KAGAWONG – A shared passion for social justice and the eruption of emotion following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis led Reverend Janice Frame and Sandy Cook to organize a peaceful walk in solidarity. The Sunday, June 14 walk drew at least 50 supporters to the Aus Hunt Marina in Kagawong, where the walk began. People carried signs containing positive messages and used noisemakers to enthusiastically show their support. COVID-19 guidelines of physical distancing and wearing face masks were followed.
“People of colour–Indigenous and immigrant–must be assured of the equal rights and opportunities they have been denied in the past,” Reverend Frame said in a press release. “This will require a fundamental shift in the structures and systems that now frame our country. Making that shift will require the voice, support and activism of all Canadians.”
“Sandy and I both recognize the existence of deeply embedded racism in Canada and the ramifications of that system,” said Reverend Frame. “The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the eruption of emotion that is spilling into Canada and across the world is revealing what so many of us have denied is already there. We felt now was the time to acknowledge what exists within our own country and to shine a light on it with the hope that it will increase awareness and the need for things to change. Racism has had, and continues to have, such a negative impact on our country for Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) and that really needs to be corrected.”
On Manitoulin Island the issue has been brought forth by the pandemic, said Reverend Frame, and revealed serious cracks. “One of the biggest cracks is the cracks of denial,” she said. “These issues that we’ve managed to mask or ignore suddenly have become big and in our face. Just because we may not have the overt violence that we see in the United States that’s not to say that we don’t have the same problems. We’re just not responding in the same way. Because people are extra sensitive to what is happening in the world, I think now is the time to really bring it to the fore and continue the conversation.”
Reverend frame is the United Church minister on the West End of the Island. In her line of work racism is something she has thought about and talked about often but it was the people in her congregations who heard her speak on the topic. “It just made sense to take what I was talking about and what Sandy has felt forever and to combine our efforts and make Kagawong (Sandy’s community) the place for our walk,” she said.
“It’s just something we needed to do. We couldn’t sit back and let Halifax and Toronto and Montreal and Ottawa do all the work. They can’t speak for us; we need to speak for ourselves and this is our attempt to do that.”
As supporters gathered at the marina, Reverend Frame stood in the back of a pickup truck for attention and offered a few words. “As a White person, I realize that mine is a place of privilege, a place of safety, a place far removed from the direct impact of racism. What is needed right now is for me to step back a bit and to not talk but to listen. To listen to those who understand what systemic racism is all about because they live under its shadow every day.”
She shared an open letter to Canadians from Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald, who represents 133 First Nations communities across Ontario. “On June 8, Chief Archibald released an open letter to Canadians, an open letter entitled ‘Canada must commit to action against systemic racism. And through this letter’ Chief Archibald speaks up,” she said.
Chief Archibald’s letter began, “We stand on the precipice of change. We are looking down an untravelled path that will lead us from the darkness of hate and racism into the light of a loving, caring and just society. Will we finally have the courage to walk together and say ‘enough is enough’ After this immediate crisis is over, we must commit and follow through with the needed action so that it never happens again. This is the work required by all people in Canada.”
Chief Archibald named George Floyd, Regis Korchinski-Paquet and Chantel Moore as “representative of tragic outcomes attributed to systemic racism.”
Canada is in the midst of an identity problem, Chief Archibald wrote. “To the rest of the world, Canada is one of the most peaceful, progressive, inclusive societies in the world. It is a society that the rest of the world envies. But the reality is systemic racism runs rampant and is deeply rooted in Canadian society.”
She asked Canadians to be aware of how racism surrounds them and to make a personal commitment to “change the narrative by listening, challenging racism, educating yourself and sharing your power, space and platforms. Call upon your leaders to include the true history of how this country was founded. Include in the curriculum the past injustices inflicted upon BIPOC. Include the racist acts and pieces of legislation that helped to oppress BIPOC and continues to feed the colonial state allowing only a select few to benefit. This is a moment to learn,” she wrote.
“This pandemic has reminded us of our shared humanity,” the letter continued. “As the world experienced lockdowns, the majority of us stayed home and expressed a collective concern for our fellow humans’ health and well-being. Perhaps for the first time in our modern human experience, we understood we are truly in this together. As such, it was especially shattering to watch a fellow human killed when we were all working toward preserving health and saving lives. George Floyd became ‘everyman,’ who was experiencing real anguish, and when he cried out for his mother, we all understood.”
“It is essential to harness our collective compassion to create a more just society and root ourselves in a deep and abiding love and care for one another,” the letter concluded. “I’ll do my part. What about you?”
“Chief Archibald asks us to be aware of how racism lives and moves and looks in everything around us,” said Reverend Frame. “All too often that awareness has been jumpstarted by death. George Floyd. Regis Korchinski-Paquet. Chantel Moore. Raychard Brooks. Rodney Levi. And countless other Black, Indigenous and people of colour have died suddenly and violently as a result of systemic racism.”
A minute of silence was held to honour the life and memory of those men and women.
“We must not let these deaths be in vain,” said Reverend Frame. “Chief Archibald asks if we will educate ourselves and share our power and our space and our platforms. I ask you, will we do that? Will we do that and educate ourselves and our power?”
She asked if those present would have courage and make a personal commitment to action, and each time the crowd shouted ‘yes.’
John Christian spoke up. “We’ve heard about racism in a big dramatic way,” he said, “but until you have a Black child or grandchild, you don’t realize all the seemingly innocent things people say and do that are racist. It’s all the little things. When you talk about racism you have to really look at yourself and what’s around you. It’s not just violence and it’s endemic. Think before you act and before you say something.”
Reverend Frame agreed. “It’s not the great big picture,” she said, “but the little snippets that make such a difference. When we’re here today, when we are walking up that hill that is indicative of the battle that is ahead of us if we are really to take on racism and shake it at its roots and eradicate if from our country that we love so well. We need to move. We need to step up and step out. We need to commit ourselves and our country to a higher standard of attitude and behaviour. So, as Canadians let’s commit ourselves to dismantling a colonial system that was built on racism and has pushed Black and Indigenous and people of colour to the margins for more than a century and a half. Let’s commit ourselves to building a new system, a system of peace and respect and honour, a system that is just and fair for all. Let’s walk for change.”
Following the walk Ms. Cook added, “When we see behaviour that is not okay, it’s not okay to say nothing. It’s not okay to stand by.” She believes legislation is needed and the legislation that exists needs to be enacted now. “Trudeau taking a knee was good but not nearly enough. He has the power to change this.” She encourages everyone to speak up by sending letters demanding action on systemic racism to your local politicians and to use your vote. Elect government officials who will enact anti-racist legislation.
There will be a Black Lives Matter peaceful protest Friday, June 19. It starts at 3 pm at the NEMI Tourist Information Centre with a march at 6 pm. Find the event on Facebook for additional information.