Indigenous, Black and racialized youth are calling for accountability as part of centring Decent Work practices. In this episode, Shanese Anne Steele breaks down the systemic barriers faced by youth in the nonprofit sector, while also calling for accountability around efforts of decolonization. Bio: Shanese Indoowaaboo Steele is an Afro-Indigenous, Fat Femme living between Edopikaang (North York) and Decatur il, both traditional territories of the Anishinaabe (Mississaugek and Potawatomi) People. With roots in the Caribbean (Trinidad/Carriacou) and Métis and Nibisiing Nations, Shanese works to bridge the gap between Black and Indigenous Peoples within Turtle Island through writing, education work and facilitation.
Indigenous, Black and racialized youth are calling for accountability as part of centring Decent Work practices. In this episode,Shanese Anne Steele breaks down the systemic barriers faced by youth in the nonprofit sector, while also calling for accountability around efforts of decolonization.
Bio: Shanese Indoowaaboo Steele is an Afro-Indigenous, Fat Femme living between Edopikaang (North York) and Decatur il, both traditional territories of the Anishinaabe (Mississaugek and Potawatomi) People. With roots in the Caribbean (Trinidad/Carriacou) and Métis and Nibisiing Nations, Shanese works to bridge the gap between Black and Indigenous Peoples within Turtle Island through writing, education work and facilitation.
This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Yami: Before we begin, we want to acknowledge that ONN's office is located in unceded territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishinaabe, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat Peoples. We know that Tkaronto is diverse to many First Nations, Inuit, and Metis communities documented and undocumented, and for all of the listeners, those of you who identify as settlers, there's a really great resource called Native-Land.ca that's N A T I V E - LA N D.ca, where you can find out who's land that you're on, not only for the purposes of acknowledging that building relationships and practices of solidarity. So make sure to check that resource out.
Kavita: Welcome to digging in with ONN. We are your hosts, Kavita and Yami. This is a podcast that discusses public policy and systems change with a focus on Decent Work. We use an intersectional lens that centres learning around Truth and Reconciliation, Racial Justice and equity practice.
Yami: For today's episode, we have Shanese who we are so excited to speak to and we're going to invite them to introduce themselves in just a moment and Shanese, we're going to be digging in pun intended around Decent Work conditions for Indigenous, Black and Racialized youth and what it means to engage in meaningful practices of Racial Justice, what it means to be in right relationships, and also practices of reciprocity, in various iterations of Decent Work, we have engaged in conversations with young workers and we'll make a reference to the page, um, in terms of some of the needs that have shown up within the nonprofit sector, such as centring, uh, those who experience harm the most, those who are at the margins, as well as ensuring that there's opportunity and conditions, uh, for folks to thrive.
And so, without further ado Shanese, welcome to the podcast. Could you take some time to introduce yourself to the listeners and provide all the titles that you hold?
Shanese Indoowaaboo Steele: Absolutely. *Shanese says thank-you in Ojibwe* Thank you for having me in this conversation with you all. I've always loved being in a community with new people. And I say that often, like when I'm joining folks, whether it's a workshop or a conversation, I'm now in a community with you. And so I'm just happy to be in community with you and anybody who's listening. We're all in the community now.
*Shanese introduces herself in Ojibwe* So I said, hello, my name is Shaniece steel. I'm Crane Clan. I'm Afro-Indigenous. So my father hails from Trinidad and caribou Grenada. And then my mom is Metis Nippissing and hails from the North Bay, Thunder Bay area.
I'm currently coming to you from the traditional territory of the Potawatomi people here in Decatur, Illinois, um, where I spend half my time. The rest of the time, I'm in a dopa Kong. Uh, you might know it as North York, Toronto, Edopikaang means the place of many trees. And so you might have also heard the word Etobicoke and that comes from Edopikaang.
