Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Good afternoon “Day Star” and other members of Edmonton City Council. My name is Miranda Jimmy and I am a proud member of Thunderchild First Nation who has made my home in Edmonton for nearly 20 years. I sit before you has a partner, committed to fulfilling the Treaty Six relationship.  I also want to acknowledge Heather Shillinglaw, a local Métis visual artist and arts educator, who has joined me here today.

On August 9th – the United Nations International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, I sent a letter to each of you expressing my concerns over the lack of commitment from both the City of Edmonton and it’s agencies and boards to the needs of Indigenous Peoples and the cause of reconciliation in our city.

Last month, despite concerns raised by myself and other leaders in the Indigenous community, you chose to approve, by consensus, the new 10-year Arts and Heritage Plan for the city that lacked meaningful Indigenous involvement in it’s creation – not even including the Edmonton Arts Council’s own Indigenous Advisory Committee which I was a member of. The plan contains no actionable commitments to serve Edmonton’s Indigenous peoples or organizations for the next ten years. In approving the plan without debate, you have set a precedent of lip service leadership for others in our city to follow in serving the Indigenous community. I have shared with you a letter this afternoon from Marilyn Dumont, renowned Métis poet, who was unable to be here this afternoon but also wanted to share her concerns.

Earlier this month, many of you joined members of the Métis community right behind you in the City Room to declare it Métis Week in the city of Edmonton. You spoke about the importance of this relationship in both Edmonton’s past and future. But words have to be backed up by action and resources to support that action.

2019 will mark five years since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada held its final national event down the street at the Shaw Conference Centre. Mayor Iveson – you were an honorary witness to the testimony of hundreds of survivors of the Indian Residential Schools system. You heard how that experience, along with the other colonial systems and systemic racism, has impacted the rest of their lives. A year later, here in Council Chambers, we streamed the TRC closing events from Ottawa and gathered by the sacred fire outside City Hall to reflect on the impact this testimony would have on us as a city and a nation.

Since then, eagle feathers have been given and gifts exchanged. You have all had the opportunity to attend sweat ceremonies and pipe ceremonies with the Elders of Treaty Six. You have committed to that Treaty relationship both in your words and with your spirit. But reconciliation is not measured by the words that were said and the commitments that were made but on your ability to deliver on them.

In the coming weeks, you will be making funding decisions on behalf of the citizens of our city for the next four years. You will also be providing funding to agencies that will provide services to the people of Edmonton. You hold a lot of power in improving the lives of the most marginalized in our city without ever hearing from them directly in Council Chambers. I am hear to provide you with wake up call.

As a city administration and as a Council, you continually speak about reconciliation. In order for Indigenous people like me to believe your words, you must start to prove it through the funding allocations you approve. There has to be accountability and long term change for Indigenous peoples to begin to take you at your word.

I want to see direct investments in the lives of Indigenous peoples in our city. I want to see changes to the systems that were created to keep Indigenous peoples excluded and on the margins of society. I want to see how the training you are implementing for city employees is changing the way you meet the needs of Indigenous peoples. And most of all, I want more ways for Indigenous peoples to be involved with and leading these conversations.

Three years ago at budget time, fellow members of my organization RISE – Reconciliation in Solidarity Edmonton made this same request to the then City Council. Since then, there has been ample opportunity for you to show your commitment through multi-year funding. There has also been an opportunity for you to expect demonstrated commitments from your agencies and boards to put in place plans to include Indigenous perspectives at every level of their organization and find tangible ways to support reconciliation.

Stop throwing around buzzwords like inclusion and reconciliation and treaty if you are not willing to make every decision through these lenses. Indigenous people need allies in leadership who are willing to stand up for their needs and make decisions for us, with us. I know this is a tough budget cycle and you will be forced to make some hard decisions. My only request is that you start putting your money where your mouth is when it comes to Indigenous peoples.

This conversation is not going away. Until you begin to show accountability to the Indigenous community, I will continue to speak up. As always, I am happy to provide you with tangible examples on how you can do this and who can help make this happen. I look forward to answering your questions today and am also willing to speak one-on-one as well.


The preceding  speech was shared at Edmonton’s City Council 2019-2022 Budget Public Hearing on November 28, 2018. A video recording of the proceedings can be found online here.

The Risk of Tolerating Racism

Over the past month, I have continued to use my voice to bring attention to issues that I feel are important for Edmonton’s Indigenous community. Every time I speak up, conversations are sparked, different perspectives are shared, and learning takes place. I also hope that by stepping up, I will encourage others to feel confident in pointing out things in the world that rub them the wrong way. These outcomes are my only rewards and hope they will also benefit others. I know that my opinions are not the be-all, end-all but sharing them is important to me.

My presentation to Edmonton’s City Council Community and Public Services Committee and  last blog post (which has now been viewed more than 4000 times) led to local media coverage and a lot of conversations, online and in-person. Since presenting to Council, I have been contacted by more than 60 Indigenous artists and allies who are also concerned about the lack of Indigenous involvement in the City of Edmonton’s newly approved 10-year Cultural Plan. Many of those who share my concerns say they are afraid to speak out publicly over possible repercussions for doing so, including a fear of being blacklisted from receiving grants for themselves or their organizations in the future. This is a real risk with real consequences for their  livelihoods.

And just before Halloween, I shared some photos on social media of a costume that I found offensive. My post on facebook and twitter led to local and national media coverage. It also brought out a lot of opinions about cultural appropriation versus cultural appreciation – a conversation that is not black and white and evolves with every grey example that pops up. In this situation, I was disappointed to see the swift backlash that came from a variety of people telling me I was being too touchy and blowing the whole thing out of proportion. Like most times when I am met with opposition, I’ve been reflecting on the spectrum of responses a lot.

