Tackling racism, trauma and inequity with Communities Ending Poverty

Posted on March 9, 2022
By Maureen Owens

Over my first week of work as Communities Ending Poverty’s Learning Lead, I have been reflecting on my personal and professional learning journey to more deeply understand racism and on how I can leverage this new role to tackle inequity.

Growing up in Manitobamay-johnson-manitoba-maureen-widescreen

I was born to a White family in a small northern community in Manitoba, Canada. I grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, enjoying new outfits on the first day of school, annual family ski trips to the mountains, and countless other freedoms and experiences. My childhood was one of peace, where it was easy to forget, not pay attention to, or even know the history that led to my privilege. Over time, I came to learn that this privilege was bought and paid for by the suffering of others.

Many people in my community, including some of my family members, are racist. In my formative years, their unconscious biases and subtle racist tendencies presented themselves through faint comments, suggestions or sideways glances. The notion that Indigenous people were not like me and were somehow to blame for their situations in life, was prevalent.

Thankfully, when you know better, you can do better. My journey to 'knowing better' is grounded in listening, learning and participating. It takes time to dissolve racism. Education, experience with community, books, co-workers and a mentor leading by example all contributed to my shifting lens.


Opportunities for learning and growth

Three years ago, I participated in the Kairos Blanket Exercise (KBE), which left me speechless. KBE is an interactive and experiential teaching tool that looks at the historical and contemporary relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in the land we now know as Canada. Experiential learning is powerful; a box of Kleenex is present for a reason. I often reflect on the countless ways that I poorly understood shared history.

I also participated in San'Yas Anti-Racism Indigenous Cultural Safety Training. San’yas means ‘way of knowing’ in Kwak’wala, the language of the Kwakwaka’wakw Peoples. There remains a deeply entrenched resistance to the transformative change essential for decolonizing and uprooting anti-Indigenous racism in many communities. The training supports learners to strengthen knowledge, work safely and effectively with Indigenous people, and consider their role in rebuilding systems to uproot Indigenous-specific racism.


Persistence and compassion

Tackling inequity takes time and resources, and above all, persistence and compassion. I truly believe that racism is on its way out. I have so much optimism for the future. Nobody is born racist; it is learned, and the systems that have taught it are falling apart.

Generation Z is more open-minded than any generation before, and I am so proud of the cultural acceptance that my daughters weave into the expressions, remarks and language she uses with peers and in community.

As I begin my journey with Tamarack Institute, I look forward to continuing to draw on the wealth of resources and opportunities available to better understand racism, trauma, and cultural safety. I look forward to leveraging my new role as I continue to combat inequity in my community and beyond.



Manitoba, Personal Calling, Indigenous, CRP Blogs, Homepage Blog

Maureen Owens

By Maureen Owens

Maureen is a Manager of Cities with the Communities Ending Poverty team at the Tamarack Institute.

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