Um, and I love to bring that up because when my grandmother grew up in North York, it still was the place of many trees, it was farmland. Um, a lot of people don't know that Yorkdale actually used to be the airport. So everything around it was still very much-
Shanese Indoowaaboo Steele: Yeah, a lot of people don't know that Dufferin Mall used to be a horse race track. My grandfather used to go and, um, hustle, uh, schedules while he was young there. So, you know, a lot of history of being out on the land and working on the land in Toronto that people forget now that we have skyscrapers and concrete and all of these things. Right. But the land is still there.
I'm an educator, a writer and activist, a Virgo, which I always say is the most important part of me. But yeah, all around, I am just a person who's trying to survive a white supremacist world. I'm Afro-Indigenous I'm fat and I'm queer, which means all of those identities are constantly under attack. And so, yeah, just trying to navigate it one day at a time, one soca song at a time, um, one Netflix documentary at a time. Lord knows. I love me some documentaries and that's just me. That's who I am.
Yami: Thank you, shimmies for joining us on this podcast. One of the things that, uh, we focus on with this podcast is Decent Work specifically. Uh, when we talk about Decent Work, we're not just talking about the bare minimum of what working conditions are needed for folks to thrive, but really, what are the policies and practices? What are the attitudes? What are the conditions that are needed? That goes beyond just like a bare minimum standard around Decent Work.
We've heard from a lot of young workers. And I know that in the many positions that you hold, that you work with youth and young folks that is part of who you are and that there's often this desire to move into staunch professionalism and corporate models that just don't work for folks who are trying to do change work, specifically within the nonprofit world. And so we were curious and just kind of wanted to start off with some of the trends that you're noticing when it comes to youth, specifically Indigenous, Black youth who are entering the workforce and the particular trends and realities that you're noticing.
Shanese Indoowaaboo Steele: Yeah. You know, it's interesting. I'm technically still a youth I'm 29 and so I haven't aged out of Canada's definition of a youth. But something that I've noticed is folks that are coming into this work that are like 18, 19, 20, the trend that I've thoroughly enjoyed from the youth that are participating in the nonprofit world is that they're not taking flack from anybody. And that's a trend that I'm, I'm really actually enjoying. A lot of the youth that are coming into this work, you have one chance to mess up with them. You have one chance to show them that your workplace is inequitable and they're gone.
And that's a trend that I wish really had existed in my generation when we started because I've noticed that a lot. Older youth, folks that are closer to my age, or people who are even older than me are tired, we're burned out. And it's because we decided to say, okay, you know what, we're going to fight. We're going to stay in and we're going to fight and we're going to try to fix this organization and we committed to it. And it's not to say that these younger folks aren't committed to it, but what they're realizing is that their capacity and their effort and their passion are better suited for places that actually fit their needs and meet their needs and show up for them in the ways that they should.
We're seeing this trend in people being employed these days. I think something that I've also noticed is this idea of professionalism, right? What is professionalism? It's very much this colonial idea of how you're supposed to look, how you're supposed to talk. I remember once I had, uh, when I was at the UN, someone had said something to me about, oh, you have to dress a certain way, your tattoos shouldn't show. And I remember in that moment, I had made the decision that I was no longer going to make myself more digestible for the people that I was speaking to. That, this idea that if I wasn't dressed a certain way, or if my tattoos were showing, or if I didn't talk a certain way somehow the knowledge that I was bringing to the table was not of any value.
And I didn't believe that. That didn't work with me. And you see that happen a lot. Yeah. With Black and Indigenous and racialized folks where we code switch, everyone's talked about code-switching, but we do it. We start in a new, new workplace and we try our best to adapt to the workplace.
So we'll change the way that we talk. Right. We might put ourselves in conversations and situations that we're very uncomfortable with, but we're trying to fit this niche of what a nonprofit worker is supposed to look like. It's funny I saw TikTok the other day, it was like a person who works at a nonprofit who's robbing you, and so the guy's like, "yeah, you know, I use he him pronouns. And I just would like to let you know that I'm going to Rob you right now. And so I'm asking for $200 and, and yes, I would, you know, it's, it's up to you on what you would like to meet, but if you do not give me the $200, I will stab you, and I know that's hard... " and he's just like, he's going through it.
