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Changing the conversation on Indigenous issues

  • Cynthia Wang
  • |
  • Apr 2, 2018
Changing the conversation on Indigenous issues

Rick Harp speaks with Ivey students

Cynthia Wang is an MSc 2019 candidate writing about the key takeaways from an open dialogue led by Rick Harp, the host and producer of MEDIA INDIGENA, a weekly podcast on Indigenous issues. On March 15, Harp led a dialogue on Indigenous issues with students in Professor Martha Maznevski’s 9007 Cross-Cultural Management class.

Rick Harp knows the power of conversations to bring people together and gain understanding. After all, his weekly podcast features current affairs roundtables on the issues that matter most to Indigenous peoples.

Harp is a citizen of the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation in northern Saskatchewan. His mother is a residential school survivor.

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The facts about Indigenous peoples

Indigenous peoples are often consolidated under one umbrella, but Harp said there are at least 60 different Indigenous peoples contained within what is now called Canada. He also explained that residential schools were a method (created by the government at the time) designed to separate and alienate Indigenous children from their families and cultures. We were shocked to learn children as young as four were displaced from their homes. However, Canada has not fixed this issue. The trend continues today in the child-care system. Harp alluded to the sobering statistic that Manitoba has roughly 11,000 children in foster care – about 90 per cent of them Indigenous. Similar revelations were divulged in Harp’s conversation with the class, and these facts need to be broadcast.

Harp’s talk prompted many questions from students. One important question came from Derek Li, MSc ’19, who asked why racism against Indigenous peoples exists. Harp’s answer, “Because we are in the way,” resonated with me. I think it speaks volumes about the overlap between colonialism and racism.

Harp talked to us about settlers, the progress in the relationship between Indigenous peoples and Canada, and what actions students can take to ameliorate the multitude of problems. One concerning discovery revealed by the students was the contrast in content pertaining to Indigenous peoples and issues throughout Canada’s education system. While students from Alberta reported having full classes about Indigenous history in grade school, those educated in Ontario barely recall any mention of the topic.

Shifting the perspective

Harp said an ideal future involves co-existence between settlers and Indigenous peoples, self-determination, and sharing of territories. Open discussions facilitate a cognitive shift in participants, resulting in the structural change that Indigenous peoples require. I was originally unsure of how to make a difference, but Harp inspired in me a newfound motivation to share what I learned with those around me. This movement of information can be the mechanism by which Indigenous issues get the stage they need.

Harp was able to provide insightful viewpoints to students who frankly did not have enough exposure to Indigenous issues. Ken Surmanski, MSc ’19, summed it up well.

“[Today’s discussion] was a great perspective from an insider, allowing us to feel connected to [Harp] on a personal level,” he said.

One of the biggest takeaways from the discussion was Harp’s advice around changing our approach to Indigenous peoples.

“Stop approaching our people like we are broken,” he said, an insight he’d picked up from the late Indigenous activist Arthur Manuel.

Further reading on Indigenous issues:

Here are two current affairs books strongly recommended by Harp for non-Indigenous people to develop a better understanding of Indigenous issues. Both are highly accessible and written with pointed commentary, humour, and hope:

  • King, Thomas. 2013. The Inconvenient Indian. Anchor Canada.
  • Manuel, Arthur and Derrickson, Grand Chief Ronald. 2017. The Reconciliation Manifesto: Recovering the Land, Rebuilding the Economy. Lorimer.

He also recommended this powerful children’s book about a girl who was sent to residential school at age eight:

  • Dupuis, Jenny Kay. 2016. I Am Not a Number. Second Story Press.

Listen to an interview with Rick Harp below.