I consider myself to be fairly self-aware but I know I, too, have blind spots. I make a conscious effort to consider the implications of my decisions and my words before taking action. However, as I get older and gain confidence, less and less do I let possible repercussions stop me from speaking my truth or calling out acts of racism and discrimination. For me, this is about challenging myself and others to consider how everyday words and actions are a way to influence larger societal shifts. I truly believe that intentional, daily efforts is what will ultimately disrupt colonial systems.

The opposition that has come from strangers, acquaintances, and allies in the past month, has led me to have some deep conversations about my own intentions and end goal of this work. Some have been willing to do this deep dive with me, while others have avoided the discomfort all together – all leading me to more self-reflection. For those of you who have followed along via the news coverage, social media, or my blog and have formed opinions about my intentions without engaging with me directly, I wanted to provide you with some insight.

I know that there are different levels of tolerance for racism and that people sometimes see (or don’t see) how it manifests around them. As I connect more with my own Indigenous identity and learn about the power of truth as a foundation for resiliency, I am more aware of the racism that exists in our city. My eyes are open and I now see it almost every day. I also see people who are afraid to open their eyes because seeing what I see will force them to look at themselves and, perhaps too, be compelled to do something about it. As I witness those who chose to look away, my tolerance for acts of racism grows closer and closer to zero. I feel that seeing it without acknowledging it and making others aware it’s happening is a way of condoning it. Each time we turn our heads and carry on, we tell the world it is acceptable. Perhaps we believe that we don’t hold the power to change the world but we do, one action and one word at the time. This requires standing up and speaking out. Every time we witness an act of racism, we have a choice to tolerate it and silently agree or do something. I have that choice, and so do you.

However, we also live in a society that breeds conformity and punishes those who challenge norms. There are risks, both perceived and real, for those of us that speak up and call out racism and discrimination. The risks can range from simple feelings of discomfort and awkwardness to loss of relationships, employment opportunities, and even threats of harm. The risks can impact all parts of one’s being – mental, physical, emotional and spiritual. Because these risks can be so detrimental, they further encourage us to mind our own business and stay out of it – tolerate it and pretend it’s not there.

These risks are ones that I am well aware of. From the first time I tweeted, I realized that sharing my thoughts in a public forum has its downfalls but also its rewards. I know that my low tolerance for racism and high tolerance for risk makes me different from others. I also know that these ratios have changed throughout my life, and continue to fluctuate based on a variety of factors. Being different in these ways does not make me better than others who make a conscious effort to choose silence more often than speaking up, it simply encourages me to do it more often for those who do not have the current circumstances to overcome the risks.

I know that the boldness I exhibit by speaking out in a public way frightens some people. I have been told by some other marginalized people that I should just be grateful for what I have and not rock the boat, founded in a belief that what Indigenous people have been able to gain could once again be taken away. I also know that there are other ways to combat racism besides a call to the local paper and I do those, too, although you may not hear about it. I have many one-on-one private chats, I point out who is missing from conversations at the boardroom tables I am asked to sit at, and I ask a lot of questions to deepen my understanding of opposing viewpoints. What bothers me most are those who don’t engage in the hard conversations, publicly or privately, and are not willing to challenge their own tolerance of racism and consider the risks in facing it head on.

If you’re uncomfortable with my forward approach, perhaps consider starting with some reflection on what you might be comfortable with:

  • What are your own tolerance levels?
  • What acts of racism are you willing to let slide?
  • Which ones cross the line and, in your eyes, must be called out?
  • What have you witnessed that, looking back, you regret not doing something about in that moment?
  • What were the risks that came to mind in that moment that stopped you from speaking up?
  • What is the worst case scenario that could have resulted from your action? How would you have handled it?

I encourage each of you to consider these questions and start a conversation with someone close to you that you trust. They may see the situation differently and gently challenge you to challenge yourself the next time you’re confronted with a similar situation. Through the process, you’ll likely learn a lot about each other but someone needs to be brave enough to start the conversation.

Pointing out acts of racism and discrimination takes away from my personal time and can be emotionally, mentally, and, sometimes, physically draining. When I choose to speak up, I have to be ready to engage in the conversation I am starting and have the supports I need in place beforehand. I have learned to enter these conversations with intention and the confidence that more good will come from it than bad. The more situations that prove this outcome to me, the more willing I am to start the conversations I feel are necessary for our collective well-being and for a respectful, just society.

In a recent conversation I had with a friend about the risks I face in speaking out, she pointed out the broader need to increase everyone’s risk tolerance. This is the question I am contemplating today – how do I encourage others to take on more calculated risk to call out racism? For me, this has always come in modeling the behaviour for others in hopes that it will spur others to speak up. Now, I am realizing that maybe it’s having the opposite effect. Perhaps others are watching from the sidelines, only seeing the negativity it stirs up which validates their assumptions about the benefits of avoiding any personal risk.

In thinking about our past, there are figures who stood up and spoke out when others allowed atrocities to happen. They may not have changed the course of history at that moment but they didn’t ignore the wrongs around them. Right now, I am thinking about ally Dr. Peter Bryce who wrote a scathing report on the welfare of Indigenous children in Indian Residential Schools, first shared in 1907. His report was a truthful account of the poor living conditions and disproportionate mortality rates in this federal system of forced assimilation. His report eventually led to his discreditation and ended his career in public health. More than a hundred years later, his findings were validated through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. If the Bryce Report would have resulted in the immediate closure of residential schools, my grandmother and my father – among hundreds of aunts, uncles, cousins, and other relatives – would have never been forced to attend. But instead of listening, three more generations of Indigenous peoples in our country were subjected to this genocide.

