The MCoS and the Southwest Newcomer Welcome Centre hosted the Arrêt/Stop Racism Youth Leadership Workshop in the All Saints Catholic School gymnasium, March 10.
The other two workshops have already taken place in Prince Albert and Regina. These workshops took place in association with the observation of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on March 21 and the MCoS campaign Show Racism the Door from March 1 to 21.
The Swift Current event was attended by about 120 Grade 7 to 12 students from seven different schools in southwest Saskatchewan.
The students discussed a variety of issues in small groups and through interactive activities during the day.
“They’re learning about culture and about cultural communication,” MCoS Executive Director Rhonda Rosenberg said. “They learn about racism, they learn about stereotypes, they explore from their own stories and each other’s stories experiences of racism and discrimination of different kinds and we finish the day trying to look at from some of those stories what choices we have, what different things we can do to actually make a difference.”
The topics varied from identity and intercultural relationships to issues related to power, privilege, racism and discrimination. The students received information about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations and they learned how to facilitate anti-racism activities in their schools and communities.
“As we debrief each activity, there are opportunities to talk about what you can do,” she said. “Some of it happens in the small groups. We do a lot of our activities in small groups because it’s a lot safer. They can get to know each other and create some trust and comfort in those groups and everybody has a chance to share. When they’re in a large group, not everyone is going to be comfortable speaking out in the large group. So a lot of that will happen in the small groups with the facilitators and then some of that happens with us all together as well.”
For example, students participated in the Sticky Label activity during the morning to discuss the issue of using labels to describe people.
“We really need to see the humanity in everyone and at the same time as that, we need to pay attention to the very real differences in our history and the way that we’re treated right now,” Rosenberg said.
According to Lindsey Chabot, a Grade 11 student at Swift Current Comprehensive High School, some of the activities were quite a surprise.
“We’ve done a lot of group activities where they got us to separate ourselves in different ways, which was interesting, because we come into this knowing that we’re learning about racism and different things about that,” she said. “So I thought it was kind of cool that they’re getting us to separate us based on things like what kind of pants we’re wearing instead of our skin colour right away, showing that there’s many different ways in which we can group ourselves.”
After grouping themselves according to things such as the colour of their eyes or hair, they were also asked to form groups based on skin colour.
“I wasn’t expecting that, because we’re supposed to be kind of moving away from that, but it was just to show us because it was difficult to try and match with your skin colour,” she said. “You don’t realize how many shades there are until you have to do that.”
She felt the workshop was useful to show to students the importance of embracing all people.
The MCoS has been hosting anti-racism youth leadership workshops in the province since 2010. This is the third year a workshop took place in southwest Saskatchewan as a result of the partnership with the Southwest Newcomer Welcome Centre. Last year’s event was in Ponteix and the inaugural workshop was in Swift Current.
Joey Donnelly, the information services advisor for the Southwest Newcomer Welcome Centre, said they are excited about their partnership with MCoS to have the anti-racism youth leadership workshop in the southwest.
“This will be my first year as facilitator and it’s amazing to see the participation from the school division, both separate and public, showing an interest and seeing the importance of celebrating our diversity,” he mentioned. “In the last 10 or 15 years, we’ve seen a huge spike in the amount of newcomers coming into the city and along with that the opportunity to share our stories and our experiences. Swift Current has had challenges in the past when it comes to really recognizing that multiculturalism and I think the best way to face that is with the youth and to show them it’s really our strength to have this diversity in our community and it really bodes well for our future.”
He felt young people are more open to embracing diversity and multiculturalism than older generations and they are also more aware of gay and transgender rights.
“I think there’s enthusiasm to look at what makes us different and to find out ways to celebrate that, but our job is to unpack some of these topics,” he said about the workshop. “We’re talking about some heavy issues like colonialism and how that impacted First Nations culture and the diversity that came along with it. So just looking at some of the uncomfortable aspects of our past. Growing up I didn’t hear anything about Treaty 4 and I think it’s a nice sign that we can open today’s proceedings with an elder speaking to talk about the fact that we are all Treaty 4 people. I’m hearing that more and more … and I think the consciousness building that’s happening here is just going to continue more in the years ahead.”
Rosenberg also believes young people have a strong sense of fairness and justice, but that does not mean there is not a need for this type of workshop.
“We’re living in a climate right now where every day I listen to the news and racism features in it in one way or another, which is unfortunate, but it makes this kind of work even more important,” she said.