Grassroots work in urban Indigenous contexts

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Grassroots work in Indigenous contexts

Patty Krawec is an Anishinaabe woman with roots in Lac Seul First Nation in northern Ontario. Karl Dockstader is an Oneida man of the Bear Clan, and his family is from the Oneida Nation of the Thames. Both grew up and live in the Niagara Region of southern Ontario. Scott Neigh interviews them about the many shapes that grassroots work can take in urban Indigenous contexts, and particularly about the many ways that they themselves have been involved in Niagara.

The land upon which cities are built is no less Indigenous land than any other territory in what is now called "Canada." Yet in the dominant culture, most towns and cities are intensely coded as settler spaces, and in more varied and complicated ways as white or white-dominated spaces. And, living as an urban Indigenous person often comes along with a particular set of experiences around disconnection, erasure, tokenization, and marginalization. As today's guests describe, however, it also often involves quite distinct experiences of community, grassroots resurgence, and thriving.

They had different experiences when they were younger – Krawec was largely disconnected from other Indigenous people earlier in her life, while Dockstader was part of urban Indigenous spaces from a young age – but both were drawn into more active forms of participation in community through the Idle No More movement that began in late 2012. They were pulled initially into the activism that constituted that movement but soon enough focused their energies on a range of long-term community-building, educational, and other grassroots activities.

Much of their grassroots work is very focused on the urban Indigenous community in Niagara itself. They have, for example, worked on local rallies in Niagara in response to national issues, like missing and murdered Indigenous women and the acquittal of the white farmer who murdered Cree teen Coulton Boushie. Currently, both devote a great deal of their time to involvement in the friendship centre in Fort Erie, Dockstader as a court worker and Krawec as a member of its board. (Friendship centres are community organizations in many cities and towns that are run by and for Indigenous people, often providing services but also often acting as spaces or hubs for various other kinds of community activities as well.)

Krawec is also involved in the women's hand drum group that is organized through the friendship centre. Though the group began mostly just as a place for women to regularly get together, it has become an important source of grassroots leadership – a way for women to connect with culture and tradition, a way in which members become empowered to be more active and vocal, and a collective voice that carries weight and helps buld other kinds of initiatives in the community.

As well, both of them have been active in building community and education that reaches a little farther afield. That has included participating in an effort to establish a broad-based anti-racism coalition that was based in Niagara and included a wide range of communities, groups, and organizations. It also includes, for both of them, turning to digital tools like podcasting. Krawec cohosts the podcast Medicine for the Resistance with Kerry Goring, which aims to share Indigenous knowledge from the original peoples of Turtle Island and from the African diaspora. Dockstader cohosts One Dish One Mic with Sean Vanderklis, an Anishinaabe man from Curve Lake First Nation, with the aim of bringing together Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe perspectives on a wide range of issues.

For Patty, it also involves making connections with and offering concrete solidarity to Indigenous communities elsewhere in the country. She has put together a Patreon-based crowdfunding initiative called Pay Your Rent that offers settlers who live on the occupied land of Indigenous people – which is to say, all settlers – a way to give back. So far, the money raised has been used to do things like send menstrual supplies to communities in Nunuavut and in northern Manitoba, and to support Mi'qmak water defenders opposing Alton Gas in Nova Scotia. As the fundraiser grows it will support more communities in ways identified by the communities themselves.

According to Krawec and Dockstader, building community in urban Indigenous contexts can be challenging because people come from so many different nations and have a such a wide range of relationships to Indigeneity. But they also see this as a source of strength – many different people, with many different ways of work, all working towards common goals.

Image: Modified from a photograph by Karl Dockstader and used with permission.


Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada, giving you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow them on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact [email protected] to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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