The risks are real and each of us have to consider our own ability to manage those risks. But fearing possible repercussions doesn’t have to stop us from speaking up. I would like to find ways to encourage a society that is less risk averse, where the possible impacts don’t keep each of us frozen in a place of compliance. If modeling behaviour around speaking up is not the answer, what is? I’ll continue to reflect on this and how I can play a part in encouraging others to engage in conversations about racism and understand each other’s perspectives on this complex issue.

While I don’t know the solution (yet), I do know that the consequence of inaction is a continued tolerance of racism. I want future generations to look back on us and see those shining moments when we were creating positive change in small and big ways every day, even though it made us, and others, uncomfortable. I want them to be proud of those of us who stood up against injustice, racism, discrimination, and inequality. I refuse to be remembered as one of the bystanders who knew better and chose not to act. This is not a risk I am willing to accept.

A Place at the Table

Good morning Committee members and other members of City Council. My name is Miranda Jimmy. I am a member of Thunderchild First Nation, proud Treaty person, and an active member of our city’s Indigenous community. For nearly 20 years now, I have been employed in and engaged with Edmonton’s arts and cultural sector. When I first moved to this city, the arts were a way of connecting with the people and pulse of my new home and has continued to be the way I relate to my changing community.

More than 10 years ago as an arts administrator and citizen, I was involved in the creation of our city’s first cultural plan: The Art of Living. At the time, I felt honoured that an Indigenous person would even be invited to participate in the development of such an important document and saw my involvement in the process as a step towards inclusion in our city. However, when it was published and the recommendations approved by Council, it was clear that the Indigenous perspective were not important enough to be included. At the time, I chalked it up to a simple minority versus majority of population in our city. Again, I was feeling like I was just lucky to have been involved.

But in a decade, society has changed and so have I. The Art of Living was approved prior to Idle No More, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Canada agreeing to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the City of Edmonton’s own MOUs with the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations, the Métis Nation of Alberta, and Enoch Cree Nation. Being invited to sit at the table can no longer the inclusion goal. Indigenous peoples need to be partners in planning the meetings and their opinions need to be valued, respected, and included when decisions are made.

Over the past year, I have been angered and disappointed by the approach that was taken to bring this new 10-year cultural plan forward to City Council. It was evident to me from who was invited to participate and who wrote what is before you, that respect for Indigenous peoples and the Treaty relationship is not the guiding force. Although once again, Indigenous people were permitted at the table for the discussions, the Indigenous knowledge shared through the process has not manifested itself in the pathway forward for culture in our city.

Simply acknowledging this Treaty relationship is not an acceptable form of Indigenous inclusion and I don’t want it to be the benchmark for the next 10 years to come. I want to see inherent respect for that Treaty relationship reflected in every step of development and execution of all City of Edmonton plans. This means meaningful involvement from Indigenous Peoples from Treaty Six, the Métis Nation, and others who now make their home here. It means Indigenous Peoples being involved in goal setting and outcome measurements, being reflected in the concepts and language, and it means allowing Indigenous Peoples to hold decision makers accountable for their actions – the way those who are in good relations should do.

When talking about the cultural fabric of our city, we need to honour and embrace its foundation – a gathering place for Indigenous Peoples from across Turtle Island to share in cultural and creative practices that are still alive today. For the heritage and arts of Edmonton, this is where we come from and it needs to be central in planning for our future. For too many generations, First Nations and Métis traditions were outlawed and hidden. By continuing to deny meaningful involvement of Indigenous Peoples in the planning of our city, you are choosing to keep it that way.

In reading the report presented to you today, you’ll see there was an attempt to engage with Indigenous Peoples. Perhaps more Indigenous Peoples were consulted in the development of this plan versus the last one but the lack of impact to the plan itself remains the same. The perspectives of Indigenous Peoples were not present in the recommendations of the Art of Living and they are not present in the ambitions, aims and actions of The Connections & Exchanges Plan. This document creates no space for Indigenous involvement going forward and no accountability to make sure Indigenous ways will be respected in the work carried out as a result of this plan.

When I sat in consultation meetings more than a decade ago for the development of the Art of Living, I envisioned the future of arts and culture in our city a generation away. I saw Indigenous presence both in policy and physical form and an accepted belief that the Treaty relationship is our city’s past, present and future. This new plan for arts and culture in our city is meant to take us to that next generation but unfortunately all I see in it is more of the same lip service – a mention that Indigenous Peoples exist but not that we have valuable perspectives to contribute. I look forward to answering any questions and providing you with specific areas of concern in this plan. Ultimately, I don’t want to live in a city where my cultural existence is not seen as integral and respected by the decision makers who are responsible for building a city for all my relations.


The preceding  speech was shared at Edmonton’s City Council Community and Public Services Committee on October 17, 2018. A video recording of the proceedings can be found online here.

Thanks but…

Mayor and members of Edmonton City Council:

On the United Nations International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, I am writing to acknowledge the recent support I received from the Edmonton Heritage Council (EHC) to attend and present at the 2018 National Council on Public History Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. At the conference, I presented as part of a panel discussion including Indigenous representatives from across Turtle Island speaking about project-based reconciliation work. I was able to share information about my volunteer work with RISE – Reconciliation in Solidarity Edmonton here in our city. The funding I received through the travel grant from EHC supported my trip and helped to strengthen many of my national relationships in the heritage community.

While I appreciate the support I received for this travel, I am very concerned with the overall lack of effort from the EHC to support reconciliation in Edmonton. Specifically, EHC is not doing enough to challenge the dominant colonial settler narrative that plagues our understanding of our city’s past and present and continues to focus on enforcing this narrative. The EHC is the City of Edmonton’s agency mandated to animate the stories of our city and is funded through operating support from Edmonton City Council. As such, I believe it should be aligned with the City’s commitments to broad societal change, like reconciliation. Within Edmonton’s heritage community, EHC has the ability to be an influencer and leader. As a funder of heritage organizations, EHC has the ability to lead others in the sector to also change the narrative presented to Edmontonians. If EHC chooses to perpetuate the fur trade and pioneer story of Edmonton’s beginnings and focus their resources solely on saving old buildings, EHC sets a tone for the rest of the heritage sector to say protecting this narrative is what is important.

