Advocates, Organizers, Helpers & Rebels

TLDR: We need everyone.


In recent weeks and months I have been travelling a lot. While away from home, a lot has happened – First Nations youth suicide has come to the forefront of main stream consciousness, OccupyINAC continues here in Winnipeg, I got to visit Shamattawa and Indigenous people continue to rise in various spheres of influence.Each role is vital to the other, and they take turns being in charge or in leadership positions at different times. Many of us have been waiting for this very moment for years, and even though it’s hard to be away from home, I am deliberate about finding space to do writing, scheming and reading. I recently read a great book called Building a Movement to End The New Jim Crow: an organizing guide (it was only 80 pages), and it really got me to thinking about how we organize ourselves in Winnipeg, in what I am always referring to as the village. You can find out details about the exact book, and the context in which it is written at this link:

The main reason for this post though, is to share an important point from the book: we need everyone. It talked about how since the over incarceration of black communities, the movement to end this over incarceration has been increasingly strategic and persistent in ensuring anyone who wants to help understands their role within the context of the larger movement. Essentially, there are 4 main roles that need to be filled at all times in order to maintain the systemic pressure needed to get those in positions of power and privilege to change the status quo to make things right. No one with power has ever given it to those they oppress of their own free will, so we as a movement have to work together to make sure that it happens. Each role is vital to the other, and they take turns being in charge or in leadership positions at different times, depending on context.  What are these 4 roles? They will look and sound familiar, I am certain:

  • Helpers – these are the front liners, the people who run to get things, who do the face to face, one-on-one work, the fire keepers, the cooks, the floaters who help wherever help is needed. Helpers are the hands feet, eyes and ears of the solution.
  • Advocates – these folks work within the system(s) and use their vast system expertise to assist anyone who is currently entangled within it to access services or escape the system entirely. Advocates are the pain relief, helping with immediate/short term contributions to the solution.
  • Organizers – work outside of the system, bringing people together, facilitating, and encouraging people to think about what we want to replace the status quo with. Organizers are the facilitators of the long term solution.
  • Rebels – these are the ones who speak truth to power, the disruptors, they often have great personal sacrifices to get the attention of the entire system, often bringing whole systems to a stand still. The Rebels represent our frustration with the status quo and our passion for/commitment to the solution.

Where are we at in Winnipeg right now?

Winnipeg is at the forefront of many things, both good and bad. We have an extensive indigenous population, all of whom fulfill the many roles outlined above. The biggest challenge we have is when we do not talk with each other about the solution. We talk frequently and in depth about our problems, but the solution is not gonna happen when the short comings are where we put all of our attention or if we tear down others within the movement. I believe it all comes down to accessible communication and consistency of language. This of course takes time – time that we do not have. This is why my message is simple: we need everyone. When I think about the movement to address First Nations Youth Suicide, I see the movement learning how to work together.

  • Helpers who show up at rallies, vigils, fires, occupations, celebrations and ceremonies
  • Advocates who undertake the heavy lifting of improving service deliver for our relatives who are in the systems right now, changing policies, reducing systemic damage where possible
  • Organizers that help us imagine a solution that doesn’t currently exist and do the slogging work of bringing over burdened people together for more work
  • Rebels who speak truth to power, putting themselves at exceptional personal/professional danger to get this issue on the public radar

Solution: Rotational Leadership

We have done an amazing job, especially in recent years, coordinating ourselves and sharing freely with one another when their skills are needed. We are getting to know others in the movement, their gifts and abilities and which roles they are comfortable doing where and when. We also have to be honest when we are able to fill a role with others in their work. The difficulty is that within the movement, we often mistrust others when they show up to help or criticize rebels for being too bold; we chastise advocates for reinforcing systems and their processes or give organizers a hard time for not doing enough. This destructive criticism within the movement must stop.  As we all know, honesty is important, so if there are individuals who you feel are in positions to help and they aren’t, it is on the person who sees that to speak up or reach out. Constructive criticism isn’t lateral violence – it’s lateral love. None of us are mind readers, but we do all have gifts to contribute and at different times, different roles must take the lead. I see this in the teachings of the clan system as well as the rotational leadership within AYO. The village is learning and this is heavy work, so we have to be kind, take care of ourselves and one another.  The time is now for the level of cooperation we have seen previously to increase so we can achieve more – every moment we waste puts young lives at risk unnecessarily.


2 thoughts on “Advocates, Organizers, Helpers & Rebels

  1. It’s interesting to see this idea described here in words, in black and white. Watching my own family follow this method and having looked far and wide for something similar without being able to put language or a concrete idea to what I know in the deepest part of my heart, connected to the Creator. There is however, another connection is in the centre of a medicine wheel, which is what you created there, is a connection with Creation. The role in the centre is that of nurturing. It can be argued that nurturing is part of every role, but in my observations of group dynamics, there is always one person that puts a hold on the job their they are doing to be the nurturer. It’s not always the same person but when the need for nurturing arises at different times, and it always does, the group dynamics always allows for someone to become the nurturer and someone else step into the void left behind. It’s amazing what passionate people, working together can instinctively know what is needed with little to no training or direction.

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