Larkin Schmiedl's Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘culture

2017 Kick-Ass Activist: Peyton Straker

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For Yellowknife’s Indigenous youth looking to learn more about their cultures, Peyton Straker highlights the importance of land-based education

Peyton Straker was a five-time high-school dropout when she took a job as an Indigenous support worker at the public school board in Yellowknife. Straker, 23 and Anishinaabe, knew from experience many of the ways the education system failed her. As a youth she felt displaced in schools where she couldn’t see herself reflected in the curriculum, and often instead of feeling supported, Straker got the message in school that she was somehow a problem.

When the job first came up online, Straker thought, “That sounds terrible, and I also am really under-qualified for that,” she says. She applied anyway, hoping to make a positive change. “Two weeks later I was starting the job.”

Straker began reading and learning about land-based education when she was 17. She completed an intensive immersion course at the Northwest Territory’s Dechinta Bush University, where she camped in a small isolated group, studying decolonization and experienced her first moose hunt. “Seeing the way that being on the land informs your decolonization process and your identity was what made me decide that that was what I wanted to do,” she says.

When the new position required bringing absent students back to school, Straker decided instead to go about creating something new. But it wasn’t easy. In her first days on the job she inquired about her budget. The response: “You don’t have one.” As the only person in a job that no one had ever done, Straker turned her focus toward getting what she wanted: money to improve cultural education for youth. Though she had never filled out a funding application before, she raised enough to buy a snowmobile and other supplies, and gave birth to the Traditional Mentorships Program.

The program’s purpose was to connect youth more deeply with land-based ways of life, and nurture cultural resilience. Run by and for Indigenous people, Straker saw it as an opportunity to create something she didn’t have when she was young. At first, she wrestled with questions about the school system: “Is a conventional colonial space really a space for decolonization?” she asked. “But whether or not I think that it’s the appropriate place, it’s where the kids are.”

Most teachers and parents were supportive. The students in the program would leave class from half a day to overnight to take part. “The teachers were not worried about them missing their book work,” Straker says. “It didn’t mean they got extra homework. It was just part of their week, and it was valued just as much as their science class.”

Although most of her students had some traditional knowledge, Straker noticed it was patchy. She wanted the program to give youth tangible skills they could use into adulthood. “The whole point of our knowledge systems is to pass them on,” she says. From trapping and fishing to Inuit games, the students immersed themselves in opportunities, including a week-long moose-hide tanning camp. “We also wanted to give the students the opportunity to see that the land isn’t far off, it’s not way out there somewhere,” she adds. “We live in Yellowknife. You walk across the street and you’re on one of the biggest lakes in the world.”

Straker was able to grow the program and hire one of her own former instructors, Kyle Enzoe, to teach. “It was an opportunity for us to also create jobs within the community for people who have knowledge that you can’t put a number on,” says Straker. “It’s very hard to get paid to share your traditional knowledge.”

Enzoe’s involvement gave the kids in grades 6 to 8 an opportunity to connect with someone not much older— Enzoe was 33—who was both deeply traditional and modern at once. Enzoe holds the most knowledge of anyone she knows when it comes to the land and trapping. At the same time, “He has Facebook,” Straker says.

Since its inception, the Traditional Mentorships Program has had a far reach. Straker often presents about land-based education at conferences. After seeing the positive changes this type of education had in her own life, she wants to do the same for others. “I’ve seen my life completely transform and change the more that I’ve fostered my reciprocal relationship with the land,” she says.

Although land-based education can seem trivial to some, without it Straker says she wouldn’t have ever understood why land matters. “I didn’t see myself within the land, and I didn’t see the land within myself,” she says.

She has seen similar transformations in others. “All of our collective issues within the Indigenous community—none of them exist without the land, and without land disputes.” Any conversation meant to further reconcilitation or create spaces for Indigenous youth must involve a land base, she says. Still, there is a lack of funding for such education.

If the government wants to make more money, Straker says, educating people puts them in a higher tax bracket, and that’s what land-based education has the capacity to do. “It can change our economy and our knowledge economy in the North,” she says.“Funding is really, really necessary, and it’s hard to get our hands on.”

Aside from her work at the school board, Straker also spends time making jewelry from animals she and Enzoe have harvested using traditional protocol. She’s also part of a collective called ReMatriate that works to interrupt culturally appropriative fashion and take back control over Indigenous women’s visual identities. Straker’s work is a powerful reminder of the importance of the land and its place in people’s lives—another reason for greater education.

First published in Jan/Feb 2017 issue of This Magazine

https://this.org/2017/01/25/2017-kick-ass-activist-peyton-straker/

People who do Good Stuff: Jen Sungshine

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The youth LGBTQ advocate who preaches love and celebrates diversity

SPREADING LOVE AS AN ACTIVIST can be a tricky balance to achieve, especially for those who do in-depth social justice work in a world rife with pain. Addressing injustice through education is emotionally demanding work and can be disheartening. But co-founder of Love Intersections, Jen Sungshine, practices love with intention. Her work focuses on raising public awareness to address racism in the queer community—something she does through conversation, empathy, and patience.

Sungshine and co-conspirator David Ng started Love Intersections as a blog after witnessing racist misconceptions in Vancouver’s queer community. In 2014, the Vancouver School Board was at work crafting its transgender inclusion policy. When a group of Chinese-Canadian parents opposed the policy, many in the white LGBTQ community responded by expressing ideas such as “people of colour are more homophobic.” Sungshine, who’s queer and Taiwanese, realized something needed to shift.

“We really needed to change that stereotype,” she says, “and we really needed to change that narrative.” She decided to put her artistic skills to work and create a visibility campaign. The result was a series of 15 posters displaying queers of various races, backgrounds, genders, and orientations, printed in the languages of those involved, plus English. The large posters were put up mainly in bus shelters across Vancouver in 2015.
And now, this year, Sungshine and Love Intersections will be doing even more. A recently completed online crowdfunder raised over $5,900—enough money to expand the project. Sungshine will help create two more themed campaigns with posters and videos, along with colleagues and volunteers from Love Intersections and partner organization Our City of Colours, another Vancouver group that addresses issues facing LGBTQ people from a variety of linguistic and cultural communities.

She plans on adding between 15–30 new posters to the mix. The plan is to take the project to schools and community centres, and also outside of Vancouver, raising visibility for queer and trans Indigenous people and people of colour (QTIPOC) throughout B.C. and beyond. “We would love to just invite the community to give us ideas on what the next two things can be,” says Sungshine.

Besides serving on Our City of Colour’s board, Sungshine makes art, works as a contract facilitator for Vancouver’s Out in Schools running anti-homophobia and -transphobia workshops in schools, and does communications and outreach with the University of British Columbia’s Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice. In all of this, her focus remains committed to learning and teaching, and being an example of someone who “calls in” instead of “calling out.” This means that Sungshine prioritizes connection over criticism, and relationship-building over critical politics. But it doesn’t mean she isn’t fiercely passionate about what she does. And she stresses many approaches are valid and needed.

As a facilitator who works mainly with people from very different backgrounds, she regularly faces the challenge of how to talk about social justice issues like gender, race, and sexuality in a language that will make sense to a variety of people. Most often, she says, it’s simply about meeting people where they are, which may seem like a no-brainer, but can be challenging in the sticky and emotionally fraught territories of discussing oppression, particularly one’s own.

“One of my worst nightmares when I facilitate a workshop is to do so with a group of activists who are all on the same page,” she says. “Once you get folks who are different, there’s tension. And for me as a facilitator, tension is gold.” Out of that tension emerges possibility—and out of conflict, comes possible change in people’s perspectives, she adds.

“Seeing the world through a lens of love has really allowed me to connect with people I never would have connected with without it. I think it’s very easy to be very negative, or to be critical.” Sungshine believes by putting care and empathy into the world, she gets to see others shine—and to be inspired and inspire in turn. Her work is healing her as a person of colour, as a woman, as a queer woman, and as a femme. “It’s people who are the driving force of the work. Social agents of change—they’re like superheroes or something.”