Kavita: He's being nice about it.
Shanese Indoowaaboo Steele: Very nonprofity about it. Right? And it's like this theme of taking the terms and the stuff that we learn in nonprofit areas and then weaponizing that against other people. And that's a trend that happens a lot in the nonprofit world is that you have folks that aren't really about that life. They're not about the nonprofit work and they're just using these terms. Oftentimes, you know, Black and Indigenous and racialized and queer youth who are coming into this work are entering in spaces where that kind of language is being weaponized against them. So they're oftentimes silenced or they are forced into doing things they're not comfortable with because this is the language that's being used. It's appearing to be a safe space, but it's not actually a safe space. And so that's why I said at the beginning, I love this trend of youth coming in and being like, "I'm good. I'm peeping the game. The language that you're using is not, it's not matching what your policies are. It's not matching the work that you're doing. It's not matching the meetings that we're even having."
I think those are the trends, the trends of a weaponizing language, to make spaces appear to be what they're not, but also this trend of youth being, "I'm not going to take it anymore," and it's forcing workplaces to really take a moment and look at the environment they're creating and asking themselves, why are we not retaining a lot of these Black and Indigenous and racialized youth in this work.
Kavita: That makes a lot of sense. It's funny, normally you say, I want to be like that person when I grow up, but I want to be like the youth you're describing, even though I am grown and older than them.
Shanese Indoowaaboo Steele: A hundred percent. I think a lot of us live in that fear though, of not having a job, especially those of us who are like the children of immigrants or immigrants ourselves. Like that fear of, okay, well, if I don't have a job, what am I, what am I doing? And so it's scary to just up and quit, but like these youth are coming in and they're like, oh, there's another job out there. I'll find it. It might take me a little bit. But I'll find it. As we're like, my bank account, I have 300 bills I have to pay. I don't know if I can lose my job right now. Like they're treating me horribly, but I'm going to sit through it.
Kavita: We certainly took, I think a generation of us took it like, oh my god, you're going to give me a job. Great. You know? And then once you realize maybe it wasn't so great, I'm like, well, I need the job and I need the work. And you were saying, you're raised with those values, right? As you said, you know, do the work and do the hard work and change the I certainly grew up in the time where it's like, well, if you don't do it, who will, and you have to pave a better path for the folks that come behind you.
We do carry that burden. It's like, well, I want to open doors for others. I want it to be better for others. I feel like that work needs to happen on both levels, right? Like you feel a responsibility to do that, but we also need to really change the system so that no one has to carry that burden.
So our next question for you, within settler organizations, including Black-led and Indigenous-led organizations, what does it mean to meaningfully engage BIPOC youth and create, and I'm using air quotes, I know folks can't see me, "safer" or "equitable" spaces? And how can organizations mirror the intent around Racial Justice? How can policy and practices mirror accountability from the organizational to interpersonal? And sorry, I said one question and then asked you three questions in a row.
Shanese Indoowaaboo Steele: That's no worries. Yeah. I've been thinking about this a lot. Even what we just said about creating those paths, I was having a conversation with a friend and I was like, if I'm working at an organization where I have hiring power, right, and I want to bring more Black and Indigenous folks in, I have the power to bring that them in, which gives them jobs and opportunities. But at the same time is the space that I'm bringing them in safe for them? And I'm constantly having that battle of like, I want to create space, but as the space that I'm bringing them into safe? Because it isn’t always right. A lot of the time that happens because there are no policies in that place. There isn't work that's being done right to ensure that those spaces are safe for me to even feel comfortable bringing others into it. I think about policy a lot and this is a conversation that I've had with a lot of folks is like are your policies equitable? And honestly, what does it mean to be equitable in a capitalistic society? It's hard trying to figure that out. But recently I had seen a post on Facebook from a friend, the name is Leandra Baker and they had said, if your work isn't giving you a yearly increase by 5% to 7% to match inflation, then it's not equitable. I didn't even think about that.
