Guest Post by Tia vom Scheidt
Growing up, much like any child, if any inconvenience fell into my lap or I was refused something (eating candy for dinner, for example, which I fought long and hard for) I complained; demanding that my parents, and ultimately, the world was against me.
As I got older, I quickly realized that this couldn’t be any further from the truth. I mean, look at me: I’m a young, white, female with access to education, healthcare, and a family who loves me unconditionally. While yes, the world is not fair, I am far from being oppressed.
Part of this realization was acquired by my father. Whenever I complained about not being able to watch more TV or go out with friends, my dad would look me dead in the eye and say “You won the genetic lottery by being born here. You don’t know struggle, so hush.”
Not going to lie, for my angst-filled tween years, I thought this was bogus. But the more I thought about it, the more I knew he was right. There are women, potentially smarter and with more drive than myself, that will never achieve as much as I can simply because of where they happened to be born. Not just women, but men as well (I ain’t about leaving y’all out).
I think about this often, almost daily. I had the privilege of going on a Rotary International student exchange to Croatia when I was 17 (repping that District 7010). I was there for 10 months, and I learned so much about myself, but the most significant thing I learned was how lucky I am to be Canadian. You see, Croatia was involved with a bloody civil war and genocide due to the break up of Yugoslavia during the early to mid 1990’s.
Fast forward, I talked to so many people affected by this war; families torn apart, children as young as 16 given guns and fighting for their lives. They talked about it like I asked about the weather, as if it was something that was a part of normal conversation. Because it was. I just simply wasn’t used to it because Canada hasn’t fought a war on its own soil since 1812. I knew I was incredibly lucky because I didn’t, don’t, and will never know the pain these people went through.
That is why I refuse to be ignorant or apathetic towards the inequalities all over the world: my privilege, and the privilege of others, should be used in a way to pick up the oppressed and voiceless, not to ignore their struggles.
The best way to start this is to look inwards. Sure, I mean personally; but as a nation too (sorry, folks— don’t mean to exclude, but I’m looking directly at you, fellow Canucks). It is so easy for us to pat ourselves on the back because we’re globally recognized for our diversity and acceptance. As for most of the population, we love all ethnicities, religious backgrounds, and sexual orientations. We boast that we are so evolved without truly knowing that our nation was built on the backs of those who are most struggling: the First Nations and Inuits.
I know what you’re thinking: “What does this white girl know about those issues?” I can’t lie, I don’t know as much as I’d like to.
I grew up in Muskoka, where I indirectly saw that not more than an hour away from my hometown, there were (and currently still are) reserves that don’t have proper drinking water, running toilets, proper sanitation, and so on. Please excuse me here, but how the hell can this happen? First Nations and Inuits were not considered Canadian citizens until 1960 and still fight for so many of what we consider to be inalienable rights. We put their people in residential schools, which was essentially genocide covered up to make us white folks feel that we were taking the right steps to “civilize” them. This caused a generation to be tormented, tortured, raped, and mutilated. We closed these schools but did very little to reprehend the serious damage we put onto these communities. So, being placed back into society, this generation grew up, and had their own children whom they weren’t able to properly raise. These parents grew up with so many unresolved mental health issues and, more times than not, passed them on to their children.
I had to do a little personal digging as well, but did you know that in 1999 alone, 27% of all deaths in Nunavut were suicide? If this doesn’t alarm you, keep in mind that this is the highest rate of suicides in the world, and continues to climb, especially in First Nations and Inuit youth. Jump to 2016, to a reserve called Quaqtaq in Northern Quebec. At best, you’ve heard of the crisis currently unfolding there; at worst, you have no idea what I’m talking about. In the past 3 months, this community has been rocked by 5 different suicides, all of which were committed by youth. Just months before that, in the Cree nation Pimicikamak of Northern Manitoba, 6 youth took their lives in a matter of months. Months, not years. This caused the province to call a state of emergency and, as of March, there was a suicide watchlist of 170 students who were considered at high risk; as of January, a 10 year old girl took her life before it could ever truly begin, being the youngest victim thus far. Sadly, these are the only reported cases, and often times in situations similar to these, there are so many incidents that do not go reported or grab the attention of any media outlet.
But where are the camera crews? Where is the Dateline special? Where is the national outcry? Why are we not funding better institutions and programs to help prevent children from killing themselves?
We can no longer stand by and not claim some sort of responsibility for this. Or at the very least, remain neutral and assume that it’s someone else’s duty to look after. Those of us in positions of privilege and power should be angry, we should be outraged and devastated that in our country, in this century, these acts are happening right under our noses and very little is being done about it.
I will not stay ignorant. I will not stay apathetic. I won the genetic lottery and I must help those who didn’t.
For more information, to help organizations with this cause, or if you are struggling with a crisis of your own, I’ve added additional resources below.
Kamatsiaqtut (Nunavut) Help Line at (867) 979-3333 or (800) 265-3333 (free, confidential, and anonymous)
Kids Help Phone at 1-800 668-6868
Tia vom Scheidt is an avid traveller who currently resides in Ottawa, Ontario. Tia loves creating and editing social media content for a local church. She is currently working towards her TESOL certificate in hopes to teach English internationally. (Despite this white toast kind of description, I’m actually an interesting person)