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.

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!

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.

Let’s Start a Real Conversation

As I shared with my supporters last night, I began my campaign with three fundamental beliefs in mind: anyone who wishes to speak up and share their perspectives should have a place in the political process, decisions for our community should be based on listening to residents and incorporating their perspectives, and our current City Council needs to be more diverse

All of these beliefs come from my own core values that standing up for what’s right will lead to change and that including more diverse perspectives into the conversation leads to better decision making. The last 14 months of campaigning has brought insights and experiences that I never could have imagined. I have met thousands of people that have expanded my own knowledge of the city and what it means to be an Edmontonian. I have garnered support from places where I didn’t even think to look for help, and I have deepened my connection to my community and this place I am proud to call home.

Today I am further reflecting on the efforts of my campaign and pondering the personal commitments that I have put on hold to seek public office. I am thinking about the extraordinary efforts of my volunteers, the support of my campaign contributors, and the relationships that I made with people across the ward and the city on this journey. Something like this takes a vast network of people committed together to pull it off. I am honoured that so many people believed in the gifts that I have to share that they joined me as part of the campaign.

Despite a groundswell of support, despite months of hard work, despite the personal belief that I am the best person for the job, I didn’t win. This makes me sad and angry, not because I lost but because it has become clear to me that the political game was created for people like me not to win. The campaign has broken my belief in representative democracy and I will be mourning that loss for a long time.

The disadvantages that I was faced with were anticipated in the planning of my campaign, yet throughout I maintained a core belief that knowledge, passion, and dedication could overcome these systemic barriers for true democratic representation. In the days, weeks, and months to come, I want to start a public conversation on these barriers that exist for some and the advantages that exist for others.

For me these advantages fall into three separate but related categories:

  • Political Affiliations
  • Affluence Equating to Influence
  • Systemic White Privilege

I look forward to diving into these topics in upcoming blogs. I will also be reaching out to hear from other candidates that I respect to hear their perspectives. Their experiences and opinions on the barriers they experienced through the recent campaign will help deepen my own understanding.

I have a lot more to say. I look forward to using this communication tool as a way to process my experience and provide a dose of reality to how others understand the political process.

More to come.

The results are in

The voters of Ward 5 have made their decision. Of course it was not the result I was hoping for but I respect the democratic process and the people who chose to have their voices heard. I will have many more reflections over the coming hours and days but for now I just want to quietly reflect on the journey that brought me here.

Thank you to my volunteers, donors, and supporters. Your willingness to step up and support my Ward 5 journey has been a gift. It has been an honour to work alongside of you and campaign in the best way we know how – with honour, courage, and respect.

I am excited for the next adventure awaiting for me and for whatever the universe has in store.

All My Relations.