Rage, Racism and Support at the Thunder Women’s Healing Lodge Community Meeting
by Anna Dewar Gully
Last night a heated community meeting took place in my Southwest Scarborough community of Birch Cliff Village. The meeting was about the upcoming development of the new Thunder Women's Healing Lodge, an Indigenous residence for women who have left the justice system and are returning to society. It was attended by hundreds.
I moderate the Birch Cliff Village Community Facebook group and went to the meeting to show my support and also to stream it live for community members who couldn't take part. After ten days of moderating heated debate on the Facebook group and dealing with both warm support and heinously racist comments, I was curious to see who would be in the room.
What real concerns were in residents minds beyond the obvious fear and racism that is expressed in our society towards Indigenous people?
When I got there, I was happy to see and hear that the majority of the room supported the proposal and were there to show support for the Indigenous community.
Sue-Ann Levy, who got taken out of the meeting by police before the open segment of the meeting, also saw that it was a broadly supportive crowd, but she chose to describe it this way...
"But it quickly became obvious after an hour of prayers, happy talk, lectures about respect and Indigenous drumming that the room had been stacked with sycophants" - Sue-Ann Levy, writing in the Toronto Sun on June 13th 2019
Sue-Ann seemed hell bent on making a scene. In her deeply biased column, she tried to tell the story that this facility was being thrust secretively on the community without openness to questions.
Meanwhile, there were 400 community members in the room and any and all questions were being answered. Nevertheless, dissenters left feeling angry, saying they "weren't heard". But I sat there through all of their questions, each one of which was answered.
For example, "Is this a correctional facility?"
Answer was "no.”
For example, "Why only one parking space, are these people going to use my parking spaces?",
Answer, "Small staff, residents unlikely to have cars, no.”
It was the subtext connected to those comments that bothered me, and bothered many of the indigenous women and men in the room.
Then there was the jeering led by two different non-indigenous men. Yelling at people getting up to the mic to offer support and encouragement they yelled "what's your question" and "sit down let those with real concerns speak".
Then there were the rumblings in the line-up to the mic— where I heard one mother from the local school, saying, (not so quietly) to her friend,
"Why are they ramming this indigenous education session down our throats it's like we don't have a choice what goes in our neighbourhood".
Despite the broad support in the room, racism was truly present. That's not a misuse of the word as one of my community members said in a post this morning. It's an accurate reflection of the comments.
Comments that I could see were re-traumatizing indigenous women and men sitting in the audience, participating in the meeting—there to welcome the centre.
There were careless words, there was the underlying sentiment of us versus them, there was fear mongering about the crime and danger "these people" would bring to our neighbourhood.
This is racism, there is no other word that more aptly describes what we witnessed.
At the end of the night, a number of community members came up to me, they felt the meeting was too biased toward the healing lodge, I thought about the irony, caucasian people telling me it was uncomfortable to be the minority perspective in the room. They also highlighted what they felt was incivility on the part of the Indigenous members of the community who a couple of times throughout the meeting responded to jeers by talking about "white rage".
But it was white rage. It was racism. And they deserved to feel angry about how they were being treated and described, and about the injustices they had endured and those they are still enduring. I was angry about that too.
We started the meeting with a land acknowledgement. The meeting ended with the public officials in attendance trying to reassure non-Indigenous and "concerned" community members there would be more time to talk another day.
The Thunder Women's Healing Lodge is an act of reconciliation.
(read the Final Report of the national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls)
We need to get behind it as a community, as a city, as a nation. We can no longer work in this country to appease racists. Sure they are entitled to their opinions, but we don't have to work— in our democracy—to resolve the concerns of racists. They cannot be resolved without love for all humankind.
And from the Healing Lodge this thank you:
"Thank you to everyone who came out to the TWHL engagement. Some community members feel their questions and concerns did not get addressed. I would like to propose a series of smaller meetings. One person suggested maybe 10 people. If this is something that the community would like then please let me know".
Thank you to Patti Pettigrew and the Thunder Women Healing Lodge for bravely getting up in front of a room of 400, to, once again justify that Indigenous people need support to move forward and heal. And thank you for bravely offering to keep educating racists.
This is not just a local issue, this is a Canadian issue, this is an issue that can only be resolved by loving all of humankind.
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