Strawberry Daughter

by Maigan van der Giessen
Fresh green strawberry leaves reach for the sky
as I reach for my teachers in unlikely places,
I find delicate shoots with strength in their roots.
Early ivory flower trailing the ground,
You are my mothers and sisters who refuse to wilt
your voice is the medicine we’ve been waiting for.
Across the West, we are a garden,
wild and growing!
hearts wide open!
If the weight becomes too heavy
let the circle offer safety
Right Relations starts within,
water the seed.

A Love Letter to Righting Relations

by Maigan van der Giessen

There’s something about Righting Relations that feels so right.  Some days I enter into the circle full of doubt or frustration or just plain fatigue, yet by the end I always feel refreshed and renewed by the camaraderie and support of my RR sisters. I’m not talking about surface friendships, I’m talking about profound alliances, developed over time, based on shared respect and stories of resilience.

One of the many opportunities Righting Relations affords me, is the chance to slow down, and sift through my  own story and experiences to understand the direction of my life and my work.  Since being invited into the Righting Relations network I have been on a deep personal journey of healing and righting relations with myself and my story.  It’s been frightening and illuminating.  Something that has always been a struggle for me is finding my place and my voice as a Jewish woman who opposes Zionism and embraces Palestinian solidarity. It’s hard to describe the complexity of this identity and the barriers it creates for me as I try to find sense of community belonging while claiming my jewish identity with integrity and honesty.
                                                                                                                                                             So, the day of our recent Righting Relations Edmonton circle was a hard day: May 15, the anniversary of the Nakba.  As I sat in circle I couldn’t concentrate, I couldn’t be present with our conversations; I began to feel heavy with feelings of shame and pain as I recalled the previous days reports of massive casualties in Gaza during the March of Return protests.  I can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of responsibility when atrocities and injustices are committed and justified in the name of my people.  I could barely breathe, I thought I’d break down in tears if I tried to explain.
                                                                                                                                                        During our meal break I spoke with a few members to express my feelings.  I was relieved and grateful that they immediately recognized my discomfort and invited me to bring it to the circle.  I shared my thoughts and invited the circle to break early and come join me at the Alberta Legislature for a rally of solidarity, “happening right Now!” 
                                                                                                                                                                 The love and safety I felt was overwhelming when everyone agreed that we should go and show solidarity with this important cause.  In that moment, our circle expressed their desire to support me, and I’m still feeling held and strengthened by this act of love.
                                                                                                                                                                  This, to me, is the heart of Righting Relations- Acts of love and resistance with each other, everyday- big or small.  Every time I sit in circle, Righting Relations offers me an opportunity to heal my relationship with myself and find ways to honour my responsibilities to my fellow beings.  
In gratitude,
Maigan

International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination – Presentation at Edmonton City Hall

On the International Day to Eliminate Racial Discrimination the Edmonton Interfaith Centre for Education and Action invited JHC to share its experiences with research and programming addressing racial discrimination in Edmonton. Angelica Quesada, JHC staff member, Louise P.  and Roxanne U.  attended this celebration and shared their experiences in building Righting Relations:

Angelica:

When thinking about the significance of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in local context, the conversation in our office took us to reflect on how JHC’s programing and research in the last few years has reaffirmed the existence in Alberta of a strong link between Poverty, marginalization and racialized communities.

In this province racism manifests through systemic structures and policies that further marginalized racial or ethnic groups as the Child Care and Welfare system and Justice system do to Indigenous children, but also racism is the reality of the daily discrimination of racialized individuals who are inexplicably and constantly followed by security in stores, being kicked out of public places because of their racial complexion or association, or being frequently questioned by authorities just because of the way they look. The way they look is associated with crime and danger to the public. Many communities are not treated equally.

Thus, today we want to highlight the work of one of the networks in which we take part, because it has become for us an alternative on how to oppose racism and discrimination and build relationships in new and different ways.  At JHC opposing and eliminating racism should not lose sights of the systemic issues or the daily life manifestations of discrimination, and we have found out that that is exactly what Righting Relation is allowing us. Righting Relations is a powerful, women-led, pan-canadian network of which JHC is part. Righting Relations strives to build the capacity of adult educators and grass root organizers to create radical change in their communities and it can be described as the best anti-colonial, anti-racism training and space of learning I have attended.  The learning and capacity building happens at regional and local sharing circles where barriers between individuals who mobilize, organize, and advocate for their communities have come down. Where the racialized immigrant experience, or the Indigenous peoples struggles and strengths, and the pride and continuous oversight of people living with disabilities has been shared at both the systemic level and the personal experience. The intersections and the realities that systemic issues bring to people’s’ lives are educative, powerful and promote collective responses and new ways of personal relations. Righting Relations makes us look into our shared humanity to re-connect us and understand us in different ways outside the structures that manage our differences, while allowing us to support each other when opposing racism and discrimination in our daily jobs and lives. Thus we not only understand how we all have our personal challenges, but also how are they connected at the systemic level.