The work of reconciliation is about systemic change which requires concerted efforts with targeted investment. For me, reconciliation starts with recognition that the way we have been doing things has marginalized and disregarded Indigenous experiences and voices – then making intentional efforts to ensure those perspectives to be included and elevated. If the City of Edmonton is actually committed to reconciliation and inclusion of Indigenous Peoples in the civic life of our city, you must demand this same commitment from the boards, agencies, and commissions you fund.

I will continue to watch and publicly reflect on reconciliation efforts in our city. I will monitor how the City of Edmonton, through decisions made at City Council, make long term changes and resource investments that lead to further inclusion of Indigenous perspectives. Like many Indigenous people in our city, I am still waiting to see if the commitment to reconciliation from my municipal government is just talk or if a generation from now, real change will be evident.

In solidarity,

Miranda Jimmy


The preceding letter was sent to all members of Edmonton City Council, along with the Edmonton Heritage Council Executive Director and Board Chair on August 9, 2018 to meet the final reporting requirements of a grant. 

The Real Fight for Feminism

In recent years, the word feminist has become less taboo to share openly. We have a Prime Minister who claims to hold the title feminist and gender parity in both our Provincial and Federal cabinets. Great, right? Yes, it’s a step forward but gender parity is hypocritical unless we approach feminism with intersectional diversity in mind.

I have a lot of friends who consider themselves progressive and talk about feminism in relation to what is going on in current events. In this time of political polarization, those same friends consider themselves to be on “the good and correct side” of the feminist debate while everyone else is “bad and wrong”. But what if those good folks are still only good to themselves?

Late last month, I was invited to speak to a group of students in the Nellie McClung program at Edmonton Public Schools as part of their celebrations for International Women’s Day. I was invited there by a Grade 8 student who had heard me speak at the Edmonton International Women’s Film Festival last year about the experience of women in politics. In the days leading up to this year’s event, I was thinking about McClung and the women suffragettes and wondering what young women today are taught about this movement, especially those in the program named in her honour.

At the event, I asked the students what they knew about Nellie – making note that most of the students were girls of colour. They told me the generic story of the Famous Five and shared that women have now had the right to vote for over 100 years. I was happy to clarify that only some women earned the right through that movement, which would have left most in the room excluded from voting. This was a shock to the students and to me that they are not being taught the whole truth. I also mentioned the eugenics movement that McClung advocated for. Not only would some of the students not have earned the right to vote, they would have been subject to legislation that may have denied them healthcare or worse, forced them to have surgical procedures they did not consent to.

I’ve heard the excuse that the work of the Famous Five was the stepping stone to getting other women to be seen as persons. For First Nations women, we got the right to vote at the same time as First Nations men – more than a generation after white women. Imagine if the original suffragettes would have fought for the rights of all women at the same time.

In present day, I am seeing history repeat itself. Many privileged white women are waving the feminist flag and fighting for parity in workplaces, on boards, and in politics but very few are considering diversity in that fight. Most are only considering the rights of those who are like them and those that they interact with daily in their comfortable social circles. Even worse are those who recognize diversity as an issue but are not using their power and privilege to change the conversation and invite marginalized women in.

After the election, I was a topic of conversation on a local podcast about women in politics – hosted by two privileged white women. They chatted about the harassment and bullying they had seen towards me on social media throughout the election by a prominent white male. In fact, many people reached out to me after the election telling me how appalling his behaviour was. They had all noticed it happening but none of them stepped up as it was taking place to say anything. And every time someone mentions to me how sorry they are that it happened, I get more and more frustrated. I had the opportunity recently to talk to one of those hosts face to face and tell her how angry that comment made me feel. If I had been a white affluent women, would there have been as many silent bystanders to the harassment? On second thought, would the online bullying have even happened at all? As far as I’m aware, none of the white women I was running against fielded the same targeted harassment.

Last week I attended another event for International Women’s Day that brought together hundreds of women from across the public service. It was great to see the diversity of women represented in the audience but the speakers did not mirror this diversity. My guess is that intersectionality was not even a consideration for the event organizers – five white women. The keynote speaker talked about the challenges of working in a male dominated career but never mentioned her privilege as a white women in that field and how much more challenging it would have been had she come from a marginalized background. As the event carried on and participants broke out into smaller sessions with other panels and speakers, I noticed the trend of privilege continue. Of the 30 or so speakers that afternoon, from my count about two-thirds were white women and the other third a mix of white males and women of colour. For me, this lack of consideration for intersectionality underlines the expectation that women like me are expected to beg to be included, instead of being invited.

While more women are achieving positions of power, the voices of white, privileged women who are now being welcomed to the table do not speak for me. Their understanding of the world and the barriers that exist in it are very different from mine. I make an effort every day to recognize the ways that I am privileged. Most of the time, I don’t have to dedicate a lot of time and energy to making sure my basic needs are taken care of. I have a roof over my head at night, food to eat, and job security. I have mental health resources when I need them, access to healthcare, and people who support and care for me. With the privilege I have, I try to make space for those who don’t have a forum to express themselves, amplify the voices of others who are marginalized, and bring perspectives to the table that are otherwise not represented. As a feminist and as a compassionate human being, I feel like that is my responsibility.