Especially when you're a youth and you come into a job and they're like, we're going to give you $60,000, that sounds like a lot. When I talked to my mom and she told me when she started the workforce, at the time she was 26 and my dad was 23, she was making $34,000 a year. My dad was making $20,000 a year. Now imagine me, the children of those two people around the same age coming into our workplace and they're telling me they're going to give me $60,000? Well, I'm going to jump on it. And the next year if I haven't got a bonus or an increase to my pay I'm not even thinking about that cause I'm still making $60,000. I'm still making above the average of a lot of other people. And then once you start getting into the $70, $80, $90,000, you're not even thinking about bonuses or pay increases or any of that. You're just like, oh my gosh I've got $80,000.
So equitable pay matching inflation, making sure that folks are getting paid what they should be getting paid, equitable firing practices that you can't just fire me cause you don't like me one day. I've talked to a lot of Black and Indigenous and racialized youth that talk about, well I'm afraid of pushing back at work because we don't have an equitable firing policy and I'm afraid of something my boss can just fire me. And we know how hard it is to prove at the human rights tribunal that you were facing discrimination. I know this because I went through it. It's extremely difficult.
So if you get fired because you pushed back on a racial issue, unless you have proof that outright you're busted, you're not going to get any compensation for that. So it's harder to fight for equality in your workplace if you don't know that you're going to be safe. There are things like that. There are things like having a policy to cover medication that's not covered by whatever insurance provider that you have. We recognize oftentimes not every insurance provider is going to cover the medical costs for your staff. Ensuring that you have that. There are lots of ways that you can make the space more equitable for people to want to even stay there in the first place.
Also, the training that you're providing staff. Are you doing anti-Black racism training? Are you doing Indigenous solidarity training? Are you doing you know anti queerphobic training? What are the things that you are doing to ensure that your staff that already work there are not causing harm to new people that are coming in. And also people that are already working. Are you providing a flexible work schedule? Are you providing days off? I've heard of pet leaves at some organizations because they recognize, hey you might get a pet and you need that first week or those 15 days to get your dog or your cat or your fish to onboard with the environment that you now have.
So there are ways that you can make work feel less capitalistic at a nonprofit. Obviously, I'm not talking to corporations because at the end of the day, unless it's Google, and even Google is super problematic, I think Google has a slide which is great. But when you think about other things that people are facing, and that's not to say that Google is a horrible place to work, it just means a lot more work has to be done. You can be super equitable, but you're always going to miss the mark, unfortunately.
And I think something else that organizations need to do is meet the needs of individual employees. What does that individual employee need? And that also means fixing the individualistic environment of your workplace. This means, hey if I need something that you don't need, that doesn't mean that you then resent me. This was a conversation that I was having with one workplace where they were saying well if we give you this, other people are going to start to resent you. Well, why would they resent me for getting the needs that I need? This is my access need. They shouldn't resent me for that. And if it's something that they realized that they also want you should provide that for them too. So it's about matching the needs of your individual employees and then creating a community-based environment within your workplace Ss that there isn't this residual resentment that builds. That if Sandy needs six days and I only need four days, that means I only need four, and I can't get mad at Sandy for needing six and asking for six.
