The two of us—Tanya and Rick, your President and Executive Director—have often talked about the winding circuitous routes that led us to where we are today and resulted in us working together at this Federation.
One of us (Rick) actually grew up in the American south. When you come from a state that sits below the Mason-Dixon line, you understand very clearly, and from a very young age what is at stake in the struggle for racial equity. It is work that I have been involved in and work that has been very important to me since I was a young man. To this day, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. remains a role model both when it comes to fighting for social justice as well as my own leadership practice.
The other of us (Tanya) was actually born in Cape Town, South Africa. My parents brought us to Canada so we could grow up in a country where we wouldn’t be segregated by the colour of our skin. And while we were insulated from the harsh system of apartheid, we couldn’t avoid the racist name-calling at school or looks from certain neighbours. Life has definitely been better here than it would have been in South Africa, but as a person of colour, you have no choice but to experience things—racism, discomfort, grief—that others can choose to ignore or opt-out of. Racial equity is more than important. It’s personal. This is why finding people that share those values is so meaningful.
The values that are most important to both of us—equality, justice, compassion—are the same values held by this organization and all of the organizations that make up its membership. And over the past few years, The Federation, led by your board of directors, has invested time and energy in making sure those values (inspired and ratified by our membership) guide both the work we do and our approach to that work.
Those values are now being spoken aloud more and more in the calls to action being issued all around us in response to the ongoing racism, colonialism, and state violence that continue to harm and oppress members of our families and communities. As we have watched the events and protests continue to unfold across the continent (and participated in a few of them ourselves), The Federation team was conscious about not wanting to add empty words to a very important conversation about racial equality and social justice.
There was a lot we wanted to say and a lot we could have said over the past several months. But whatever the future might look like—whatever progress we make over the coming months and years—it will come through actions more than words and we wanted to wait until we knew what we were going to do before we said what we wanted to say. So today, we want to highlight two important actions that The Federation is taking.
Indigenous board seats
Building on the work our board has done to examine our organizational commitment to reconciliation and resurgence, the board of directors will be putting forward a motion at the October Annual General Meeting to amend our bylaws to state that 2 seats on the board will be held specifically for members or organizations that identify as Indigenous.
Your board members discussed this decision at length and are very aware that simply having Indigenous people sit on the board is only one step. Much more work needs to be done to ensure that The Federation board is a group that Indigenous community members WANT to join and feel safe among. However, creating these positions will help us be more accountable to our membership and our communities. We want to be the kind of organization that Indigenous organizations want to be a part of.
Decolonization-focused leadership training
The other action we are taking is focused on training for you and your staff teams. Over the last year, we began bringing more training opportunities to Federation members across the province. These began with Cultural Safety Training hosted by Tammie Myles of Mother Earth Whispers and, due to popular demand, we will continue to offer this training online throughout the year.
In addition, we are excited to announce a new training opportunity that will offer a more intensive learning program for members who want to deepen their learning and apply reconciliation-based approaches to their organizations and programs. The Federation has partnered with Dr. Dustin Louie from the University of Calgary to offer a cohort-based, year-long program for Federation members called Transformative Reconciliation in Community Social Services. This innovative program has been designed for Federation members to engage in transformative reconciliation through collaborative learning, design, and practice.
Our action-oriented design is ideal for leaders who are keen to create real-world approaches to reconciliation that are founded on decolonizing principles and Indigenous Knowledges in your local context. The program is designed to be inclusive of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants and Indigenous and non-Indigenous organizations. Everyone is welcome.
You can learn more about the program and fill out an application on The Federation website. The Federation staff team and Dr. Louie are still putting the finishing touches on the design of this program and we welcome your suggestions and ideas—you can offer insight and guidance here.
We both believe that the ways of thinking that led us to this point, that created all these problems and inequities, will not help us solve them. We need fundamentally new ideas and approaches as we move forward. And in particular, we need to host conversations about racism that aren’t predicated on binary ideas of whether or not someone is racist or not-racist. We need to have open and honest conversations (including conversations with ourselves) about bias and privilege and prejudice, accept that they are a part of our lives, and then figure out strategies to address them. Among other things, that is the goal of this new offering.
Other actions we can take
Over the coming months, The Federation team will have more information about these pieces of work as well as other projects and initiatives that are on the horizon—including outreach to members about reforms to BC’s Police Act and a community of practice for members to share organization approaches to decolonizing and addressing oppression.
And as always, the rest of the board and both of us are very open to hearing your thoughts, ideas, and questions about these issues. If there are other actions you think we could or should take, let us know! We are constantly striving to learn how we can best support you and ensure that this Federation continues to live into what Altogether better is all about.
Tanya Behardien, Federation President
Rick FitzZaland, Federation Executive Director