you are studying international development or anything else, go outside and learn about the world, go experience it. It will challenge you and it will expand your horizons more than anything else ever could.

One in Seven

Originally written for the International Women’s Initiative. See the original post here.

In light of the recent media regarding sexual assault and rape in India as well as the information presented via social media in the past month, I would like to remind everyone that sexual assault is not only a problem in developing nations. In fact, sexual assault occurs in every country in the world and globally between 15-71% of women ages 15-49 have experience sexual assault (the statistic shows the range of national averages). Yet despite the remarkably high number of women affected by sexual assault there is still a stigma associated with it, a stigma that exists in every culture and society I have ever been, seen, experienced, read of or heard of.

Women around the world are raised and told to protect themselves; don’t show too much skin, don’t walk around alone at night, don’t walk around alone, cover your drink at a bar, and the list goes on and on. Women are taught these things from childhood and it seems normal; I remember being thirteen years old going to my first school dance and reminded to cover my water or pop, never put my drink down, and to be careful. It may seem insignificant because actions like that were probably normalized for you as well. Like many people I grew up in a society where I had to constantly be on guard, there exists a fear of being drugged, or raped, or beaten; women receive information every single day about how to avoid a sexual assault, how to escape a dangerous situation, and what life changes should be made to be safer. Does it still seem normal? Does it seem normal to have to change aspects of every single day of your life to be safe, to be able to life out the same rights and freedoms as the male half of the population?

Canada, like all but six countries, (United States, Sudan, Somalia, Iran, Palau, and Tonga) has signed and ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women yet, like most countries, these policies have failed to result in significant societal change at this point in time. In Canada only 0.33% of sexual assaults result in convictions and many factors play into this; only 9% of sexual assaults are reported, only 33% of reported sexual assaults result in charges, and only 11% of charges result in convictions. Why is this? Canada, like many nations, places the responsibility and blame for a woman’s protection on the woman herself; why else would we be telling women to cover up and dress more ‘appropriately’? Women are regularly questioned regarding their conduct prior to the sexual assault and encouraged to not press charges, in many cases by the authorities tasked with upholding justice and the rule of law. Sound familiar? It should be, as this is the case in almost every country in the world.

When you read about sexual assault and rape do not ignore it, do not pass the information by, instead take it to heart and know that statistically a minimum of one in seven of your female friends have experienced sexual assault, although that number is likely much higher. So do not let this become a statistic, do not wave it off as something that will affect you because likely it already affects you and at least one person who is close to you. Make it personal and do something about it: you can be an advocate for women and victims of sexual assault, you can denormalize victim blaming, and you can do something.

Where do we go from here?

A wonderful post for anyone who wants more perspective on Idle No More, why it’s important, and to pose ideas for the sustainability of the movement.

Idle No More: Where do we go from here? – âpihtawikosisân

 

Connecting the Constitutional Dots of #IdleNoMore for the White (like me) Layperson

Wonderful history for anyone wanting to learn more about colonization and the need for #Idlenomore

Behind the Hedge

In 1763, King George III of the United Kingdom issued a royal proclamation as an initial statement of British law and policy concerning it’s territory in the New World, both the old British Colonies along the Atlantic Coast and the newly conquered lands of New France.  Remember the Plains of Abraham?  Also, the Royal Proclamation declared clearly the Crown’s understanding of the status of the aboriginal people of the New World. To be clear, the Royal Proclamation is a statement of Canadian Constitutional law which remains in force today, both on its own and through the Constitution Act (1982).

The Royal Proclamation, together with the Quebec Act of  of 1774,  is the legal reason that Quebec continues to have a distinct Constitutional position as a Nation within Canada and as a Nation with distinct, constitutionally guaranteed legal institutions.

The First Nations are very clearly described in the Royal Proclamation as…

View original post 938 more words

#idlenomore

“Our government has a clear objective to focus on freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law around the world. We take strong, principled positions in our dealings with other nations whether popular or not, and that is what the world can count on from Canada.”

What Canada has proven is that Canadians cannot count on Canada with regards to freedom, democracy or human rights. While Canada may reject its failing grade with regards to Human Rights, Canadians are standing up and demanding better.