To my friends, acquaintances, and anyone reading this:

  • Are you are a Nellie McClung-type feminist or a present day, intersectional-type feminist?
  • Do you acknowledge not only the gender parity in the room but also the whiteness – and do you work to change it?
  • Do you listen to voices that are different from your own lived experience and use your power and influence to include them?

The next International Women’s Day is 12 months away. In that time, I hope we are challenging ourselves to think and work differently for women’s rights. I also hope that I see more diversity around the table whenever there is a discussion about leadership, social justice, or inclusion – issues that impact all women.

Right now, the colonizers – male and female – need to exercise their power and shift this conversation, giving the rest of us a chance to pull up a chair.

Coffee Chats, Whiteboards, and the Year Ahead

For those of you who have been following along on my blog journey since October, you might have noticed that I have not posted much over the past month or so. Although I haven’t been blogging, there has been a lot going on.

This path of reflection, processing, and sharing that I have been on since the election has brought some surprising things my way. I had anticipated that people would be interested in hearing a bit about what I learned and that my perspective would spark conversation, perhaps encouraging others to share. By choosing to blog, I also knew there were going to be those who didn’t want some secrets revealed and that I was going to take some slack for my opinions. That is always a chance you take putting your thoughts out there for the world to read. For those who know me personally or know me through my public involvement, most would agree that I have never been known to keep my perspectives to myself and enjoy challenging the norms. To me, blogging is just an extension of that. My opinions are not more important or less important than others but I do think they deserve to be a part of the conversation.

Over the last year, there has not been a shortage of people reaching out to me to share their opinions, as could have been expected. When you’re constantly out at community events and going door to door inviting people to share their perspectives, you are greeted with a swath of ideas, opinions, and suggestions for improvement. However, I was surprised at how many of my acquaintances felt the need to reach out and attempt to influence my approach to campaigning, platform on specific issues, or decisions to be made in public office. No more so has this been more evident than over the last two months.

I know a lot of people through the many hats that I wear and think that my connections to a broad range of networks is one of my greatest strengths. I rarely turn down an invitation to connect with someone who reaches out to go for a coffee and appreciate the opportunity to catch up with the people that I know. Since October, I have received many invitations for coffee from past acquaintances, former colleagues, and friends. In most instances, the invitation came via text and sounded something like “I’d love to take you for coffee once things settle down. Let me know when you have some time.” With the flood of invitations and everyone’s busy schedules, it took well into December to find time to meet with everyone I wanted to catch up with. Nevertheless, starting in early November, I began my coffee date tour.

Looking back in my calendar, there were seven chats that stand out for me because they were all so eerily similar. We’d meet up at a local coffee shop, grab a drink, sit down, and within 90 seconds of small talk, the conversation would turn – you need to stop with the blog.

I was then peppered with questions about why I was blogging and what I was trying to prove. The line of questioning often came with a condescending tone of “I’m worried about you” or friendly advice that “there is always a higher road”. In every case, these were people I would consider community contacts but not necessarily friends or confidants. I was surprised at how the relationship I thought we had led them to believe that I would somehow be convinced over the coffee to silence myself.  Most also said they were there on behalf of others, not just themselves, and that everyone is concerned about my intentions. Why were they so worried about me and what I had to say? After the first couple of coffee chats, I thought it was just coincidence but then it happened over and over and over again. This put my guard up and I began to anticipate the same line of questioning with every invitation to get together that came my way.

In every instance, I listened to what they had to say, shared my perspective, and ended the conversation politely. I think most people realized that they had not convinced me to end my blog and perhaps left a bit more on edge about what I might say next. Not only had their persistent attempts to silence me not worked, they now knew I was blogging knowing full well people were paying attention. The best line from one of the coffee dates “I fully support you in saying whatever you like, just promise you won’t mention me”. Guess what, if you are in my life, I have experiences and interactions with you and perspectives on those encounters which I am not afraid to share. What are you so scared that I am going to say?

On top of the odd advice-offering coffee chats, I was recently told that my name has been swirling in conversations in the City of Edmonton communications department. My first and last name appeared, along with nothing else, on the whiteboard of Mary Sturgeon, Branch Manager of Communications at the City. For days my name was on display in her office for hundreds of employees to see while walking the open concept floor at the Edmonton Tower. To my recollection, I’ve never met Mary nor has she ever reached out to me so what earned me the distinction of being mentioned in her office? (Mary – if you’re reading this, I’d love to hear from you)

Over the last month, the coffee conversations have become more direct and pointed in their intent. I have been threatened with legal action if I mention particular names or information on my blog. My livelihood has been interfered with by those in public office. And sadly, this has made me tighten my circle and play an internal game of ‘who can I trust’. I am now more careful about what I share on social media and even hesitated in writing this blog for weeks.

As I’ve mentioned, one of the main outcomes that I was hoping for from my blog was to spark conversation. However, I did think that more people would be interested in having these conversations in a public forum, like in the comments section or on social media. Some of that happened initially but that quickly dwindled off. These coffee talks have proven to me that conversations are still happening, just in more discreet ways. I also know that people who I have never even met are having conversations about me and my blog. The fact that the conversations are taking place is a good first step. It’s interesting to me that I am not being included in the conversations that I have sparked and, because of this, will never know what conclusions people have come to. Overall, I am grateful for those who were willing to talk with me directly, seeking clarity on my intent, rather than gossip and assume.

My experience as a candidate and in the months that have proceeded is an incredible gift. Now more than ever, I realize that there are many reasons for people’s paths to cross and through every interaction, there is a lesson to learn. I am also even more driven, knowing that speaking my truth will lead to important conversations that need to happen and ultimately shifts and the change I want to see in the world. I likely will not be consistently posting blogs anymore – just know that this is not the last you’ll hear from me.

