Today I put my foot in my mouth, big time.
I mentioned it was Canada Day to a new American friend, and cheekily suggested he could wish me a happy one. And he is Indigenous.
Yup. That’s right.
I will give you a moment to let that sink in.
I have been doing Diversity & Inclusion work and Anti-Oppression work for 20 years. I teach workshops and consult on how to be more inclusive, recognize privilege, and incorporate an Anti-Oppression framework. And I asked my friend who is Indigenous if he was going to wish me a Happy Canada Day.
I want to vomit. Disappear. Take it back.
Can you relate?
Canada (like all of the countries on this continent, and many many others around the world) are lands that were “discovered” although people already lived here, and then were made into countries irrespective of the already established tribes and nations and their boundaries. First contact wiped out millions of Indigenous people though new diseases and violence, and then colonization wiped out countless others through acts of genocide like residential schools, the 60s Scoop, and the reservations system. The legacy of colonization lives on and continues to impact Indigenous people in this country (and others) in real and devastating ways (poverty, isolation, lack of cultural knowledge, developing nation conditions on reservations, and racism – to name a few). But the legacy of colonization goes much deeper than this because the system fails to teach us about and talk about Indigenous peoples, ways and realities.
I’m not a Canada Day advocate for many reasons including the above. I don’t really celebrate it. But allyship (as an eloquent LGBT ally at Xerox reminded us all at a Pride gathering last week) is not just about personal decisions and lending support to individuals; it’s about being visible and vocal, raising awareness all around you in the lives of the people you touch every day as you commit to being a stand for someone or something.
So here’s the thing: Every time I say Happy Canada Day (or Happy Independence Day on July 4th), I become part of the amnesia that perpetuates the erasure of and disrespect towards Indigenous history, and the disregard for Indigenous lives past and present. Yuck. That’s not what I’m about. But silence equals complicity, and there are many ways to be silent on an issue…
I realize that Canada Day may mean many different things to different people: recently arrived refugees, third generation Canadians, people of colour who are born here and are still asked where they are from…so many different perspectives. None of these perspectives cancel each other out, but some of include pain that I want to acknowledge.
I still feel sick when I think of what I said.
I still can’t believe that I said it.
And it’s a reminder of the insidious nature of colonization and unconscious bias. That STILL, while doing the work I do, I can say something hurtful and inappropriate towards people whose identity I don’t share – because, since it’s not my lived reality, I will likely miss things that are obvious to those groups. Yuck again.
What do I do now?
I’m embarrassed – mortified really.
I should know better.
Can you relate?
I apologize with sincerity.
I take responsibility.
I make myself vulnerable and share what’s in my heart.
I open my heart to really listen so that I understand in order to raise my awareness with the intention of not repeating the mistake.
I hope that all of this will pave the way for a deeper connection with the person I have hurt, and with others.
And I continue to look for people and opportunities that will help me to learn more, see more, and be challenged.
True inclusion is hard work that asks us to be humble, to be open, to be willing to hear hard things, and to adjust our thinking, talking, and ways of being together; to really see each other and create spaces for greater connection, understanding, and love – so that we can hopefully make the world a better place for everyone.