Those are the things that allow for workplaces to be safer and allow them to be more accessible for racialized and BIPOC folks and queer folks are making sure that you're matching it. Do you have a policy around Trans-inclusion? If one of your staff transitions and changes their name what are your policies around that to ensure they're safe in the workplace? I think when we say I think of workplace safety we're thinking of WHMIS, we're like, okay are the bottles labelled properly? And are people wearing steel-toed boots? That's what we think of as work safety. We don't think about creating an environment that allows people to function and live fulfilling lives while also doing the work that they care about. Because I know too many folks in the nonprofit sector that like genuinely care about this work, but we are so tired that we don't even have anything left to give and that's because the work environments we've been in haven't allowed for us to be able to be full human beings outside of the very intense work that we're doing. Because the reality is that nonprofit work is not easy work. We are putting our bodies our lives our mental health everything on the table when we do this work So you have to have the supports in place to make sure that we don't crumble
Yami: So many nuggets, so many nuggets and so much truth-telling. Not only around policies and practices but the cultures that folks could create. The important piece around I think this podcast and folks that are listening is that we're not saying we have all of the solutions. I think that each individual organization is its own ecosystem that's going to respond in its own way. But these are trends that we are seeing amongst young folks and specifically racialized folks and Indigenous folks and Black folks who are brought into these organizations but the conditions are not there to ensure that they thrive.
Moving into a culture piece, it's Black history month and in my day-to-day work there are often conversations around, so there's an ethic that folks want to embody rights, so they're like yes we're going to put policies in place, we're going to put practices in place. We're going to invite Shanese to come in and give us an anti-Black racism talk, and on top of that oh my gosh Shanese is also Indigenous so she can like come in and talk about Indigeneity and she is queer, And I hope you understand I'm not in any way shape or form trying to the identities that you hold, but how at times it could feel like a checkbox rather than a practice of embodiment around what it means to be a place that is in right relationship with Indigenous communities, what it means to be in place a place that can address the fact that the world is inherently anti-Black.
I'm wondering if you can speak to this desire to be accountable. And we see this with Truth and Reconciliation, we see this with the 94 Calls to Action and folks wanting to embody that and going to the training and having the policies. I would love it if you could speak to that, I know that was a mouthful.
Shanese Indoowaaboo Steele: It's funny, I always say, I feel like I'm the Swiss Army knife of the nonprofit world. Like they can book me and I can speak to so many different things because I live under all of these intersectionalities and sometimes I'll get booked on things that I know nothing about. Like, I'm like, no, I'm not doing this. I don't, I've never spoken to this. Like, you can go to my website, you can see everything that I speak on. It's one thing if you're like, I didn't see this on your website, but I'm wondering if you can speak to this part of queerness? Like that's different, but when you book me— I had gotten booked for something and it was about tourism. And I was like, I don't, I don't do tourism.
Yami: It's tokenistic.
Shanese Indoowaaboo Steele: And then everyone who was there were people in the tourism industry and I felt very out of place. And I was still able to speak to certain aspects of the questions. And so I can kind of get why I was booked, but I felt really uncomfortable because I didn't understand. I wasn't aware that this was the level of tourism conversation that we were going to have.
Um, and so it happens sometimes. I think, especially with Black History Month. And this is a conversation that I think a lot of Afro-Indigenous indigenous folks have been having, or Black Native folks have been having, is that people will book us during Black History Month because we're more digestible and it's easier.
And like, oh, you're Afro-Indigenous. So you can speak to both. And the problem with that is that, not to say that I'm not an actual Black person, I am, but there is a difference between booking someone who is mixed and light skin and looks a certain way than booking a mono-racially dark-skinned Black person.
There is a difference, and there's a reason why you're booking me. And there's a reason why you are not being in community with the people that you're talking about. Right. And I think that's the problem. Like, of course, I can talk about Afro-Indigenous Indigenous solidarity because I'm an Afro-Indigenous person and I'm shifting between both worlds.
So it's easy for me to talk about that. You don't, I, not that I can't have hard conversations about it. Of course, I can, but it's a lot harder for a monoracial Native person to look in the face of a monoracial Black person and say, how do we do better? That's a lot harder. Right? Cause I can as someone who's a part of your community. I'm a little bit more understanding when you're anti-Black. I can sit there and be like, ah, residential schools. And I know how this happened because it happened in my family and like I'm probably going to make more excuses. Not because I'm like, anti-Blackness is cool, but because I understand the history of it. Right? So it's easier for you to talk to me. But when you have to look at a Black person, another Black person in the face and sit there and say we've been anti-Black and there's no excuse. Right? Like, that's hard. That's hard work.
