PRIME MINISTER JUSTIN TRUDEAU stated this week that systemic racism will be eliminated from federal government institutions and agencies. The question is how?
What I can say, from my own experiences, is that the best way to reduce my own prejudice is by interacting with others of different backgrounds. My Grade 5 teacher of Chinese background did more to make me open and appreciative of differences than all the other teachers of European background I had from K to 12.
It’s easy to pretend one doesn’t have prejudices when everyone around you is the same. And it’s easy to think everyone thinks the same, and has the same experiences, if everyone is cut from the same cloth.
Looking around Kamloops, it’s clear that Kamloops isn’t as diverse as Toronto, where half the population is a visible minority. But there is still diversity. Statistics Canada reports in 2016 that eight per cent have Aboriginal (First Nations, Metis, Inuit) ancestry and eight per cent of people in Kamloops are other visible minorities. And that’s not including the 3,000 plus of international students at Thompson Rivers University.
But when you look at who is in charge in Kamloops, does it reflect the diverse backgrounds that we are? Sometimes yes, sometimes no.
City Council has two councilors of South-Asian background. The head of the RCMP detachment has African and Aboriginal ancestry.
The Kamloops Art Gallery features art from the South Asian perspective on an ongoing basis. This reflects South Asians as being Kamloops’ largest visible minority. It also, no doubt, reflects that the art gallery has consistently had board members of South Asian origin on their board. The art gallery has embraced our diversity, and gives us all ways of appreciating different people’s backgrounds and experiences.
Western Canada Theatre has had a long tradition of featuring Aboriginal playwrights such as Thompson Highway and Corey Payette. Lori Marchand, of Okanagan First Nation, was in leadership roles with WCT for years before she took on the role of managing director for Indigenous theatre at the National Arts Centre in 2017. Her perspective no doubt helped all of Kamloops experience plays like “Children of God” about an Oji-Cree family whose children were taken away to residential school.
Diversity gives organizations the opportunity to think about things a different way, and serve a wider community.
But looking at the boards and leadership of other sports, service and cultural non-profits across the city, it is apparent that many have almost none or no diversity whatsoever.
Which is too bad. Different perspectives give us a chance to see things in different ways. And it helps us as a community serve everyone’s needs better.
Given that the City of Kamloops is a major funder of non-profits throughout the city, now is the time for council and staff to put pressure on non-profits to take on the challenge of increasing diversity on their boards and in leadership roles that reflect the city we are.
If systemic racism is to be eliminated, we all need to be part of it. Now is the time for the City of Kamloops to take concrete steps by supporting non-profits to diversify their boards to reflect the many faces of our city.
Nancy Bepple is a former City councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.