What’s in a Sign?

6 Nov

This morning I woke up early and was fortunate to catch the sunrise as I walked along the lakeshore. It’s one of my favourite places. As I walked, I came across this sign. It’s not the first time I’ve seen it, but it caught my attention today again, especially since I’ve been thinking a lot about reconciliation.


The first thing that caught my attention today was the graffiti. My first thought, which made me angry: disregard for the sacredness of what the sign stands for. A reminder of the history and legacy of colonization. But then, I considered that maybe it could mean something else – pointing to the hollowness of a sign in a country where we continue disregard Indigenous peoples.


What can a sign like this mean?

It can raise awareness about the people who first walked on this land. It can honour them. It can become a talking point to learn more. It can show a reverence and respect for the path we are on together. It can be a symbol of a forward motion, and positive change.

And it could also just be a sign – a sign that perhaps began with an intention for more. Or maybe not.

Signs like this can be amazing tools to create conversation, dialogue and help to create reconciliation  – and a new story for Canada.But then other things must stand behind them: Knowledge. Awareness. Intention. Willingness. Tangible, real change. A piece of the puzzle, not the only picture.

To me, the sign would mean more if we were doing more with regard to Indigenous rights, and changing our relationships. If that was tangible in this country. As it stands, it’s a sign that suggests to me we think a piece of rock with some writing will cut it. And that makes me angry and sad.

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Copyright 2016 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker, Facilitator, and Consultant on issues of Diversity & Inclusion

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Reconciliation in Canada

30 Oct

Last week I attended the Canadian Race Relations Foundation Conference – Inclusive Canada, 2017 and Beyond. It was a thought-provoking and intense two days with a strong theme of Indigenous inclusion.

The opening keynote was by Chief Dr. Robert Joseph, Ambassador for Reconciliation Canada. He spoke passionately about reconciliation, and I’d like to share some of the thoughts that touched me the most in this blogpost.

Merriam-Webster defines reconciliation as “the act of causing two people or groups to become friendly again after an argument or disagreement.” It’s a noun; but it’s a noun with an action built in. And that action requires us to act.

While Colonization, residential schools, and the Sixties Scoop are hardly disagreements, reconciliation is still a powerful and poignant term to use. The Truth and Reconciliation process in Canada was an important process, and the subsequent report outlines 94 calls to action to move reconciliation forward.

Chief Dr. Robert Joseph talked about the importance of recognizing that there is much we don’t know, and he urged us to listen.

He then offered this (and I believe it was in reference to someone else’s thought, although sadly I have not recorded their name) that “reconciliation can be grand. But maybe it’s about a million other little things ordinary Canadians can do where we live. Maybe that is more profound. Everyone can contribute to reconciliation and transforming the country into something better.”


So, what can we all do to participate in reconciliation?
Some examples include:

– Learning; educate ourselves about the history and legacy of colonization, about Indigenous cultures, and about present conditions on reserves, about Indigenous cultures. For example: read the Truth and Reconciliation reports, and participate in local Indigenous festivals and events that are open to the public (and bring your children so that they learn, and are open from a young age).
– Writing; writing letters to the local newspaper or to our MPs letting them know that these conditions are not acceptable (for example, 25% of First Nations children live in poverty)
– Speaking up. When we see or hear discrimination towards Indigenous peoples, we must speak up and speak out against it.
– Listening; listening to the stories, voices and current concerns of our Indigenous brothers and sisters.
– Discussing; being open to the transforming power of dialogue and of hearing someone else’s truth about what it means to live in this country.
– Be aware; catch and challenge the bias and prejudice (conscious or unconscious) that we may have towards Indigenous people.

No matter what you do in your own way, Chief Dr. Robert Joseph urged everyone to have a “back pocket reconciliation plan” and to “adopt it as a core vale and as a continuous way of living”. That back pocket reconciliation plan is personal. We are meant to carry it with us and demonstrate it through our actions and thoughts every day. And it is meant to inform and change how we see each other, the conversations we have, what we expect from our country, how we create the future together, and the future we create.

He told us that this back pocket reconciliation plan “will change the way you see yourself and the world around you.”

If we are consciously about reconciliation, it will also change this country for the better, and with it the lives of Indigenous peoples – and all Canadians.

See more.

Copyright 2016 Annemarie Shrouder                                                                                          Speaker, Facilitator, and Consultant on issues of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion  www.annemarieshrouder.com

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Visible Markers of Difference

23 Oct

Recently I spent a weekend in the Crown Height, Brooklyn – a Hasidic neighbourhood.

