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west grey council

- Anne Finlay-Stewart, Editor

The Council of the Municipality of West Grey took a ground-breaking step of leadership in our region at their July 7 meeting. 

Acknowledging systemic racism exists in every community and institution, and recognizing its own goals "to listen to our community, value diverse voices, and build partnerships", the Council unanimously passed a resolution to "actively work towards anti-racism and anti-oppression at every opportunity".

As a starting point, the motion commits to "annual training for council, committee members, and employees for anti-racism , anti-oppression, diversity and inclusion, and the history of Aboriginal peoples." It goes on to commit to circulating the resolution throughout the integrated governance, education and service systems of Grey and Bruce - including the City of Owen Sound - in a full community effort to end systemic racism. The full text of the motion, including the powerful whereas clauses, is available here.

The first speaker on the motion, Councillor Beth Hamilton, put the subject in context and perspective. "As a white person I don’t need to feel guilty, I didn’t choose these systems, but I am responsible for my role in it. I have an opportunity and responsibility to make change in my privileged position here at West Grey Council."

You can hear her on the council meeting recording beginning at 3:35:31, or read the full text of her comments in support of the motion below.  

"I’d like to begin by acknowledging that we are gathered on the traditional territory of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation and like them, are committed to being stewards of the land.

This motion comes at a time of having recently celebrated National Indigenous History Month, at a time of marches across the globe for Black Lives Matter, and at a time of governments, boards, and corporations issuing statements condemning racism. It’s also been a time of profound conversations with West Grey community members. I want to thank those who have shared their experiences with me. I’d also like to thank Emma-Cole McCubbin and Sarah Galbraith for their letters of support as seen in our agenda today.

From a young age, we learn that racism is perpetuated by a bad person intending to hurt another because of the colour of their skin. If we limit our understanding of racism as intentional, malicious acts, then I’m confident that we can all say, here at this table, that we are good people, we are free of racism, end of discussion. But it’s not that simple.

When we look at our systems, our laws, our institutions, and the people in power who make and shape these systems, those in power have remained fairly homogeneous - predominantly white, male, middle and upper class, heterosexual, and able bodied. This lack of diversity, combined with unconscious bias, creates inequities. Partly because those in power aren’t aware of the experiences and barriers others face and partly because those in power benefit from these systems.

As a white person I have inherited white privilege. I didn’t set up the system but it does unfairly benefit me. This doesn’t mean that I don’t face struggles, but it does mean that I don’t face additional barriers because of the colour of my skin.

Systemic racism and privilege are most often invisible to white people. However systemic racism is made visible everyday by Black, indigenous, and people of colour who have been telling us so. Systemic racism is made visible by reports such as the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action or the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls report. Systemic racism is made visible when we look at social outcomes and the glaring inequities in employment, housing, education, incarceration, health outcomes, and violence for Black, indigenous, and people of colour.

As a white person I don’t need to feel guilty, I didn’t choose these systems, but I am responsible for my role in it. I have an opportunity and responsibility to make change in my privileged position here at West Grey Council.

As municipal leaders we have power. We make decisions that directly affect the quality of life for West Grey citizens. We can make and revise policy, we make budgets, we advocate and partner with other levels of government. We also have the power to shape conversations and mindsets within our community.

In reviewing the motion before you today, the first paragraph is West Grey council condemning racism. The second paragraph is acknowledging that systemic racism exists in institutions across Canada and West Grey is not immune. Prime Minister Trudeau has acknowledged systemic racism. The RCMP Commissioner acknowledges systemic racism. Premier Ford is acknowledging systemic racism. The Minister of Education is making changes to address systemic racism.

There are two actions in the motion presented to council today. The first action is annual training for council, committees, and staff. It’s a small step, it’s achievable, I believe it’s foundational – you don’t know what you don’t know.

The second action is circulating this motion to media and institutions including area municipalities, Public Health, school boards, our local library and police boards. We recognize that our systems are integrated and interact with each other and so a community effort is required to address systemic racism.

I understand that talking about racism is uncomfortable. You may feel hesitant and you may feel like you might say the wrong thing. However, we just have to start talking and normalizing this conversation. As West Grey Council, we can use our voice to challenge racism and if we don’t then we are upholding the systems that keep racism in place.

I’d like to end with words from West Grey resident Emma-Cole McCubbin “West Grey could be an incredible leader for our area to set a bold example of love, diversity, and equity”.

Thank you

Beth Hamilton
Councillor, Municipality of West Grey

 

 

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