Every year, I go to a big local literary festival. I typically buy tickets for six or more events over the course of a week and come home with a pile of new books. I’ve mentioned before that this particular festival includes a territory acknowledgement before each event. This is something that started a year or two ago, and it’s really the most basic of acknowledgements; the moderator reminds people to turn off their cell phones, that the event takes place on unceded Coast Salish Territory, and to please Tweet after the event using the hashtag… It’s better than nothing.
I had the same moderator at two different events. At one, she did the same type of acknowledgement as everyone else had been doing. At the other, she asked everyone to take a moment of thoughtful silence after doing the acknowledgement. One was an event with Joy Kogawa, a Canadian author and poet of Japanese descent, and the other was an event that included two First Nations authors – Katherena Vermette and Joan Crate – and was about books that include Indigenous characters.
This festival includes simultaneous events at several different theatres. At one theatre for an evening event, the bathrooms had been relabeled as “gender neutral”. The next day, there for another event, I found the conventional signs were back. One event was for transgendered author Ivan Coyote’s “Tomboy’s Survival Guide” and the other was for a panel of thriller and suspense authors.
We weren’t more on unceded territory one of those day and less on the other, and that fact was not more worthy of thoughtful consideration because there were First Nations people on the stage. Though “Tomboy’s” attracted more transgendered and non-binary audience members than the average event, everyone needs a safe place to pee every day, not just when they are represented on the stage. In fact, the reverse is true: if someone at “Tomboy’s” had to use a gendered washroom that was not an obvious match to their gender presentation, there probably would have been no fuss or issue; the same could not necessarily be said of the same person in the same washroom during the thriller author event.
Social justice isn’t something to nod to when forced to by the visible presence of a minority group. We need to do the right things to make our communities safe and comfortable for more people. If we make our public events and rituals inclusive and welcoming of people who aren’t there, maybe one day they will be.
We need to practice social justice over and over until it becomes good, conscious, purposeful habit – until we are inclusive as a default. Good habits take time and effort to develop. The “3 R’s” approach looks good…
… every time we first pick up the broom to cleanse the space, we acknowledge that we are on unceded First Nations territory, and we take a moment to sit with that knowledge.
… every time we light the central candle on the altar, we agree that we consent to being a part of the ritual and speak of our right to withdraw that consent any time we want, and we enjoy the mutual respect and self-care that creates.
… every time we take down the Circle, we deliberately distribute the clean up chores among everyone, and we appreciate the benefits of cooperation and undermining gender roles.
… every time we hold a ritual that includes social justice components, we remember that we want to make the world more fair, more just, more safe, more comfortable.