As I walked to and from my friend’s apartment, I was surrounded by men in black suits, white shirts and hats or yarmulkes, and a few women in long skirts.

Despite being a person of colour who is used to being the only POC in a room, it was nevertheless a powerful experience to be and feel so obviously different as I walked along the street because of my clothing. I stood out.

I wondered what it must be like to dress the same as everyone else. And I remembered my high school uniform; the blessing it was for a kid who didn’t have the “right” clothes, and yet how stifling it was to my teenage self. I tried many ways to assert my individuality in that uniform.

I’m not equating a high school uniform with cultural and religiously significant clothing! These clothes and ways of dressing signify beliefs and a way of being. And of course Hasidic Jews are not the only ones who experience this. Hijabs and Turbans are two other examples that are also very visible. But I did wonder about the sense of community.

I wondered what it is like to share culture and religion so publicly, constantly, and consistently. I wondered what it was like to be so visibly part of a community, and to be IN that community – and by contrast what it was like to walk in other parts of the city. I also wondered if, outside of the community, this defining way of dressing may feel different if one is alone, or with a group of similarly-clad people. (I did see groups of Hasidic boys in the various subway stations on Friday). And I reminded myself that how it feels is likely impacted by how one is received by others.

When we are obvious in our difference, we can more easily become targets for discrimination and hate. Although for us, those markers may be sources of pride and provide a sense of belonging.

And as I walked, I also wondered what these markers don’t allow us to see because of the assumptions, stereotypes and prejudices that clothing can inspire – consciously and unconsciously.

See more.

Copyright 2016 Annemarie Shrouder                                                                                          Speaker, Facilitator, and Consultant on issues of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion  www.annemarieshrouder.com

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The Power of Words

16 Oct

Today I’m writing about words and choices.

In our post-colonization societies, the use of words still reminds us (if we are aware and paying attention) of who is in charge, and who has value – and who doesn’t – in the eyes of the state.

Take some of the names of sports teams, for example.

Last week, Jerry Howarth (long time Toronto Blue Jay’s announcer) was interviewed by the Toronto Star. He said that he hasn’t used the full name of the Cleveland baseball team in decades, because it’s offensive to First Nations people. Not only is their name offensive, their logo is as well – see below.


Jerry Howarth made this decision to not say the whole name because someone who identifies as First Nations took the time to write him a letter and tell him how offensive it was to them. It had never occurred to Jerry before that, he told the Toronto Star, but it changed his heart, and his mind. And his actions followed.

When things don’t impact us, we often don’t see them. While this may be hard to believe for the people that are impacted, it is really relatively easy to miss things if you’re not. Why? Because we are surrounded by messages every day that are steeped in racism and the legacies of colonization, that tell us who and what has value, and who doesn’t. Those messages are pretty clear – by omission and commission – and we soak them up without questioning. And voilà! We repeat disrespectful team names and perpetuate various other acts that degrade and disrespect people – mostly people who are “not like us” – probably without giving it a second thought. Because we are not impacted by it.

Cleveland isn’t the only team. The Washington Red Skins are another – and they recently appealed a US Supreme Court decision cancelling their trademark registration because it doesn’t trademark names that ‘potentially disparage people”. Here is what John Oliver had to say about it.

It’s not just about sports.
Take a moment to think about the things you say without thinking – sayings you’ve grown up with, for example – that perpetuate stereotypes, negative assumptions and promote discrimination and inequity for a group (I’m not going to list them, but think about it. They are usually cultural or race-based).

Words have power.
Jerry Howarth is using the absence of a word to send a strong message about respect. We all have choices about the words we use and choose not to – and each of those choices either adds a voice to the struggle for equity and inclusion, or is complicit in undermining that struggle.

What’s your choice?

See more.

Copyright 2016 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker, Facilitator, and Consultant on issues of Diversity & Inclusion

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What does a doctor look like? Anti-Black racism in action.

13 Oct

You have probably already heard or read about Dr. Tamika Cross’ post on Facebook and her experience of anti-Black racism on a Delta Airlines flight.

In case you haven’t, here it is in a nutshell:
A man needed medical attention. She got up to help and was told to sit down. The flight attendants called for a doctor over the intercom, and still she was blocked from helping and asked a series of disrespectful questions that made it clear the crew did not believe she was a doctor. Enter white male who is immediately given access to the ailing passenger. But Dr. Cross was asked to help a few minutes later.

