Oh, Democracy!

Last month I was humbled to be invited to participate in something called Democracy Xchange at Ryerson University in Toronto, the event was organized by Open Democracy Project/Ryseron Leadership Lab.  This conference invited a large cross section of helpers from across Canada from the private sector, policy nerds, elected government types, community organizers and more to discuss the current state of democracy in Canada. There were speakers there like Astra Taylor, renowned filmmaker who recently released the film “What is Democracy?“, Conservative Member of Parliament Michael Chong, Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould, Kyla Kakfwi Scott of Dene Nahjo to name a few who stood out to me.

I was invited to this event to speak at the very beginning of the conference before the keynote (aka the Pre-Note) and my purpose was to disrupt people’s notions of democracy. I really appreciated that I was invited to a national political event where I was asked to disrupt people’s ideas of democracy, because it is so inline with the work that AYO has done in the past with our Politix Brain Storms! We believe it is important to understand current laws, legislation and systems so that those who are stuck within can navigate them better with the end result being living a better life. I have previously shared that I desire a better Canada than the one we see before us (watch the video here) and also feel that the more we focus on the goals we want to accomplish, visualize them, talk about them, work towards them daily, that we can get there!

I shared with the audience that I struggle with embracing politics – like many First Nations people that have encountered system after system – I have a natural mistrust of government systems, even when they say the right words, because actions have been so different. In my experiences with levels of government, they are often asking the question “How can we improve services for our citizens?” and more specifically “how can we improve/increase services to the vulnerable or the under-served?”. That has always been my question as I engage with different levels of governments and these are impossible questions to answer unless there is a presence of system literacy or experience with previous system navigation. The language of politics is not accessible to the average person and the way “issues” are so hyper focused upon ensures we never actually come to an end of that problem. I challenged those in attendance to (especially elected officials) to do everything in their power to increase the system literacy/navigation skills of the people in their neighbourhoods. I  asked people to look around the room and see who was NOT there – and then to take actions ASAP for those who do not get invited to conferences or gatherings like that to build their skills or increase their exposure to these types of opportunities. I tied it all together by connecting it to the Ininew phrase “mino bimadisiwin” which mean the good life (this is a very simplified definition, the teaching is much deeper/broader!!)

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After my opening remarks, I got to chat with Astra Taylor about the future of democracy. We ended up focusing quite a bit on the concept of Intergenerational love. I have been told in many formal environments when we have to talk about the importance of love – is that love is out of scope. Well, we talked about how across generations and jurisdictions we have to start making space to discussing love and the role it has in creating empathy and compassion especially among decision makers. We also talked about the importance of learning and understanding history and how it is ok for us to add new information to the history books and to current conversations especially about the roles of women and people of colour making valuable contributions to society (read more here).  The most important thing I shared throughout my whole experience is something those who know me have heard me say many times: voting every 4 years is not enough – we have to vote every day with our bodies, our time and our money! Shout out to everyone who was a part of Democracy Xchange,  especially the volunteers and the sponsors!!

Thank you to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights for supporting my attendance and shout out to Inspirit Foundation for connecting many people from diverse backgrounds with one another @ this event!

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