Louise:

In the Righting Relations (RR) circles we have created a collective spirit of support through our guidelines which encourage listening rather than condemning, criticizing rather than judging. SOLUTIONS arrived at through the art of active listening, build the momentum of the collective spirit and keep it strong. By actively LISTENING to each other’ experiences, stories, perceptions and perspectives we are able to UNDERSTAND, and that increases our ability to become more compassionate. All preconceived biases, beliefs, opinions and prejudices melt away like mist in the morning sunshine. A fact that is well known is that the CRITICAL MASS achieves the goal whether it is world Peace, and end to violence, wars, hatred, abuse of power, position and privilege, elimination of prejudices, poverty, homelessness and marginalization of those seen as minority groups such as the ‘disabled’, and the homeless, the low or no income, the immigrants, the Indigenous people and more.

The collective spirit/consciousness of the critical mass affects all people everywhere whether or not those people are participating in the RR Listening Circles. As conscious awareness grows or … increases its momentum, within the groups across Canada it spreads out to the masses around the world. It can be delayed though it cannot be halted’ When the time for the betterment, uplifting of social conditions has come it cannot be stopped.

At one time in the history of our Canada it spreads out to the masses around the world has come it cannot be stopped. At one time in the history or our Canada the Europeans such as the Polish, the Ukrainians, the Aboriginals and the black people bore the brunt of violence through prejudice. Now many of those people are in prominent positions in society. Though the prejudices are still acting to some degree, Indigenous people are taking government position, careers in the medical field, in aviation and education. The spirit/consciousness of people always seeks of the people always seeks improvement personally and collectively.

Righting Relations Winnipeg Recruiting Part Time Circle Coordinator

Righting Relations is a women-led, pan-Canadian network that strives to strengthen the capacity of adult educators and adult education to bring social change through political and economic literacy for a just society in Canada. With funding support from the Catherine Donnelly Foundation, hubs of adult educators and community organizers have been developing in communities across the country.

Position Description
Righting Relations Winnipeg is looking for a part-time Circle Coordinator, located in Winnipeg, which involves working directly with community circle participants in the community and supporting the coordination of activities of the circle.

The coordinator duties and responsibilities include:

  • Coordinate (book place, order food, etc) circle meetings and activities
  • Communicate and meet with the coordination group on regular basis to debrief and plan ahead
  • Collect information necessary for reporting
  • Update the group’s social media and website
  • Write narrative reports and provide reflections
  • Take detailed notes of circles and meeting minutes and distribute

Term of Contract
5 month position starting April 1, 2018 – August 30, 2018.

The coordinator is expected to work an average of 7 hours a week, but they will not be evenly distributed every week.

Position has the potential for renewal pending funding

Skills/Experience/Qualifications

  • Capacity to travel in the City of Winnipeg
  • Organizational, attention to detail, and time management skills
  • Interpersonal and relationship building skills
  • Communication skills (written and verbal)
  • Experience updating websites, communicating through social media
  • The ability to work independently and take initiative while still being a strong team member
  • Have attended previous circles and familiar with Righting Relations Western Hub

Interested candidates may submit their resumes to: westhub@rightingrelations.org

Creating Space for Belonging and Inclusion for People Living with Disability

 

In 2006, Roxanne Ulanicki delivered this speech at the first Annual Human Rights Awards hosted by the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights. The location of the awards was accessible for participants with mobility barriers if they sat at the top of the gallery however as the speaker, Roxanne had to have two young men carry her down a set of theatre stairs because there is no wheelchair access to the stage.

 On August 23, 2017, nearly eleven years later, in the same location but after a major renovation and disability access upgrade, Roxanne Ulanicki was to speak again and help host the Justice4Reel Film Festival. The accessibility renovations, while they allowed her to be on stage, did not help her dignity. After taking the wheelchair platform down to the stage, she reflected on her speech ten years earlier and decided to deliver the same speech again. After ten years, she felt that in terms of disability inclusion, Alberta is at the same place it was then.

 

 

Thank you for the assistance.

So tell me, how did you feel watching me be carried down the stairs?

Maybe many of you felt sorry for me. Some may have been surprised that there is no appropriate access in a public facility. Some of you, many have even been annoyed about the delay. And some may have thought, “Boy I’m glad that’s not me”.

But that delay and production is a part of my life; it is an example of what I go through several times a day.

Many of my peers would decline the opportunity to talk with you here today because of the access limitations but that is exactly why I’m here. Too often we stay home because we don’t want the embarrassment of being treated so differently. Too often we stay home because we don’t want to feel vulnerable and in a position of weakness.