I am starting 2018 with optimism, opportunity, and endless potential. My blog on reconciliation will be the focus of my public lecture at MacEwan University on January 24th where I will be given an hour to elaborate on my thoughts. In February, I will be leading a webinar for Canada’s History on a project that I co-created in 2015, which led to an honourable mention at the Governor General’s Awards. And in April, I will be speaking at the National Council on Public History conference in Las Vegas. Best of all, I am starting a new job that will allow a seed that I planted 14 years ago begin to flourish.

If you want to know more about what I am up to or what’s been going on behind the scenes, reach out. I am always up for a coffee!

Jam PAC-ed Politics

This past weekend, the Alberta Party held their AGM in Red Deer. There had been rumors for awhile about members of other provincial political parties planning to join their ranks but this was the first time they officially came out of the woodwork. This included some former Alberta Liberal party members, most notably former leadership hopeful Kerry Cundal who was elected to the Alberta Party board of directors. But of course the real story is the influx of former ‘progressive’ Conservatives showing up.

I had heard whisperings since the summer time of the ‘benevolent takeover’ of the Alberta Party by former members of the PC Party who didn’t want to stay under the leadership of Jason Kenney. Congregating under the Alberta Together banner, it’s a culmination of a ton of PC money that will undoubtedly bring clout and power to the conversation. The money and influence began to show its strength in the recent municipal election with, for the first noticeable time, political action committee backing of candidates in Edmonton and dictating the tone of civil discourse.

Historically, municipal elections have been ward based, with supporters rallying around a single candidate. In this election, Alberta Together, the former PC member-funded political action committee or PAC, is directly linked to at least 10 campaigns in Edmonton alone. They provided quiet public endorsements, volunteers, and, likely donors. I have heard rumors of promises of donations of at least $50,000 for the ‘chosen’ City Council candidates. We won’t know the true impact of this funding influence until all of the financial disclosures are made public in March 2018 but for now, let’s start drawing the connections….

The easiest way to show the connections is to track a few individuals. Ward 1 is where Katherine O’Neill, Alberta Together’s Executive Director and former PC President, resides. She was a strong advocate for Andrew Knack on social media. In Ward 3, Dave Loken was the choice with support from Katherine and Stephen Mandel, former mayor and known instigator of Alberta Together. In Ward 4, support was thrown behind Justin Draper, with Katherine volunteering on his campaign. In Ward 7 and 9, along with the Mayoral race, there was less open support however at least two gatherings took place that included choice Alberta Together candidates, as shown here, including Kris Andreychuk, Tim Cartmell, and Don Iveson. For Ward 10, it should come as no surprise that their choice was Michael Walters, former candidate for the Alberta Party and PC supporter.

The support in the recent election did not end with candidates for City Council either. There were public endorsements, volunteer hours, and donations for Edmonton Public School Board candidates in at least three Wards: A, D, and H.

What we might be witnessing is simply a number of super engaged citizens who had the personal time and resources to dedicate to multiple races. But when these individuals are so closely tied to a former and emerging political party, the involvement starts to look less like motivated individuals and more like an organized partisan movement.

It was in Ward 5 where most of the Alberta Together support was given to candidate Sarah Hamilton. The ‘progressive’ PC machine was behind her in full force, utilizing endorsements from Stephen Mandel and Michael Oshry, known supporters of Alberta Together. Once her financial disclosures are released, I’m sure this backing will become even more evident. For now, it proves that there is at least toxic crossover and interference in municipal campaigns.

I was shocked at how influential this was in Edmonton’s municipal election. I had naively always thought that hard work and strong policies would warrant positive results. As I mentioned in my first blog post-election, this is not the case. I now believe that you must have at least two-out-of-three key attributes to have a good shot at winning – political party backing being one of those.

The question voters need to consider is:

Do you think it is fair that political parties or party-funded PACs fundraise to support municipal candidates?

Recently, there was a late night discussion about the role of PACs in the recent municipal election. The Legislative Committee talked about pulling ‘dark money’ out of Alberta politics after seeing its impact on October’s results and thinking forward to the 2019 Provincial Election. Reports say that a bill will be introduced soon to address this in Alberta.

Whatever the future holds for election funding, I know that this loophole in the legislation is taking democratic power away from voters in our city and province. Until the hole can be fixed, the electorate should at least be aware that partisan money has more of an impact on election results than their ballot does.

Finally, if I could speak for a moment directly to Alberta Party members, you might want to consider where your new influx of cash and people are coming from. This money and membership comes with very tightly controlled strings. PACs and the funds from Alberta Together go against many of your own principles of transparency, social responsibility, and democracy. It’s not the average centrist Albertan supporter but rather the generation of tax breaks for the wealthy and public service cuts with no balanced approach in sight that is paving the road to your party’s future. But as we know, money talks.


The claim is on you, the sights are on me

So what do you do that’s guaranteed

Hey little girl, you broke the laws

You hustle, you deal, you steal from us all”

(A.Young / B.Johnson / M.Young)

The Reconciliation Scorecard

Its Métis Week in Edmonton, celebrated annually by the Métis Nation of Alberta during the week of November 16: the day Louis Riel was executed. The City of Edmonton has a Memorandum of Shared Recognition and Cooperation with the MNA and each year as part of this relationship, they fly the Métis Flag at City Hall. The question I have been asking myself this week, and for a while frankly, is this what reconciliation has come to in our city? A hour-long ceremonial gesture once a year?