And so I think a lot of people are using people with specific identities to kind of skirt around real accountability. And this happens a lot. Now I'm not saying don't book me, because please book me. *Laughs* But what I'm saying is, it's like don't book me because you're afraid to be in a community with other people. I don't want that. I don't want to show up to a space and realize that I'm only booked because you don't want to be in communication with Black people, or you don't want to be in communication with Indigenous people.
I don't want that. And I'm tired of that. And a lot of Afro-Indigenous and Black native folks are tired of being this token. Right. And then I think the other aspect of it is, as of today, February 8th, I'm still getting emails from people trying to book me this month. We all know when Black History Month is, we all know, it's the same month, every single year. And yet every single year, I am getting bookings throughout the month. Don't book me during Black History Month like do not message me in the month of February to book me. Also do not message me during the month of February to talk about Indigenous issues, because I'm only going to talk about my Blackness during this month.
You are not going to water me down so we can have these conversations that you don't want to have the rest of the year. If you book me to talk during this month, I'm only talking to Black issues. Right? And so like, again, it's that way to like scapegoat around talking about Black history because you're like, oh, I have an Afro-Indigenous - person. So most of my, most of the conversation is going to be about Afro-Indigenous identity and navigating the Indigenous community. I can talk about that year-round. I don't want to talk about that during Black History Month, I want to celebrate Black excellence. I want to talk about Black people. I want to talk about my Black family.
I want to talk about the things that we've accomplished and we're still accomplishing. I think when people are like, oh, I booked this workshop or, oh, I did this and yes, I have these policies. You have to ask yourself A, what was the rationale behind it? And B, after it's in place, how are you being in community with people in real ways? How are you doing real work? Right. It's not about just having an anti-Black racism training, and then you go about your business. Okay. So where are your policies now? Do you have a specific policy about anti-Black racism in your work? And do you actually, not punish, but do you hold people accountable when they are anti-Black?
Because I can point to a policy, but if you're not holding people accountable, it doesn't matter that you have the policy there. Right. So it's really about your actions. It's really about you being in a community with people, it's really about you showing up. I'm not interested. Even when people book me, I'm like, I'm going to send you a bunch of resources afterwards, because this is work. You didn't, you didn't do this one workshop and now you're good to go. Like, no, I want you to read the work of Black folks and not just Black folks inside of Canada. I want you to read the works of Black folks in Brazil, in Ghana, Kenya, Australia, in Italy. I don't know if there are many Black people in Poland, but I want you to read the works of Black people in Poland because I want you, I want you to understand that when we're talking about anti-Black racism, it's not just about what you're doing in Toronto.
Kavita: I think what comes to mind as you say that, is that there are different levels of commitment, right? There are folks, it feels like, you know, some that are committed to writing a policy, but then not doing that internal work. And I think sometimes people forget that, and you know Mojdeh spoke to this a little bit in another episode that we did is that part of it is personal accountability and part of it is your personal commitment to doing this work. Because yeah, you can write a policy, but if you didn't do the work yourself, you're never going to implement it.
You're never going to create and be committed to creating that safe space, or inclusive space, or whatever. And I think that's what results in people asking you on February 8th, to speak for Black History Month because they didn't do that work themselves. They're thinking about, well, we can't have a Black History Month without a Black person speaking so like now we have to — now we're scrambling. And so, to me that feels like the result of not doing the real work and doing like a, oh well we should have a policy because that's the right thing to do. But you're not personally committed to advancing your knowledge and Truth and Reconciliation or Racial Justice on your own. And I think it's such a tough lesson to learn, that not everybody is in the sector because they care about these things. Um, and, and I think that's indicative of where we are right now.
Yami: I think about the tables that I sit at, the different tables and how folks will be like, we want to do anti-racism work, we want to do decolonizing work. And there's this critical moment of pause of like, What does that look like in your everyday? How can, why does that just show up at work? You know? And it's wild to me because that's when people start to retract. Right? And what's important for listeners to know is that people make up policies, people make up systems. That's why we're focusing on it.