So I hope you will allow me a moment to tell you a bit about my story and ask for your assistance in creating positive change for people with disabilities.

The reason I use a wheelchair at this time in my life is that I was born with a condition called Spina Bifida (which is basically a spinal defect that occurs in the first four weeks after conception).   I had my first surgery of many when I was 8 days old here in Edmonton in 1968.

I grew up on a farm in rural Alberta and was raised to believe that I could do anything I set my mind to, not only by my parents but by my teachers and doctors.

I attended regular schools, got good grades and was the only person with a very visible disability in my community.

As a child, all my needs were met, our public health system not only saved my life but it taught and encouraged me to believe that I could succeed despite my visible differences. I felt loved, valued and prepared to contribute to society.

At the age of seventeen I tried out for and was selected to play on the Women’s National Wheelchair Basketball team. I was thrilled and honoured to represent Canada in the 1988 Paralympics in Seoul, South Korea.

I was a team member and travelled internationally for 4 years. I had some of the most memorable experiences of my life. In Korea, they built apartment buildings (10 storeys high) with ramps instead of stairs for fire escapes. In the Netherlands I stayed at lakeside retreat that was completely barrier free and yet you might not know that if you weren’t a wheelchair user.

Those experiences and my childhood are the reasons I speak to you today.

Although I managed to delay the effects for a few years by playing basketball and getting a post secondary education; I’m here to tell you that at the age of eighteen life changes drastically for individuals with disabilities in Alberta.

My entire childhood had focused on my body; keeping me walking as long as possible. It had taught me that medical professionals knew my body better than I did. That I should seek out their knowledge and assistance.

But suddenly at eighteen, we are no longer children and required to go elsewhere for the supports to independence we have had our entire lives. We are thrown into a bureaucratic system which constantly requires us to prove we are disabled enough. Suddenly we have to beg for what was once given without judgement. No longer do we get to interact with professionals who even understand Spina Bifida. We become dependent, we are lost, where is the help, what do we do?

Back then, I never thought to look to local charities for help because I had worked so hard to be a contributing member of society, not one who takes from it. My pride and self esteem were wounded.

In the adult world of disability management, past experiences predict that I’m going to be treated like I am incapable of making basic decisions in my life. Why does someone else decide what wheelchair is best for me to use? Or what medical supplies I require?

My personal nightmare began when I entered the workforce and quickly realized that even though I had a good entry level position with the federal government the entire amount of my disposable income was being used to cover the cost of disability. Even with private insurance through work, everything had a price.

My dreams of going on vacation, saving for retirement and living in an adapted home disappeared. Now that I was working and earning an income I no longer qualified for most support programs. If I got married or lived common law, my partner’s income would further disqualify me from assistance.

Thank goodness I didn’t need any help or assistance in my home because I would have had trouble accessing it. Even today, people with disabilities have to fight just to get enough personal care to survive.   The challenge often begins with finding an appropriate place to live. It took me almost 20 years to find adequately accessible housing. And I know of many adults today who are required to live in senior’s homes because there is no where to live or they are too angry to live.

I spent most of my twenties lost, angry and disillusioned. I felt set up and abandoned. When I asked for help at the age of 24 I was cast into the mental health system to spend the next six years on anti-depressants which were not the appropriate solution to my complex issues.

I feel grateful to have met an amazing psychologist who finally looked past the wheelchair and the medication and saw a bright, intelligent, thoughtful woman.

She taught me that it was okay to grieve the loss of a body I never really had and to own the one I have. And to grieve the broken promises of doctors that said, “This surgery will help you walk.” She taught me that I know my body better than anyone and that I am just as knowledge and as informed as the professionals I interact with. She helped me to understand that only a short time ago children with disabilities often did not live to adulthood. And most important, she helped me to understand that anger is a cover for the real feelings inside.

After many years of anger and frustration, I allowed myself to heal and forgive. And with forgiveness one realizes that rarely do people intend to offend or demean me. More often than not, they are uncomfortable, uneducated or just unaware. More often than not, they think they are showing me kindness.

To me, more important than kindness is respect. And I believe the only way to gain your respect is to walk the walk…hehe….so to speak.

BUT

I’m tired of observing from the outskirts…or the top of the stairs.

I’m tired of climbing the stairs and accommodating the walkers of the world.

I’m tired of celebrating how far we’ve come with disability issues when it is archaic in comparison with other developed countries that have proactive laws rather than our reactive laws.

At the age of 38 I feel completely worn out from just trying to survive in one of richest regions in the world. I feel embarrassed that many would consider me to be a success story and heart broken at the lost potential of an entire generation of people with disabilities.