“We find it strange that the United Nations Special Rapporteurs are devoting their scarce resources to countries like Canada, instead of countries like Iran and Syria where citizens do not enjoy rights and are subject to serious human rights violations at the hands of those regimes,” Rick Roth said.

And we find it strange that Canada isn’t focusing on the serious human rights violations in Canada that have been happening for longer than Canada has been a nation.

On December 10th, the world woke up and something long overdue happened. The Idle No More movement is unprecedented in my generation, this is one of the first times that I have seen people in Canada organize together and not only advocate for change, but demand change. The demand for change does not only affect Aboriginal communities in Canada, but all Canadians. Idle No More is advocating for better human rights, better environmental treatment and a wake-up call to Canadians and the Canadian government in general.

Despite the fact that I am currently in Vietnam, this is a movement what I will be a part of, I am committed to doing everything I can for the rights of my own people and the rights of Aboriginal people and ethnic minorities around the world. I cannot advocate for international development or development unless I can see that it is done in my own country. I can’t stand up for the rights of people around the world unless I’m willing to stand up for my own rights. I urge you, Aboriginal or not, stand up for basic human rights, protect the environment and demand change from the Canadian government.

The message is simple: respect treaty rights, stop federal legislation that could affect the environment and improve living conditions in Aboriginal communities. 

This is about more than Canada’s reputation, this is about more than money. This is about making right for decades and decades of injustice, this is about making right on our commitment to protect our natural landscape. This is not radical, it is not uncalled for. This is common sense, basic human compassion and necessary.

“Once the last tree is cut down, once the last river is dried up, once the last fish is caught is when Harper’s going to realize you can’t eat money.” – Melvin Wilson, Cheam First Nation

Learn about Idle No More

Read more:

Wake-up call to Canada – findingdevelopment

Idle No More protesters remember Oka crisis – CBC

UN envoy blasts Canada for ‘self-righteous’ attitude over hunger, poverty – National Post

Idle No More protest continues in Vancouver – Vancouver Sun

A peoples’ movement that is Idle No More – CBC

Idle No More: On the meaning of Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike – Rabble.ca

Idle No More: Women rising to lead when it’s needed most – Rabble.ca

Chief vows to ‘die’ if necessary to improve the lot of Aboriginal People – Leader Post

Wake-up call to Canada

I’m certain that a lot of my readers know this, but some probably don’t. I am Aboriginal, Metis to be specific and while I was not solely raised according to this heritage, it is a part of who I am, it is part of my identity, my culture, and my family. It pains me to see that discrimination based on heritage, culture, ethnicity still happens every day in Canada (and many parts of the world) and that it is happening by our governments, the groups of people who are elected to protect and guarantee basic rights.

People have been talking about the failures of the Canadian government with regards to the Aboriginal population for longer than I have been alive. We have the extensive crisis in Attawapiskat regarding education, housing, water, and so much more. There is also Kashechewan where there have been numerous evacuations, boil water advisories for years (this is one of 100 First Nations communities with extensive long-term water problems), a housing crisis, and in one month alone this community of 1700 people lost 21 to suicide. In Manitoba, rather than send the appropriate tools to deal with flu outbreaks (i.e. hand sanitizer) a community was sent body bags. Let me guess, you probably haven’t heard of most of this? It has been a fairly invisible crisis to the rest of Canada and the rest of the world, remarkably hidden and that received extremely limited news coverage. Why? Because these things happen so frequently within Aboriginal communities, human rights transgressions (at the fault of the government) are so commonplace that they have become normalized.

And that’s just the beginning.

So is it really any surprise that Canada received a failing grade for human rights by Amnesty International? As said in the report “By every measure, be it respect for treaty and land rights, levels of poverty, average life spans, violence against women and girls, dramatically disproportionate levels of arrest and incarceration or access to government services such as housing, health care, education, water and child protection, indigenous peoples across Canada continue to face a grave human rights crisis.”

What are we going to do about it? What commitment do you make as a Canadian to improve the status of human rights in Canada? If you are not Canadian, what will you do to protect and improve human rights in your nation (or abroad)? As Canadians who do we think we are? Why do we erroneously believe that we can push for, represent, and speak on behalf of human rights around the world when we haven’t the common sense or decency to guarantee those same rights within our own borders?