Shanese Indoowaaboo Steele: They're not abstract, right.
Kavita: You know, systems and organizations and policies are not beyond the people who create them and write them and uphold them. So, you know, if we take away that personal responsibility and accountability, then we're forgiving ourselves that work. And it's no it's, we have to do the work too. And we have to commit to doing that. And I think Yami, as you said, that retract, I've, I've seen it. And I think it's because it's hard. It's hard work and it's uncomfortable work and it means changing how you think about things and approach things. And you're like, you know, it sort of uproots your life when you, when you do commit to it, right? I think when you start to see all of the stuff, and I feel like Jessica Bolduc made this comment, it's sort of, you know, dismantles your life. Once you start to think about the systems, but also your responsibility and your part in it, and how you in your everyday life uphold really inequitable systems.
You're maybe even advancing them? Right? So, I think people are like, well, I can't deal with that. So I'm going to write a policy and create an event, or whatever, a panel so that I can appease that guilt. Right. And it sort of goes back to that guilt of, I'm not doing the work.
Shanese Indoowaaboo Steele: Yeah, 100%. And I had seen, um, like people have been talking a lot, like a lot of folks that are like, "woke". I've talked about it, I wish I could go back before I started seeing all of these things cause I was happier. And sometimes I think if more people got to that miserable state, then maybe things would change.
Like if more people got to the place that a lot of us are at when folks are like, I can't watch a show without enjoying it because I'm seeing all of the problems in it. Like if enough people got to that point, then maybe it would change so that you could watch a show without seeing all of the problems in it.
And I think about that often, like, I don't know. There are moments when I wish I could go back to when I had the rose-coloured glasses on because it is easier. It is so much easier. Right? And that, and that's what y'all are talking about retracting because it's easier, and it's comfortable and you can stay super happy when you're not thinking about the fact that other people are suffering.
But, I feel like that's the problem is folks get to that point where they're like, oh, oh, it's bad. Okay. Nevermind. The blinders are back on and I wish more people would take the blinders off so we could get to a point where enough of us are uncomfortable that we're like, oh, it needs to change. Because as of right now, not enough, people are uncomfortable with the way things work.
Kavita: And not recognizing their privilege and having those blinders on. I mean, they just don't even know that they have them.
Shanese Indoowaaboo Steele: The amount of times that I've seen Elders just brought in for two seconds to open up a space and then discarded like they were never even there, is so harmful. And so those are ways that people are decolonizing. But for me, you can't decolonize something that's inherently colonial. I don't care what it is. I don't care if it's a nonprofit. I don't care if it's a corporation. I don't care if it's the healthcare system, you can not decolonize something that's inherently colonial.
So when people ask me, how do I decolonize my work? Well, you have to dismantle it. And you have to build it back up in a way that's actually equitable. And in a way that's actually decolonial. Until then, I don't care what you tell me. I don't care how many Indigenous folks you have come in working there, facilitating conversations, policies written, it's going to be colonial. The system itself is going to be colonial. And to be honest, it also comes down to dismantling the government and rebuilding it as a decolonial thing.
Yami: *finger snaps*
Shanese Indoowaaboo Steele: But that is a much larger conversation, that would take a much longer amount of time. I feel like when you're like, dismantle the government, people are like, that's so scary, anarchy. And like, no, when I say dismantle, I mean, building something that's again, equitable, something that makes sense for the Indigenous people of these lands but also the visitors and the arrivants and the people that are here. So once again, different tangent, but yeah, when we're talking about decolonizing, it really means dismantle.
That's what it means, right? You, as I said, cannot decolonize an inherently colonial space. Because what's going to end up happening is that colonial practices are going to come back into play. It's why a lot of grassroots organizations don't want to become nonprofits, don't want to incorporate, for that very reason, right?
