‘Our existence is our resistance’
Young women of colour leading social activism Monday, October 30, 2017
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
activists, students and artists, from left, Masuma Khan, Kati George-Jim and Rebecca thomas are at the vanguard of Halifax’s social justice movement.