Larkin Schmiedl's Blog

Journalist at work

Posts Tagged ‘youth

2017 Kick-Ass Activist: Peyton Straker

with one comment

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/

Advertisements

People who do Good Stuff: Jen Sungshine

leave a comment »

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

Making connections: Bridging racial divisions in the GLBT* community

leave a comment »

http://outwords.ca/2014/issue-september-2014/making-connections/

GLBT* rights have come a long way, and we know there’s still a long way to go. Yet some things are continually overlooked, like the glaring gap in conversation and action around race.

“It’s a major problem,” says Uzoma, a Winnipeg woman who identifies as black, and prefers to go by first name only for safety reasons.

212-12b-making-connectionsShe’s the initiating force behind a new queer people of colour (QPOC) group that held its first dance party for QPOC and allies during Pride this year. Although Winnipeg has many strong GLBT* groups, most are white-dominated. “There’s a danger with the queer community just because the experience of being queer in itself is an experience of existing on the margins,” says a local queer woman of colour who is using the pseudonym Jill for fear of backlash.

“There can be a tendency to think that because we exist in this space, we don’t have to deal with the issues like racism, or we’ve figured that stuff out. We haven’t.”

Ray Hogg’s experience as a local black gay man and artistic director of Rainbow Stage, is one of finding himself in a homogenous Winnipeg culture, where the environments he works in every day are mainly made up of white people. He attributes this partly to Winnipeg being a small city. “I haven’t directly been on the receiving end of any overt racism in the queer community or any other community in Winnipeg. But I am on the receiving end constantly of systemic racism…. Those who have straight privilege or white privilege or cis privilege… naturally and without thinking, discriminate against me and fail to recognize that they’re doing that.”

Asagwara says the QPOC group is necessary because, “(It) triggers a conversation that people (who are not directly facing the issues) have not been having.”

Hogg would like to see people take the responsibility of actively empathizing. “As a community, the queer community is an oppressed community; it’s a misunderstood community and it’s being discriminated against. And so it behooves us as gay people, or whatever you want to call us all, to think about other marginalized members, and care for them.”

Albert McLeod has seen some of the ways marginalization plays out on the front lines with the most vulnerable, in his work with two-spirit youth.

“For aboriginal youth coming into the (queer) scene, a lot of places they get exploited,” he says.

In his work as a co-director with Two-Spirited People of Manitoba, and the AIDS movement, McLeod has seen a lot. “There’s been a history of many aboriginal youth—they come to the city, they’re HIV-positive within a couple of years, then get discarded and then they move away to other cities, and that’s where they die. It’s life on the very fringes of society.”

Winnipeg is home to the largest urban aboriginal population in Canada, and Manitoba as a whole encompasses the territory of at least 63 First Nations.

Part of Two-Spirited People of Manitoba’s advocacy work is bridge- building between the aboriginal community and broader GLBT* community. The organization also offers workshops to schools and does research on two-spirit people’s experiences.

The intersection of gender and race is a dangerous place to be.

212-12a-making-connectionsTwo Spirit People of Manitoba at Pride Winnipeg 2014. Photo by Albert McLeod.

One academic project published from the research, titled Aboriginal Two-Spirit and LGBTQ Migration, Mobility and Health, draws a parallel: “Colonization is sometimes presented in public policy discourse as a thing of the past.” The result, according to the report, is that indigenous people are rendered invisible and current colonization is ignored and enabled. “Similarly, some people may underestimate the effects of homophobia given the advances that have been made in Canada regarding same-sex rights. Yet the results from this study clearly show the continuing impact of colonization, racism and homophobia on many people’s lives,” reads an excerpt from the study.

“The intersection of gender and race is a dangerous place to be,” says McLeod, quoting a friend.

Denying that racism is a problem in Winnipeg’s queer community can only perpetuate it, says Uzoma, but being willing to feel uncomfortable means being willing to grow.

The QPOC group in Winnipeg will be working hard to bring more events to the community as the year moves ahead. Dance parties, Sunday pickup basketball, open-mic nights and more are in the works.

Uzoma says from there, “We’d like to formally put together a presentation for other LGBTQ organizations… on the unique issues of queer people of colour.”

recognizing racism

Racism isn’t always obvious, but it is always wrong. Here are seven tips to recognizing racism and battling it.

Recognize the difference between centering people of colour and indigenous people’s concerns versus tagging them on. Being truly inclusive means opening up and being willing to transform. It also means taking leadership from queer people of colour and indigenous people.

Show solidarity—don’t date/sleep with people who write things like “no Asians” on their Grindr/ online dating profiles. That’s not a preference, it’s racism.