More than a decade ago, as a resident of the city and a member of the then-existing Edmonton Urban Aboriginal Affairs Committee, I supported the City of Edmonton in the creation of the Edmonton Urban Aboriginal Accord. This document and process was supposed to be the dawn of a new era of municipalities working with Indigenous Peoples. The initiative was based on four guiding principles:

  • Relationships – enhance and promote positive perceptions and attitudes between Aboriginal communities and the City of Edmonton
  • Agreements – explore and create agreements that enrich community life
  • Celebrations – share the gifts of our relationship
  • Renewal – renew and strengthen this relationship agreement

The City of Edmonton has actively committed to this accord in many ways over the past 12 years through the creation of the Indigenous Relations Office and MOUs with the Métis Nation of Alberta, the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations, and, most recently, with our neighbours Enoch Cree Nation. The question for me is how have these agreements filtered their way into City of Edmonton policy and practice.

Since signing this agreement, the Indigenous Relations Office has moved around within the City of Edmonton corporate structure. What once was a part of the City Manager’s Office, with influence over all city operations, now sits below a branch in a single department. This agreement is not only a commitment to the Indigenous peoples of our city, it’s a promise to do better. In order to do better for the long term, you have to commit to systemic policy changes and not just wave a flag once a year. For me, the hardest part of this work and the component of the accord that has seen no action is the principal of Renewal.

A lot has changed in the realm of Indigenous relations in the past decade, most notably is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. It has been nearly two years since the TRC completed its mandate and released its final 10-volume report and almost 4 years since its seventh and final National Event right here in our city. When the TRC was in Edmonton, Mayor Don Iveson proclaimed a Year of Reconciliation with the promise of three key initiatives:

  1. Educate all the city’s 11,000 staff on the history and impact of residential schools
  2. Get more Aboriginal youth involved in civic programs, fill gaps in city programming and allow youth to explore careers in the public service
  3. Create a public space in the city for Indigenous ceremonies and cultural programs

Since that time, the former City Council also made a commitment to commemorate the TRC event in our city and earmarked $200,000 from Council Contingency funds to this. The four initiatives ended up all being part of the TRC’s Calls to Action, released in June 2015. It looked liked Edmonton was once again at the forefront of this work in our country.  But has any of this Year of Reconciliation stuff happened in our city? Is there any accountability for elected officials to do what they say they are going to do? The short answers are: some and no.

Here’s a quick progress report:

  • The City of Edmonton has implemented a training program for employees to learn more about Indigenous Peoples, residential school, and historical trauma. The training is not mandatory and only a portion of employees are chosen to participate.
  • The City has recreation programs for Indigenous youth, like the Nîkâniw Indigenous Youth Leadership Program and Flying Eagle, but these are not new and I have no idea if there has been increased participation.
  • The City has been working with the community for years to allow ceremonial space within city limits and ceremonies have been taking place for more than a decade. There has been progress to further remediate a site in the river valley but this work was taking place long before the Year of Reconciliation, as stated on the City of Edmonton website.
  • Preliminary consultation was completed on what type of commemoration the community would like to see to honour the TRC event in Edmonton. The City Council term has now ended and there has been no further mention of this work.

Ultimately, I think the biggest change that has come since Edmonton became the first major municipality in Canada to sign an agreement with the Indigenous community is the buzzword of reconciliation – it’s all of a sudden the cool thing to do or at least say you’re doing.

Recently, there has been a lot of talk around the name of Edmonton’s professional football team. For years there have been concerns over their derogatory name, especially with more organized campaigns in the US for sport team name changes. More than a year ago, at the Banff Forum, I had the opportunity to meet Natan Obed, President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, who renewed the call for a team name change two years ago. We talked about the work I was doing around Indian hospitals and he brought up the Edmonton football team. I suggested that he talk to Mayor Iveson who was also at the conference and offered to introduce them. The two men had a private meeting and the mayor mentioned to me after that he was sympathetic to the cause but there was nothing he could do. Really? Yes, the team is a privately owned sports franchise but they train, practice, and play in a City of Edmonton owned facility. If the City wanted to step up, they have a lot of leverage to push the conversation.

As was pointed out through the work of the TRC, only ~5% of Canada’s population is Indigenous. If the societal changes necessary for reconciliation are even going to be possible, the other 95% of people have to be responsible for making it happen.

Edmontonians, these questions are for you:

  • Do you want reconciliation?
  • Are you committed to long term, sustained change to make it possible?
  • Are you going to hold your elected officials accountable to make it happen?

Let’s continue with the annual events and ceremonial photo ops but don’t allow the cause of reconciliation to stop there. If we are going to eliminate poverty, end homelessness, decrease social isolation, and truly reconcile our shared past, this cannot easily be wrapped up in a four year term. It takes accountability, long term planning, and sustained public pressure. Let’s make it possible together.

Who’s really ready to play ball?

The Web We Weave

Since I decided to use a blog as a tool for me to process the recent election, I had a plan in place on how I was going to unpack the advantage systems that I see existing for some candidates over others. It was going to start here, build on this, expand on that, which would lead to this and keep going until I got to the colonial systems in which we’re all entwined. After spending the day at the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls Inquiry Public Hearings in Edmonton, it now seems ignorant to not want to start the conversation there.

I have done a lot of reading on privilege and acknowledge that I too have privilege over some in our society and in our city. My adult life has been, and will continue to be, a journey to recognize this privilege and find ways to include others who do not have the same advantages to operate in the systems that we have created. Even getting to a place where I can acknowledge these systems and powers that are in place has been a journey. I know that there are still many people oblivious and those who are willfully ignorant or even downright deny the existence of privilege. Getting that group of people to become aware is often a daily struggle for me.

There are thousands upon thousands of articles and blogs written about white privilege. Google can fill you in if you’re not sure what it is I am referring to. I’m not sure where this analogy started or who said it first but many people say asking white people to explain privilege is like asking a fish to explain what it’s like to live in water. If your reality is simply understood to be that way, it’s hard to acknowledge that it’s even there if you have never known anything different. I agree with this analogy as a starting point but then my mind goes to a vision of what happens when you take a fish out of water – frantically flapping around and, ultimately, death. I can understand how the fear of losing everything you know can trigger a defensive response. I don’t want people who have benefited from privilege to think about the loss of it as similar to the loss of water for a fish.

