Multiculturalism means making room for diverse voices: Lakehead University human rights advocate
Dreeni Geer is guest speaker at Thunder Bay's Caribbean, African Association annual fundraising dinner
If Canadians truly value multiculturalism, they must make room for more diverse voices to be heard, says Dreeni Geer, the director of the office of human rights and equity at Lakehead University, in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
Society as a whole must create a protective environment where people feel safe sharing their own opinions, challenges and solutions, she said.
"The first thing I always say to any people who are the dominant group is the only way that marginalized voices or people ever thrive is if mainstream voices step aside and create that space, and so instead of speaking for others or advocating for others, actually give them the room and allow them to speak for themselves," she said.
Individual pieces in the cultural mosaic puzzle
Geer, who is the guest speaker at the Caribbean and African Multicultural Association of Thunder Bay banquet on Saturday, which raises money to cover the cost of educational resources for immigrant and refugee students from elementary school all the way to college and university, said when she talks about diversity she means "all the individual pieces in the puzzle of the mosaic."
Things changed because those marginalized groups changed it. It was the people who suffered those laws that actually made change and made a better culture and community for everyone.- Dreeni Geer, director office of human rights and equity, Lakehead University
"We shouldn't really see the world as binary, meaning white and non-white, but recognize that diversity means there's going to be different groups within that non-white paradigm who have different lived experiences, different challenges," she said.
Geer points to February as Black History Month as a good opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the contributions made over the past 400 years by people of African descent, many who arrived here originally as slaves.
"They faced unique hardships, specifically coming into Canada at such an early time and those unique hardships actually did a lot of, in a way symbolically, forest clearing for other groups so they almost took the brunt of discrimination, of anti-white sentiment, white supremacy and Black people, ensuring that slavery was abolished meant that other immigrant groups, when they came in, they didn't come as slaves."
Celebrate advocacy work of affected groups
But that history of fighting oppression, and abolishing slavery in Canada is often forgotten, or glossed over, she said.
"Like a lot of the wrongdoings in Canadian history, when it comes to residential schools or head taxes or the continuous journey rule that was applied to South Asians, it's really important to look at those things because the reality is that those things changed because those marginalized groups changed it. It was the people who suffered those laws that actually made change and made a better culture and community for everyone."
"When we gloss over those events, we're also erasing the amazing work done by those affected groups to make that change," said Geer.