A concert, a red dress, some patriarchy and oppression. How’s that for a Sunday evening?

I was looking for a picture of a magician, and I could not for the life of me find one that wasn’t a thirty-something white male. Strange.

I recently had the opportunity to volunteer at a concert, taking tickets and selling memberships for a really cool non-profit that seeks to bring artists from all over Canada to play shows in Nunavut. That in itself is pretty lacklustre on the amazing scale (although incredibly costly and sometimes it takes a magician to make the logistics of getting them here happen)

Why I think the organization is so cool though, is that they believe in supporting local artists from across the territory. It’s kind of like their secret mandate. Get the crowds in with a bigger-named artist and when they’re a captive audience, create an incredible space for local artists to perform. This particular concert showcased two young men who had made the trek from Igloolik to Iqaluit just to perform.

Watching them reminded me how amazing young people with passion can be. The two of them had not performed together before, and only one of them had ever been on stage in front of a crowd (last summer he flew from his home to Iqaluit on his own dime to participate in a “Battle of the Bands” competition, and won!) Watching them was inspiring; never have I ever seen anyone quite so grateful, or having quite so much fun on stage, doing something they are obviously good at and so obviously love.

I wish that the tenor of the evening had stayed this way. Even though most people in Iqaluit speak English, it is important to respect the ancient territories and the peoples of this land by communicating in their language. The organizers try to ensure that all announcements from the stage are translated, with Inuktitut leading English, as a nod to the importance of language and culture.

I’m not sure exactly how the individual that hosted the evening came to be there. He will remain unnamed but is a fairly well known music journalist from Canada’s west coast. He was joined on stage by a local woman (who bizarrely enough, I attended elementary school with in Saskatchewan when she and her brother lived there briefly) who is a native Inuktitut speaker, a prominent local lawyer and an activist for equality. Dressed in a traditional Inuit Amauti, on her back she carried her sleeping baby, and in her arms she held a red dress.

MMIWRedDress

Image courtesy: Shaw Global News

The symbolism of the red dress, she explained (translating her words herself), was to raise awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women across Canada. The issue is critically important for all Canadians, and is one that hits close to home here in Iqaluit. In a community this small, the chances are great that you will know an Indigenous woman who is a victim of violence. She may be your sister, or your student, or live down the block from you. She may pump your gas, or work behind the postal counter. She may suddenly one day just disappear.

This woman stood onstage proudly, passionately calling for audience members to care, to learn more, and to act on this incredibly important issue. After she spoke, her words hung in the air; the seriousness of the issue a sobering thought for people to ponder. And then her co-host spoke saying something to the effect of “thanks for sharing, what an important issue. Does anyone want free stuff? I have lots to give away. Let’s play some trivia.”

It took a while for me to process what I felt about what had happened. It was like watching a black hole swallow up the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, never to be heard from again. When I think about it now- two days removed, I visualize this host’s ego pushing the local woman off-stage, undermining her call to action, minimizing her voice. And then, when I think about this small part in the context of their whole relationship throughout the evening, it becomes even more clear. This individual, who I’m certain acted unconsciously, could not share space with an Indigenous woman who dared to do what was asked of her and co-host that evening.

This right here is the problem. There are countless men in this world with good hearts and good values-who are simply good people- that are egocentric, passive-aggressive and sexist by happenstance as a result of their enculturation into an egocentric, passive-aggressive and sexist society. And they are none the wiser to the condition of their mentality. Though I wish to believe that there was no harm meant when this radio journalist moved on from his co-host’s speech about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women with barely an acknowledgement, harm was most certainly done.

From the front of the room, he- a man of power- reinforced to the audience that:
a) this kind of discussion has no place at an event like this because playing games and winning free things is far more exciting and fun than thinking about rampant social inequality and our current government’s blatant disregard for human life;
b) through his prioritization of English over Inuktitut and his inability to create space for full translations to occur, the dominant culture in that space was once again the colonizing culture;
c) his positionality as an educated, employed white male in his early 40s (just guessing on that one) was superior to a young Inuit woman’s, giving him the power to dictate the direction and flow of the entire evening (despite her positionality as an educated, intelligent, valuable member of the community.)

I know that I’m somewhat jaded and looking through tired eyes at the continued issues of colonialism, patriarchy and the often-barely visible underlying politics of oppression, but we have to continue to educate ourselves, our friends, our children and yes, even audiences of concert-goers about how to create space for one another if we are to expect any changes at all. I write this post asking you to reflect on how you create space for others; how you interact with your privilege (whatever that looks like) and how you can work with others to educate, challenge, change perceptions and begin to really value those who are so often overlooked and ignored.

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