For me, I think of systemic white privilege as a web over society. It’s the finely woven strands that keep us all in order and govern how we connect with each other. There are places in the web that are flexible and malleable that allow for movement with the elements. There are also parts that are much more rigid and thickly layered, intended to restrict movement. There are places where the web has torn and been repaired but also places where the tears have grown and expanded to allow for gaps. This web over all of us is the system of white privilege. Our web is based on colonial constructs of what is right and wrong and who should be able to move freely and who should be restricted. By its nature, the web does its best to reward conformity so as not to disrupt its structural integrity. Sometimes it can be hard to see the web is even there until you hit a snag.

Being white does not necessarily award you the ability to move freely within the web but conformity to the expected norms and hierarchy does. Those who aspire to and model privilege also begin to be able to move more easily. On the flip side, those who don’t model the same conformity or those who start furthest away from the expected ideal get caught up in additional restraints that others do not have to deal with. This is privilege to me.

If you’re not following my analogy of the web, that’s okay. Sometimes things are perfectly clear to me but others don’t see it the way that I do. One thing is certain, the systems of white privilege are there whether we see them or not.

Consider these questions:
  • Growing up, did you see people like you in lead characters on TV sitcoms?
  • Thinking back on the all the bosses you’ve had in your life, how many were white males?
  • Can you go into a chain restaurant and order your favourite meal that your mom used to make?

These are all signs of white privilege. These are also factors that are out of your direct control but create societal expectations of what the norm should be which directly influence our decision making perhaps without us even realizing it.

Bringing this lens to our government structures and, more specifically, to our electoral process, I’d like everyone to think about the conformity that is encouraged and expected. For generations in this place now known as Canada, our colonial government was made up only of white, affluent males. They were charged with setting up the rules by which we are all expected to play. They are also who we associate with being the decision makers in our society at a foundational level. Yes, this has begun to evolve over time and diversity is now more present than ever in all orders of government. However, it is still easier for those who emulate these qualities and have the innate support of these long-standing systems. And it is still harder for those who do not.

Take a moment to reflect on that.

 

At the core, this is is what I would like more people to be aware of. Know that these sometimes barely visible norms are there, encouraging us to think and act in a particular way while discouraging others to act at all. I still have a lot to process from the last year and a half and even more to process from today’s MMIW hearings.

In honour of those who have struggled to break free from the confines of the web and those who passed on trying, I acknowledge you. Your experiences may be different than mine but we are also alike in so many ways. I will continue to acknowledge the systemic white web of privilege and the role that I play in both conforming to the expected patterns and creating the intentional tears. I will use the space that I have because of my own privilege in this world to shine a light on the systems that keep us all in line. And I will continue to question why others are afraid to see the truth to deepen my understanding of the challenge I am up against.


For my Auntie Irene and the other missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

The Conversation has Begun

As I mentioned in my first blog post, I wanted to start a real conversation about the systemic barriers and underlying systems that are at play in the realm of municipal politics. My rationale for wanting to have this conversation is simple: I was unaware until I ran as a candidate how much these systems truly impact the process and the outcome. I think most people are also unaware and this information needs to be identified, shared, and understood so that every voter knows the powers at play.

I decided to use a blog to start this conversation to help myself process the experience and share my perspective. When I posted the first blog, a week passed without a mention of it online anywhere. I wasn’t sure if anyone had stumbled across it or read it. I thought I would be able to continue processing my thoughts in solidarity for a while before inviting others to the conversation. Well, that didn’t happen.

Less than an hour after I posted my most recent blog, a known Conservative insider who was involved with Sarah Hamilton’s campaign decided to post it to twitter and share his opinions. Within a couple of hours several Conservative supporters had replied in disgust. This immediate response told me that I must have struck a cord. The swift dismissal of my perspective as ‘sour grapes’ has proven to me the importance of this conversation. I need to challenge the norms and shake the foundation of entitlement.

And so the conversation has begun.

Last fall at the Banff Forum, I had an interesting conversation with a fellow participant about having difficult conversations. Both of us had experience working on the cause of reconciliation and pushing this issue into places where it needs to be pushed. I had been referring to the need to create safe spaces for the difficult conversations – respectful spaces where people felt supported to share openly, free from criticism. In our interaction, my fellow Banffer challenged this notion and said we don’t need safe spaces we need brave spaces – spaces where people feel brave to share how they truly feel filled with people brave enough to listen and learn. This has stuck with me over the last year. Be brave, not safe.

All of us have assumptions and biases which help us make decisions quickly, based on previous experiences or knowledge. Rarely do we acknowledge these assumptions and sadly we rarely share them with others. In my last post, I shared some of my assumptions publicly. This was not intended to say I am all-knowing but exactly the opposite: I have formed opinions based on assumptions that may or may not be true. I am trying to be more brave in every conversation I have. I hope that my bravery will challenge others to consider their assumptions and biases or at least acknowledge them as being present.

I have a few blogs already written in draft form and am planning to release a new one every Tuesday for now. Like this blog, I might also need to pepper a few in between to help the evolving (or in this case, exploding) conversation. I know that my perspective is not one that some people will want to hear and others will not even want to recognize exists. I am okay with that. I have chosen to stay out of the twitter conversation but appreciate everyone who has stepped in and engaged so far. I also appreciate the few people who have chosen to continue the conversation on facebook and on their own blogs. I know this conversation will not be easy so I am challenging everyone to be brave.

For those of you who chose to read along with me, for those who choose to voice their perspectives in response, and for those who need supportive allies on this journey – we can all be brave together.