This is about unconscious bias, and the messages we get about who has value, who can be a doctor, what a doctor looks like and sounds like. Those are the messages we receive every day – overtly and covertly – that cause the disrespectful and discriminatory treatment that Dr. Cross received. They are based on anti-Black racism.

It’s also about anti-Black racism – racism directed specifically towards Black people. It’s one of the legacies of slavery and colonization (yes, it’s been a while, and the effects are NOT over).

This is what anti-Black racism look like today folks. It’s not always horrific, or physically violent or even deadly in the moment – but it always reminds us of our place (less than), and the aim is to keep us there. And because of that – and what that means in terms of opportunities, education, health, employment, family, self esteem, etc.  – it is horrific, violent and deadly. Maybe not in the moment, but cumulatively over time.

Racism and anti-Black racism are real. They are alive and well. Sometimes they require that we look closer and examine our actions (and inactions) to recognize how they are baked into the fabric of our societies.

What do you need to learn and know to be able to see this reality if it isn’t yours, in order to help create a change and make our workplaces, communities, schools, health care facilities – the world we live in –  a safer, respectful and more equitable place for people of colour?

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Copyright 2016 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker, Facilitator and Consultant on issues of Diversity and Inclusion.



Thanksgiving…and Atonement

10 Oct

This week there is an interesting convergence of two holidays in Canada. While one is religious and one is not, I’m finding the timing quite meaningful.

Everywhere in Canada (except in the Atlantic provinces) Monday is Thanksgiving, and in the Hebrew calendar, Yom Kippur begins Tuesday night at sundown. Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement – is the holiest day in the Hebrew calendar and is a day of introspection and repentance.

While it can be relatively easy to give thanks, recognizing the ways and the people who made it possible for us to have the gifts we enjoy is often not; we may simply not think of it, or it may be uncomfortable. Similarly, reflecting on how we have hurt or wronged someone may not be a popular practice; sometimes because we don’t realize we have done it, often because we don’t want to face it.

The two days next to each other are causing me to think about the often stark contrast in the gifts that we have, and the ways many of our privileges exist because of someone else’s hard work or oppression (the land we live on being one example, the clothing we wear being another possibility).

I’m not Jewish, but I imagine that Yom Kippur can be a heavy day, as well as a day of liberation. Taking time to think about our actions over the past year and how they have hurt or negatively impacted people gives us the opportunity to reflect on the impact of our actions. And then to acknowledge it to ourselves and the person(s) affected. This can possibly lead to dialogue, understanding, forgiveness, stronger relationships and healing – and seeing more: More of the person, more of the situation, more of ourselves.

I can’t help but wonder what would happen if the Canadian government approached Indigenous Peoples, Black people, and people of colour in this way. Introspection. Awareness. Repentance. Dialogue. Relationship building. And then action; moving forward differently, with inclusion and human dignity in mind.

Imagine the country (the world) that would create?

See more.                                                                                                                                                        Copyright 2016 Annemarie Shrouder                                                                                          Speaker, Facilitator, and Consultant on issues of Diversity & Inclusion  www.annemarieshrouder.com

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Happy New Year!

3 Oct

Happy New Year!

If you’re Jewish, you know exactly what I’m talking about – Rosh Hashanah began last night at sundown. “Shanah Tovah!”

If you’re not Jewish, or don’t have any close friends (or family) who are Jewish, it’s possible that you had no idea. Or, like me, no idea until yesterday.

Which is amazing, if you think about it, because a new year’s celebration is a big deal.
But it happens all the time to holidays that are not celebrated by the dominant culture:

If you are Jewish, you likely know about Christmas and Easter…the big and commonly known holidays celebrated in North America. There are others, but you get the idea. If you’re not Jewish, likely you don’t know when Rosh Hashanah is, or Yom Kippur, or Hanukkah.
Because it’s not your holiday.

Notice a little disparity there?

You bet.
That’s because if you’re not in the dominant group, you have to know the dominant culture to get through the day (and life). But it’s not reciprocal. Because non-dominant culture information is not “necessary” information, and we live in a world that is inequitable.

Rosh Hashanah is one of the holiest holidays in the Hebrew calendar. It is celebrated in the first two days of the Jewish month of Tishrei. And because the Hebrew calendar is Lunar, the dates for holidays such as Rosh Hashanah change every Gregorian calendar year.

(By the way, Rosh Hashanah is followed 10 days later by Yom Kippur – so mark your calendar!)

See more.

Copyright 2016 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker, Facilitator, and Consultant on issues of Diversity & Inclusion

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