Views / Opinion

Consider accessibility when creating opportunities for Indigenous Peoples: Kabatay

Proposals to add new faces and voices to art galleries, city hall or the job site are empty gestures if they aren’t accompanied by a road map for real changes, writes Jasmine Kabatay.

Before accepting the position as Edmonton's first Indigenous Artist in Residence, Dawn Marie Marchand asked for a bus pass, cell phone and computer — things she didn't already have.

Kevin Tuong / For Metro

Before accepting the position as Edmonton's first Indigenous Artist in Residence, Dawn Marie Marchand asked for a bus pass, cell phone and computer — things she didn't already have.

It’s one thing to be shown an opportunity; it’s another to actually pursue it.

Last week, Indigenous artist Dawn Marie Marchand finished up her tenure as Edmonton’s first Indigenous artist in residence. But it almost never happened.

Marchand told my Metro colleagues she was “a little bit surprised” when the job was offered to her back in 2016, worried her financial situation would impact her decision. She took the position on the condition she was provided with a bus pass, a cellphone, and a computer — three things she didn’t have.

And she isn’t alone. When Marchand went to the first National Gathering of Elders in September, she explained that many talented Indigenous artists were facing similar struggles.

“It wasn’t that the artwork wasn’t good enough, it was just the access barrier,” Marchand told Metro Edmonton.

Marchand’s story is just one of many. While there are lots of jobs, programs, bursaries, and on and on, designated for Indigenous Peoples, the details aren’t thought through.

Growing up, the closest towns to my reserve near the Ontario-Minnesota border earmarked jobs for Indigenous Peoples in the surrounding area. Yet I barely know anyone from my reserve that applied, because they either didn’t have a car or access to a vehicle full-time to make the daily hour-long drive to work.

And if they do get the job and don’t have a vehicle, then housing can become an issue. Do they find a ride constantly to do the daily commute or do they have to search for a place while also finding a ride, doing the commute and working?

It’s not enough to create opportunities for people. It’s about building a system and ensuring that they will be able to pursue whatever is offered. Otherwise why create these programs or jobs in the first place?

Look at Lindsay Kretschmer’s stint at city hall in Toronto. She was hired as an Indigenous affairs consultant to the city. But she ultimately quit her position and filed a human rights complaint saying the city violated her right to smudge at work by failing to provide sufficient space for the ceremony.

If diversity is truly the goal, recognize that it takes work and commitment, especially when dealing with a group that has historically been undercut. It takes building new bridges and changing the standard approaches. Proposals to add new faces and voices to art galleries, city hall or the job site are empty gestures if they aren’t accompanied by a road map for real changes.

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