Yesterday I posted an open letter about the failures of reconciliation in Canada that left me feeling vulnerable because I was using my voice as a civil service worker and union leader in a really public way – something I don’t normally do. The original draft of the letter was very angry, but I toned it down in the final version to increase its accuracy and also the reception of it. I was talking online with my friend Sharai about it afterwards and she said, “I think anger is great for the fuel to get things started. To get the fire lit, so to speak. Then it’s important to get the flames under control so they don’t scorch everything around it and it keeps us warm and secure.” Which is a brilliant way of thinking about it if you ask me.
On Facebook and other social media I don’t do a lot of “hell ya” petition sharing or public outrage. Occasionally it creeps in, but as a street-protester/community organizer from way back, it feels too easy to click and share – too performative over anything substantive. A click and share takes up our attention, but not our time. It demonstrates that we care, but not enough to put our bodies in the way. Of course some people do both! But since I’m doing less of the latter these days (my volunteer time being focused on advocacy through my union position) I am acutely aware of the hollow feeling of click/share activism.
Although a public letter is only one step above clicktivism, yesterday was an exception to my general position on performative action. Following the news of the Kamloops Residential School gravesite, the fact that the Government continues to fight claims of cultural genocide in court, and the lip-service being paid to reconciliation, I figured it was time to at least add my voice, a voice that represents a few hundred people, to the growing chorus of shame at the lack of government action on reparations. I didn’t write that letter because I thought anyone in the government would care much. I know how letters to ministers get answered (by people like me who have a block of key messages to draw from). But I hoped that in doing so, I would encourage other non-Indigenous folks to at least take a moment to think about what decolonization means, and to write a letter of their own. One letter isn’t listened to, but tens of thousands are.
Although I felt some discomfort about posting the letter, it went away as soon as I had done it and realized that there was no risk to speaking my mind at all. I’m not sure what form I imagined that risk would take, but all shadows of it evaporated after I had posted online. Since then it’s been shared by my union, and a number of friends all over the place – so apparently it did strike a chord with some people, as momentary a gesture as it might be. It seems insignificant in the face of the terrible colonial legacy in Canada, but even worse to say nothing at all.