‘Our ex­is­tence is our re­sis­tance’

Young women of colour lead­ing so­cial ac­tivism Mon­day, Oc­to­ber 30, 2017

Metro Canada (Calgary) - - BUSINESS - THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

They are young. They are women. And they are racial­ized.

Young women of colour are at the van­guard of Hal­i­fax’s so­cial jus­tice move­ment, part of a new gen­er­a­tion of so­cial ac­tivists.

Kati Ge­orge-Jim is a 21-yearold In­dige­nous stu­dent and mem­ber of Dal­housie Univer­sity’s board of gov­er­nors.

Ma­suma Khan is a 22-year-old Mus­lim stu­dent leader at the Hal­i­fax univer­sity.

Re­becca Thomas is a 31-yearold Dal­housie grad­u­ate and Mi’kmaq poet lau­re­ate.

To­gether, they are un­apolo­get­i­cally stand­ing up for so­cial jus­tice and re­fus­ing to back down in the face of con­tro­versy.

They are har­ness­ing an ethos of so­cial un­rest em­a­nat­ing across the coun­try and be­yond, im­pa­tiently work­ing to dis­man­tle white priv­i­lege, pa­tri­archy and het­ero­sex­ism. And they are not go­ing away. Thomas, Hal­i­fax’s In­dige­nous poet lau­re­ate, said young women are be­ing em­pow­ered by higher ed­u­ca­tion.

“The more you start to un­der­stand and learn, the more you want to do some­thing,” said Thomas, who has a mas­ter’s de­gree in so­cial an­thro­pol­ogy from Dal­housie.

“We’re rec­og­niz­ing the strength we have, and it’s re­ally great when you get the com­mu­nity’s back­ing.”

Last spring, she ap­peared be­fore Hal­i­fax coun­cil with a poem chid­ing coun­cil­lors for shut­ting down de­bate last year over how the city com­mem­o­rates its con­tro­ver­sial founder.

Ed­ward Corn­wal­lis is­sued a bounty on the scalps of Thomas’s Mi’kmaq an­ces­tors but is still hon­oured with a park, statue and even a street within a stone’s throw of the city’s Mi’kmaq friend­ship cen­tre.

Moved by her poem, a rookie coun­cil­lor de­cided coun­cil needed to re­visit the is­sue, and the city has since cre­ated a panel to ex­am­ine how Hal­i­fax should pay trib­ute to Corn­wal­lis.

While Thomas may take a more poetic and am­i­ca­ble ap­proach to so­cial ac­tivism, she ap­plauds the more mil­i­tant ac­tions of oth­ers.

Ma­suma Khan, a Dal­housie Stu­dent Union ex­ec­u­tive, stood firmly in sol­i­dar­ity with In­dige­nous protests against Canada 150 cel­e­bra­tions.

She re­fused to back down, even un­der threat of sanc­tions as the univer­sity in­ves­ti­gated her for a pro­fane Face­book post that crit­i­cized “white fragility.”

Dal­housie dropped the com­plaint against Khan last week, in part due to mount­ing con­cerns about vi­o­lent and hate­ful mes­sages she was re­ceiv­ing.

“It’s a mat­ter of life and death. Stand­ing up against white supremacy is not an easy thing,” said Khan, who wears a hi­jab and was born and raised in Hal­i­fax.

“There are times I get frus­trated. But I don’t have a choice. Peo­ple shov­ing su­prem­a­cist ide­olo­gies in my face make me want to dis­man­tle those struc­tures even more.”

Khan added: “Our ex­is­tence is our re­sis­tance. I’m go­ing to ex­ist, I’m go­ing to keep go­ing. It doesn’t stop here.”

That sense of ur­gency is shared by Ge­orge-Jim of the T’Sou-ke First Na­tion in Bri­tish Columbia.

“With my iden­tity comes re­spon­si­bil­ity,” the fourth-year po­lit­i­cal science stu­dent said. “As an In­dige­nous woman, I have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to speak up and use my voice.”

Ge­orge-Jim took on Dal­housie’s board of gov­er­nors for what she called in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized racism, prompt­ing an apol­ogy from the board’s chair­man who in­sisted Dal­housie is not led by racists.

“To me, it just feels like ev­ery­day life. It doesn’t feel like so­cial ac­tivism,” she said.

We don’t get to take a break from our own op­pres­sions. re­becca Thomas

Dar­ren Calabrese/The Cana­Dian Press

ac­tivists, stu­dents and artists, from left, Ma­suma Khan, Kati Ge­orge-Jim and Re­becca thomas are at the van­guard of Hal­i­fax’s so­cial jus­tice move­ment.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.