Recognize that experiences of homophobia and racism compound to make life harder and more limited for the people who experience them. Know that being queer does not make you immune to experiencing white privilege. It is easy for GLBT* people to see homophobia and transphobia, how social systems favour heterosexuals and cis people, and the suffering that causes. Understand how whiteness gives or denies privileges as well.

Do not make statements to the effect that gays are the last oppressed minority. That’s not true. Don’t pit racial and cultural struggles against struggles for GLBT* liberation. The movements are intersected and can make each other stronger.

Recognize that people of colour and indigenous people are not responsible for educating white people about the suffering they experience due to racism. Do your own research and reading and don’t ask invasive questions.

Start conversations about race with your white friends with a focus on creating a supportive space where you can ask questions and make mistakes.

If someone tells you you’ve been racist, don’t take it personally or get defensive. Instead apologize and commit to doing better next time. Take the time to reflect following the incident and learn why it was racist.

fighting racism

Our interview subjects offered the following advice to being more inclusive:

Think about where your organization is located and whether people of colour and indigenous people live there, too. Are you inaccessible, or white-dominated, because of your location?

Know that people of colour and indigenous people are the experts on their own experience. Listen.

Recognize that two-spirit is not necessarily the same as being lesbian, gay or queer. It’s a culturally-specific term from another context. Also, some indigenous people identify primarily as lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual, etc. Just because someone is aboriginal doesn’t mean they identify as two-spirit.

Know that most racism is subtle and systemic. Overt discrimination does not need to occur for something to be racist.

Expose yourself to diversity.

Ask people of colour and aboriginal people what their needs are and how you can meet those. Take their answers to heart and take action to reflect that.

Hire aboriginal outreach workers in your service organizations, and make sure they are not tokenized. Reflect on what makes or does not make your organization a place people of colour and aboriginal people want to work.

Work on incorporating Elders and elders (seniors) into the GLBT* movement.

Do your homework on language: terms like berdache are colonial terms used by Europeans (and subsequently academics) to refer to gay men and two-spirit people at the time of contact. The term two-spirit is a word used to reframe colonial history, since two-spirit people predate settler society.

Be willing to be nervous and uncomfortable. Crossing the social lines that divide communities and uphold racism takes courage, commitment and time. Forge genuine relationships with people of colour and indigenous people.

Published in OutWords Magazine, Sept. 2014

– Larkin Schmiedl is a writer of German, Scottish and English descent who is committed to social justice and believes privilege at the expense of others hurts everyone.

Magical camp transforms lives

leave a comment »

Annual Camp Aurora in the Whiteshell builds self-esteem of queer youth

http://outwords.ca/2014/issue-julyaugust-2014/magical-camp-transforms-lives/

Imagine a space where queer youth could go to feel safe. Imagine GLBT* teens openly being themselves and spending time with others like them—perhaps for the first time. Manitoba youth get this opportunity every August with Camp Aurora. “Camp is the most amazing, loving, safe place I have ever been in my life,” reads a participant quote from the camp’s website.

The sentiment is a common one, experienced by GLBT* youth at a small handful of queer camps throughout Canada, such as Alberta’s Camp fYrefly, British Columbia’s CampOUT! and Ontario’s camps Rainbow, Ten Oaks and Project Acorn.

From August 26 to 29, young GLBT* Manitobans will head to Camp Brereton, in the Whiteshell Provincial Park on the Ontario border. “Being an LGBTTQ* youth or ally can be tough,” reads the website. “At Camp Aurora, that part of your day-to-day is forgotten.” The camp aims to build the self-esteem and resiliency of queer youth, and builds important relationships that get some teens through the whole year.

It’s organized by volunteer community leaders and has a nurse, social worker, lifeguard and counsellor on staff. Peer youth leaders between the ages of 20 to 26 apply to act in mentorship roles within the camp, to campers from the ages of 14 to 19. There is space for 43 campers in all, and the deadline to register is July 15. Canoeing, swimming, crafts, talent shows, obstacle courses, campfires, bunk beds and hotdogs are all on the agenda.

The cost is $250 to attend, but campers who cannot pay that can apply to have part or all of the fee waived. The camp welcomes donations so it can continue offering opportunities to youth regardless of their finances. Transportation is provided from and return to Winnipeg, and all meals are included at camp. Visit campaurora.ca for more information.

Published in OutWords Magazine, July 2014

–Larkin Schmiedl is a freelance journalist living in Vancouver, B.C. He loves to write about queer things.

Written by larkinschmiedl

September 3, 2014 at 1:27 am

%d bloggers like this: