by Manvitha Singamsetty
Photography by Karim Ghaltaee
On 7 November 2017, a crisp Autumn day, the Ottawa chapter of the Righting Relations Network was launched in partnership with City for All Women Initiative (CAWI). The Righting Relations Ottawa Gathering brought together around 60 women/trans facilitators from across the City of Ottawa to share and learn facilitation techniques for enhancing social change. The gathering received active participation from women and trans-people who were Muslim, Indigenous, Immigrant, people of colour, allies, union employees, educators, community health workers, volunteers, and facilitators with CAWI, among others.
The day opened with an Indigenous prayer and song conducted by Ms. Michelle Penny, RJ Jones, and Ms. Elena Abel. Then there was an Indigenous teaching, conducted by Ms. Elena Abel, that highlighted the commonalities between and the relevance of the popular-education spiral and the medicine wheel for facilitating social change. This was followed by an interactive, theatre-based exercise facilitated by Ms. Naomi Tessler of Branch Out Theatre, and highlighted the role of bodily engagement in facilitating for social change.
The latter half of the day consisted of three parallel workshops on the topics of Islamophobia, Anti-Black Racism and Indigenous history in Canada. The workshop on Islamophobia was facilitated by Ms. Gilary Massa of National Council of Canadian Muslims and highlighted the importance of recognizing Islamophobic behaviour and suggested activities for facilitating bystander intervention.
The workshop on Anti-Black Racism was created from scratch by Ms. Melanie Jubinville-Stafford, Ms. Andrea Balfour and Ms. Ketcia-Peters with professional input from Ms. Seema Lamba and Ms. Terri-Lee Rayvale.It focused on situating Black women’s experience vis-à-vis social structures, and highlighted the ways in which others, who may not identify as Black, could be strong allies by assisting in helpful ways. The brilliant facilitators used the metaphor of a bird cage to talk about the systemic oppression faced by Black women.
The Box Circle exercise was conducted by Jackie Tenute, an Indigenous counsellor and facilitator, who facilitated an embodied, experiential activity about the impact of colonialism on breaking down the family and community structures in Indigenous communities of Turtle Island. It highlighted colonial policies, some of which still exist.
The gathering concluded on a very energetic and insightful note as participants shared their learning of the day as well as the ways in which they wanted to take this work forward. Keeping in regular touch through weekly and monthly events, taking this equity work to school boards, connecting with the national database of the Righting Relations Network, making spaces more welcome for trans-people, and having mentorship sessions for facilitators are just some of the exciting activities that the Ottawa chapter looks forward to in this new year!