Check out loveintersections.com to see posters and videos from the project and learn more.

 

First published in the Jan/Feb issue of This Magazine

https://this.org/2016/01/08/the-people-do-good-stuff-issue-jen-sungshine/

Written by larkinschmiedl

March 13, 2016 at 10:10 pm

Writing trans-genres

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http://outwords.ca/2014/issue-april-2014/writing-trans-genres/

Because transgender arts and literature are not often understood on their own terms, and because when trans work is reviewed, it’s often viewed through stereotypical lenses, poet and University of Winnipeg assistant professor Trish Salah decided to organize Writing Trans Genres. Part academic conference and part performance cabaret, the three-day event at the University of Winnipeg will include panels, workshops, keynote speakers and presentations of papers on May 22 to 24.

“What I’m interested in doing is creating a space for trans people to talk about how we understand our work,” said Salah, author of two books. “Interest in trans figures frequently translates to an interest in trans figures produced by non-trans people, and those representations – you know, I can think of exceptions that are quite good, but the majority tend to be quite stereotypical and quite either condescending or fetishizing, or just simplistic.”

Although the conference is not trans-exclusive, it centres on trans authors, performers and artists as the people who are the most knowledgeable about their own work. That sounds straightforward, but self-representation flies in the face of a long history of misrepresentation. 

“I figured the best way to start that conversation was to get large numbers of trans writers together.”

Salah hopes the conference will build an understanding of how to read trans writing in ways that are attentive to the specifics of different people’s experiences. She also hopes some active networks of trans, two-spirit and genderqueer writers and critics will emerge.

And non-academics are welcome. The keynotes and daytime readings will be free and open to the public, and parts of the conference will be streamed online and digitally archived for later public use. To attend the entire conference, fees range from $10 for unwaged attendees, to $120 for those employed full-time. Registration is open until April 15.

Keynote speaker Rachel Pollack will talk about what it means for trans people to make literature for one another, rather than to explain the trans experience to non-trans people. Another keynote will address ways of thinking about indigenous approaches to gender and sexuality.

“We will be having conversations specifically around intersectionality and the ways in which racialized linguistic and cultural identities interact with sex and gender identities in shaping people’s literary production,” said Salah.

And the ways the queer and trans communities relate will also be a topic of conversation. “Certainly there are trans folks and trans artists who participate within queer contexts, but there’s actually a much broader segment of the trans community that probably doesn’t, so that will also be reflected in the kind of art we make, the kind of writing we do,” Salah said.

The conference’s call for papers asks, “Are there unknown histories of trans literary production?” and “What genres and figures have been important for two-spirit, genderqueer, trans-identified writers and writers with transsexual histories?”

“It’s often assumed trans literature is just an expression of identity, or a simplistic response to oppression,” said Salah. “And certainly we do respond to oppression and we do talk about our experience and the difference of trans lives from cis lives, but there’s a lot more complexity to what’s being produced than that.”

Inspired by trans film and arts festivals in Toronto in the late ‘90s, and by historic conferences like Women and Words, which brought women writers together to debate and define women’s literature, Writing Trans Genres aims to build a public cultural space for trans people.

“I’m hoping that we can bring a similar spirit to imagining what trans folks’ literature looks like,” Salah said. 

Check out the details at www.writingtransgenres.com.

Published in OutWords Magazine, April 2014

– Larkin Schmiedl is a freelance journalist living in Vancouver, B.C. He loves to write about social and environmental justice, especially where it involves other trans folks.

Colonialism and food

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I am interested in bringing the effects of colonialism (and work on de-colonization) into my work on food.  I want to consider how colonization has affected diet, how this links to culture and health, how it relates to power, and ultimately how it relates to interaction with/use of the land in terms of both agricultural practices, gathering and hunting practices and plant life in non-agricultural spaces.

Colonialism has drastically shifted food practices on the landscape many of us now know as ‘Canada’, and in our local area here in Kamloops.  I’d like to know as much as possible about the topic both in general and specific terms.

There is lots of knowledge about this topic out there, and it’s something I know some about already.