Those of us who have had free, equal, unlimited and fully realized human rights for years cannot become complacent in the misplaced belief that this does not affect us. Because it does. When we become complacent or apathetic about the human rights of others, we are complacent about our own rights and freedoms. My rights, my education, my freedoms mean nothing to me if I am exercising them at the sacrifice of other’s rights.

And just because I’m a decent human being.

International Human Rights Day 2012

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending a seminar in Hanoi for International Human Rights Day and I must say it was interesting. I will not be posting very much about it for now, but in the meantime here are some select quotes and upcoming events that I thought were interesting as they apply to citizens of Vietnam, Canada, and the world. This was a wonderful opportunity to celebrate human rights achievements in Canada, Vietnam and the world from 1948 to the present.

Continue reading

International Women’s Initiative

Hello everyone!

Well if you didn’t know I’ve been quite busy, but I wanted to draw some attention to this wonderful organization called the International Women’s Initiative. If you want to learn about them you should check out their webpage or their blog. Myself and one of my classmates, Kyla, have been blogging for them and my first post is up – Development as Choice; Equality as Voice.

For a lot of people successful development can be summarized by saying ‘development is choice’. For people who work in the field of development, a lot of work is based on increasing the choices that people have and increasing their opportunities, which therefore results in decreasing their vulnerability. In many cases, this work is focused around women, as they are often the most vulnerable members of society. Having choices increase the options that a person has, changes in their life, be they personal, environmental, economic, or social. The most vulnerable members of society are those most reliant on the protection and advocacy of those who represent them.

This brings us to Canada. . . 

Click here to read the rest.

Where should women live?

I’ve recently made a twitter account and I have to say I’m learning to love the way information is shared on it. I find that I’m able to scan and see way more data than I ever would have otherwise. Knowing my passion for gender equality and rights, I’m sure its not surprising that I focused on these topics. I came across this infographic and I have to say that I was a little bit startled to see some of the ratios and data regarding gender equality. Canada is currently ranked 17th among the best/worst places to be a woman, and that indicates a fall of 3 places from the last time these indicators were compared. What is most interesting, is that much of Canada’s failures regarding women’s rights and gender equality can be directly correlated to their relations with the Aboriginal population. Check it out, and tell me what you think.

New Year’s Revisited

This past weekend marked Canada Day, which for many Canadians is the only nationalist display that they will participate in throughout the year. However the weekend also marked the halfway point for any New Year’s Resolutions, so I thought I’d check in with myself and see how the year has been so far.

While I never set any formal resolutions, I have one phrase that I’ve sort of reminded myself of each year when New Year’s comes around and that is ‘Qui Sera, Sera’. Being a bit of a control freak, I tend to find it difficult to take and accept things as they come and learn to adapt and its been useful to remember to take a step back and let things happen. While my control freak tendencies are not gone, I feel as though the past six months have forced me to learn to accept things that I have no control over (including course changes, life changes, family changes, school in general, and everything related to my placement). As a lot of those changes are culminating and wrapping up and as there are MANY more to come, I feel its important to remind myself of this again and to remember what it means to me and to ensure that I step back when I need to.

A second effort that I’ve been making has been to get healthier, and this is one that I think has been going fairly well. I’ve become hooking on exercise (especially if it doesn’t involve cardio!), but in the next half of the year I’d like to challenge myself by trying to love running.

In essence, I think this is one of the first personal(ish) posts on this blog but I think its important to help hold myself accountable to myself and remember that I can put myself first and that I will continue to learn and grow as the year goes on. Do you like having personal posts to read, or would you like me to keep things development related?

Rio 20+ Progress after 20 years, or still moving in circles?

As the Rio 20+ conference is set to begin, it will be interesting to see how it progresses and how sustainability has developed as a key item on the global agenda. The two main focus areas for Rio 20+ are a ‘green economy in the context of sustainable development poverty eradication and the institutional framework for sustainable development.”

While these are great focal areas, the conference seems to lack the force necessary to guarantee and police commitments. Developed nations have been notorious for regressing and failing to meet the commitments, promises, and goals set out and there is little to show that this conference will be any different. Prior to the beginning of the discussions, only 37% of the draft agreement had been agreed to, with the refusals and changes made primarily by developed nations.

Nations are still wrapped up in the debate as to whether food, water, and sanitation should be considered universal rights (despite their inclusion in the millennium development goals). Come on Canada! Water is necessary for survival, so as a basic need, shouldn’t it be protected?

What is also fascinating is that all nations participating recognize that 30-100 billion dollars are needed to meet the current and prior commitments to sustainability, but none can agree as to where these funds should come from. So, everyone knows that something needs to be done, but none are willing to contribute in order to make it happen.

Talks begin on Wednesday, I’m curious to see what happens. But in the mean time, what do you think? How will the conference turn out? Will commitments be made or reaffirmed? Will we leave feeling hopeful?

Transparency: critical for politics, critical for development

In my usual manner of procrastination, I was searching through news sites and I came across an article that I found particularly alarming.

How would you feel if you found out that the availability of content online was being censored? Not only by a select few nations, but by the vast majority of nations and governments.

I was pretty shocked.

The internet is intended to be one of those areas for open communication, creativity, curiosity, and everything in between. It’s that safe space where you feel as though with enough research and time you can eventually find out the truth and learn both sides to the same story. Instead, its become this space of warfare between service providers and governments to determine what should and shouldn’t be available to the public.

The past six months have had over 1000 requests for content removal already.

To me, the internet exists almost as a global watchdog, its a tool or a mechanism for supervising the transparency of other parties. The internet is a way to monitor the transparency of other organizations (if we care enough to find out).

Who should determine what is offensive and what is appropriate? Is it the role of my government to determine what news I should and should not learn of? It scares me that learning about public issues and events is out of the hands of the public. It terrifies me that global events have happened without public awareness of it. Remember the Rwandan genocide?

 

Millennium Development Goals (again)

 Water

There are news articles everywhere saying we’ve met the MDG target for access to clean, drinkable water and technically we have. We have halved the percent of population without access to clean water, with 2 billion additional people having access. But are we done yet?

While it is incredible that 89% of the population has access to clean, drinkable water (comparable to 76% in 1990), that means that 11% of the population is still forced to drink unsafe, unclean water every single day, 40% of which is in Sub-Saharan Africa. So are we done yet? Absolutely not, but at least progress is being made.

On another note, lets take a peak at the goal for maternal mortality.

Under this goal the UN is hoping to reduce maternal mortality by three quarters and ensure universal access to reproductive health. Now it is often said that these two indicators are often the best clue into the status of women’s rights and gender equality in a particular country. Some progress has been made, but this goal has seen the least progress and in many cases the least effort.

While nations around the world are making significant efforts to improve women’s rights, access to reproductive health (contraception, information, and abortion), increasing access to trained professionals prior to, during, and after birth, and increasing education and knowledge in general, we have countries closer to home where access to reproductive health (contraception, information, and abortion) is still considered fair game for public debate.

From 1998-2010 the USA actually regressed in terms of their maternal mortality rate showing an increase of twenty-five percent in a twelve-year period. Its appalling that such a thing can happen in a nation with health care readily available, and it demonstrates that gender equality and women’s health was not at the forefront of the nation’s agenda.

In Canada, we have the pesky little issue of abortion. Abortion is legal (huge win for women’s rights), but not available throughout the entire nation where some provinces and regions do not have the tools or facilities to perform abortions forcing Canadians to travel huge distances to seek out medical care. This drastically increases the cost, and decreases the availability of such reproductive health to girls and women who may not be able to travel and/or live in rural regions. Even more appalling is that we still have elected officials who are trying to make abortion illegal-may I add that I have yet to ever hear or see a female MP in Canada try to overturn our current abortion law? An MP from Kitchener has been trying to bring the abortion debate back into parliament since Christmas of 2011.

Does that mean that women’s rights are regressing? Maybe, but with absolute certainty it means that every nations must make a firm commitment to improve women’s rights, health, and access.

To check out international progress on the MDG’s go here.