Don’t just open doors, build bridges to diversity
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.