I have asked readers the question “How does (and did) colonialism affect food? I want to hear your thoughts.”

And here are some responses….

  • “Colonialism changed the diets of the societies that were colonized to their detriment. When you drastically alter the food of a society you are then subjecting your “acceptable” practices onto them, and the ill health effects that come with it!”
  • “Over-processed foods are creating epidemics in indigenous communities: diabetes, heart disease, obesity, etc. all have roots in Western diets that are high in grain and sugar consumption.  Here in the Columbia River Gorge (the river between Washington and Oregon), the colonists built a series of dams that swelled the river to create hydro power. It also flooded natural falls (Celilo) where, for hundreds of generations, indigenous people would go to catch salmon during the season for such a thing. Now the salmon population has been decimated, which has affected the culture, the food system, and the ecosystem.  [It’s a] big effing deal.”
  • “Neocolonialism in the form of “international development” has forced North American farming techniques (nitrogen-based fertilizers, nuclear family farms, factory farms) onto “developing” nations, disrupting cultural practices, local agricultural knowledge, and land use patterns. Countless were forced out of subsistence farming, where they shared generations worth of local know-how, into cash crop farming. Instead of growing their own food, people who used to know the land they lived on are forced to buy food that is often priced according to a global economy they never consented to being a part of.”
  • “They slaughtered 60 million wild buffalo, almost to extinction to raise inferior cattle like brainless idiots!”
  • “The process of colonialism included killing off the buffalo not just for hides, not just for profit, but to wipe out the indigenous communities. In 1873, Secretary of the Interior Columbus Delano said “The civilization of the Indian is impossible while the buffalo remains upon the plains. I would not seriously regret the total disappearance of the buffalo from our western prairies, in its effect upon the Indians, regarding it as a means of hastening their sense of dependence upon the products of the soil and their own labors.”
    A year later In 1874, Delano testified before Congress, “The buffalo are disappearing rapidly, but not faster than I desire. I regard the destruction of such game as Indians subsist upon as facilitating the policy of the Government, of destroying their hunting habits, coercing them on reservations, and compelling them to begin to adopt the habits of civilization.”
  • “Enclosure of commons is a big deal too.”
  • “I am (hopefully) writing my PhD dissertation on this very topic (food sovereignty and colonialism)! Right now i’m thinking about things in terms of land and enclosure… farms were among the first enclosures on Vancouver Island, as land was surveyed, divided, sold, cleared, and farmed. The mechanization of farming allowed capitalist farmers to exploit farmland more intensively, and it was only the wealthiest growers who could afford the latest technology. That meant that smaller farmers got squeezed out… and we are still in that process today: the larger farms tend to rely on the exploitation of precarious migrant labour (primarily people of colour), they use high-tech machinery to maximize efficiency, and they use chemical fertilizers/pesticides (or tons of amendments in the case of organic agribusiness)… and they are all based on the enclosure and privatization of indigenous lands… but this history throws a wrench into a lot of the mainstream settler narratives of food sovereignty, which are often about a yearning for a return to the good ol’ days of the (white supremacist, patriarchal) family farm against the big bad corporation… so where does that leave us settler foodies who want to grow food here? What are our responsibilities/obligations? Can there be decolonizing settler farming practices?”
  • “Have you read “Empires of Food” by Fraser and Rimas? It looks at the historical development of food systems over the last 2,000 years or so; one of the stories I learned is of landless Tamils being brought to Sri Lanka in the 1800s to farm tea on plantations for the British – there was a major drought, as well as a recession in Britain that lowered the price of luxury imports, and tens of thousands of workers died because, despite being surrounded by tea, there was no food to eat.”
  • “We (Europeans) brought diabetes amongst other things. We took tomatoes, potatoes, corn, and we have lost countless foods because we have lost languages and the knowledge that they contain.”
  • “Colonialism influences our understanding of food and how it is distributed. Food as something you can (or cannot) afford and thus can or cannot eat. It’s produced and distributed through the free market and by huge corporations who operate based on profits and using people, farmers, the environment.”

Written by larkinschmiedl

March 27, 2012 at 5:49 pm

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