Although tired, I feel lucky to have carved out a life that I find rich and fulfilling. I’ve done that by connecting with and mentoring others with disabilities and their families. But too often I am powerless to help and overwhelmed by the barriers whether it be physical, emotional or environmental.

What do I want?

I want the society we live in to put human dignity before dollars.

I want to live in a society that is rich –rich with opportunities not a society full of rich people.

I hope that by hearing my story today I’ve changed your perspective about people with disabilities…..or maybe just reinforced one you already had.

We all have an opportunity right now to contribute to positive change for our futures. It’s up to all of us here to include each other.

The Power of Collective Strength

By Louise X

Sometimes sharing stories of others who have faced their own challenges stresses the importance of sharing those stories to improve our collective human experience. Being courageous is only half the battle. You have to keep going. You have to persevere. And you must be aware that you are not in this alone. Being human is both singular and plural – I am human and we are human. Though we are, each of us, more! Talking and listening to each others’ stories can be the antidote to fear associated with this journey, and the key to creating genuine understanding and empathy of our joint experiences.

Women are a source of strength, of power, of influence. Yet, many do not understand their own ability to tap into the Inner Strength.

While listening to or reading inspiring stories may be an uplifting experience for a time for some, the stories are not enough on their own to motivate. Making the conscious choice to accept and pursue a challenge that is staring you in the face requires commitment. Excitement is a key ingredient in commitment, motivation and success. Success in facing challenges is diminished when fear is overwhelmingly present. Fear comes from childhood conditioning, societal and educational conditioning, messages from the false belief systems that we have held throughout our lives which tell us that we are not good enough, that we are not enough, that we will fail.

Desperation to survive, to protect and to provide for ourselves or our children, is often the motivator for change in a situation. After many failed attempts to face severe life challenges, I acknowledged and accepted that I am never alone, help is only a prayer away. I stay open to whatever and whomever arrives as a response. I am not advocating any religious practices. What I am saying is that sincere prayer produces miracles often in ways that we could not even imagine. Now on to my personal story, which has changed from the way I used to tell it as I consider myself Victorious rather than a victim.

In 1982 my husband was unemployed and attending therapy with the Workmen’s Compensation Board so our income was severely reduced. Not accustomed to being unemployed and at home on the farm with us, he was miserable and abusive towards our three children and myself.

Before driving to work as a camp attendant, I dropped him off at the bus terminal in the local town so that he could attend his appointment in Edmonton for physiotherapy. He was going to come home that same evening, though I didn’t receive a call from him to be picked up. Days passed and still no word from him. I continued to go to work at the nearby construction camp where I assisted the cook in meal prep, baking and cleaned the men’s rooms. One of the men was conscientious and always put down newspapers at the entrance to his room. Every day I picked up the carefully placed papers without taking the time to read anything in them. This day was different. The name X in the Edmonton Sun caught my eye so I read … He had been picked up by the police and was in the Remand Centre after having been charged with theft of a vehicle, threatening a taxi driver with a dangerous weapon and resisting arrest. I was stunned!

He was sentenced to 2+, a federal sentence, and was sent to Drumheller, a maximum security institution. I managed to get focused and completed all of the tasks required of me in camp and drove home thinking, “O God, now what am I going to do?” That night I stayed up all night and prayed. At 7 am, my brother-in-law phoned me and asked if I would consider being a hotshot driver! After hearing all of the details I said, “YES!”

As I only had a small car, I knew that I would require a pickup truck so I called the owner of a vehicle dealership and arranged to have a suitable vehicle delivered to the local town. Joe told me not to worry about financing and to just go to the bank and make arrangements and then let him know.

Brian, the bank manager, had no problem giving me the credit without a down payment as he knew me well. Everything just fell into place!

The next day I received a call from an engineer on a rig nearby who had been in contact with my brother-in-law. I drove to the rig and was put on ‘standby’ for the next 24 hours. They had lost the bit in the hole and the roughnecks had to go ‘fishing’ for it. I earned enough to pay for the pick-up that time! During that time on ‘standby,’ my father-in-law had my truck outfitted with an ax secured behind the driver’s seat, a set of tire chains that he had bargained with a neighbour for, a shovel and a fire extinguisher. A few days later I was on my way to Calgary with my first core samples. From that day on, I was kept busy by three engineers in the area. My children and I never lacked for anything in the two and a half years that my then husband was in jail. We even enjoyed a shopping spree and a holiday!

On my own, I would have been challenged to arrange all that had to be done in order for me to prepare for the job. My prayers and constant gratitude started the ball rolling and kept bringing me the people that fit into the divine plan … Collective Strength! To my amazement, all of the people were men … Gary, Joe, Brian, Dad, George, Eugene and the three engineers. More, two years after X was released from incarceration, I filed for divorce, left the farm and began to move forward in my life.