Don’t just open doors, build bridges to di­ver­sity

StarMetro Toronto - - World - Jas­mine Ka­batay For Metro Views

It’s one thing to be shown an op­por­tu­nity; it’s an­other to ac­tu­ally pur­sue it.

Last week, In­dige­nous artist Dawn Marie Marc­hand in­ished up her ten­ure as Ed­mon­ton’s irst In­dige­nous artist in res­i­dence. But it al­most never hap­pened.

Marc­hand told my Metro col­leagues she was “a lit­tle bit sur­prised” when the job was o ered to her back in 2016, wor­ried her inan­cial sit­u­a­tion would im­pact her de­ci­sion. She took the po­si­tion on the con­di­tion she was pro­vided with a bus pass, a cell­phone, and a com­puter — three things she didn’t have.

Marc­hand’s story is just one of many. In her new role she met many tal­ented In­dige­nous artists fac­ing sim­i­lar strug­gles.

“It wasn’t that the art­work wasn’t good enough, it was just the ac­cess bar­rier,” Marc­hand told Metro Ed­mon­ton.

While there are lots of jobs, pro­grams, bur­saries, and on and on, des­ig­nated for In­dige­nous Peo­ples, the de­tails aren’t thought through.

Grow­ing up, the clos­est towns to my re­serve near the On­tario-min­nesota bor­der ear­marked jobs for In­dige­nous Peo­ples in the sur­round­ing area. Yet I barely know any­one from my re­serve that ap­plied, be­cause they ei­ther didn’t have a car or ac­cess to a ve­hi­cle full-time to make the daily hour-long drive to work.

It’s not enough to cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties for peo­ple. It’s about build­ing a sys­tem and en­sur­ing that they will be able to pur­sue what­ever is o ered. Oth­er­wise why cre­ate th­ese pro­grams or jobs in the irst place?

Look at Lind­say Kretschmer’s stint at city hall in Toronto. She was hired as an In­dige­nous a airs con­sul­tant to the city. But she ul­ti­mately quit her po­si­tion and iled a hu­man rights com­plaint say­ing the city vi­o­lated her right to smudge at work by fail­ing to pro­vide su icient space for the cer­e­mony.

If di­ver­sity is truly the goal, rec­og­nize that it takes work and com­mit­ment, es­pe­cially when deal­ing with a group that has his­tor­i­cally been un­der­cut.

It takes build­ing new bridges and chang­ing the stan­dard ap­proaches. Pro­pos­als to add new faces and voices to art gal­leries, city hall or the job site are empty ges­tures if they aren’t ac­com­pa­nied by a road map for real changes.

Jas­mine Ka­batay is an Ojib­way jour­nal­ist based in Toronto, orig­i­nally from Seine River First Na­tion.

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