Because you're bringing colonial structures into something that's not supposed to be colonial. And so, yeah, when we're talking about decolonizing, It's about dismantling. And something that I liked that y'all said about, like, it starts, it starts with you. Like any workshop that I do, no matter the topic, the first thing we start with is unpacking ourselves.
Right? How many times have you been anti-Black? How many times have you been anti-Indigenous? Where do these thoughts come from? Where did you first learn these things?
Kavita: The last question, and then we can let you go. So for listeners who are tuned in to this episode, They have a lot to learn from you. You've shared a lot of wisdom for which we're very grateful. As they listen and they hear the words dismantle and they hear about accountability, what are maybe three actions that folks can take to create Decent Working conditions that actually support Black and Indigenous and people of colour, youth, to thrive within this sector?
Shanese Indoowaaboo Steele: Number one, I'm going to say, is the unpacking yourself. I will always start there. If anyone asks me about anything, it's starting with yourself. Um, the second thing I would say is read. Read, and listen, and watch. Like, I can't stress this enough. The work has already been done. People have written reports, they've done Ted talks. There have been documentaries like. The work is out there. This is not like it's, you know, 1803 and no one's written about this before. Right? Like it's out there. And so do that. And then the third, and like also within that, sorry, I would say shut up and listen. Like shut up is the main part. And I've had to tell myself that often, like she needs to shut up, just shut up and listen.
Because when you're like, what is it that people say when you're talking, you're not listening. Right? Like you have to just shut up and listen. And then the third piece is like showing up in the way that folks ask you to show up. Right? A lot of organizations when they're, when they're starting their organization, you're not doing the research first. Are you doing group meetings with community members to say, what do you need from us? We're starting this organization. This is our idea, but what do you need? Like, I'll never forget sitting down with one of my friends after being away at university, and I was like, these are all of the things that I want to do in the hood and dah, dah, dah. And he was like, yo, Shenice, that's great. But when's the last time you asked the youth what they need?
And my mind was like, I've been in school for four years based on what I needed as a youth when I was living there! And then I was like, damn, I haven't asked recently. And that is that you have to ask the community, what do they need? And like, again, you're going to miss the mark sometimes because you just are, you can't please everybody.
But what you can do is lay the groundwork for you to meet as many needs as you possibly can. And that really starts with asking the community, what do you need? So focus groups. If you're creating a space, and even if you already have a space in existence, do focus groups. Put a call out for 18 to 29-year-olds who are looking to enter into the nonprofit sector, and ask them, what would you need from a workplace? And that's where you're going to get your answers. Because we'll tell you, as I said, these youth are not playing these days. They are not playing; they're in, they're out. If you ain't meeting, their needs, they're going to tell you, this is what I need. And it goes back to that second piece of listening. It's just like listening and that's how you get to the second piece of giving the community what they need. And that's what it comes down to. That's what nonprofit work is supposed to be. It's supposed to be giving the community what it needs. And I think a lot of organizations, especially, I would say older organizations have lost that, right. Because they've been doing this work for so long, they've really forgotten about connecting with youth.
Yami: We hope you're taking notes, everybody.
Kavita: That's right.
Yami: We hope that you're taking notes.
Kavita: What rings really true for me, as you say that is, I think embedded within the sector is this old notion that you know, where charity, like that white saviour complex, is so built-in. The handout concept, we're giving you what you need and it's, it's not the right approach and it's brought us to where we are now. As you said, you have to know what the community actually wants and not tell them what they need and to work with them, not above them and some weird structure. So I think, I think that would help us to begin.
Thank you so much for joining us in this conversation and bringing your insights into meaningful engagement work. And I hope that our listeners took notes as Yami said because there was a lot of great knowledge there.
So thank you, Shanese. Thank you for your time and thank you for sharing your knowledge with us. To our listeners, thank you for tuning into this episode. We're your hosts Kavita and Yammi, we hope that you'll join us for future episodes as we keep digging into the issues that matter to the nonprofit sector. Make sure to share, rate and subscribe.