On Sunday, June 14, the Fernie Awareness and Accountability Project set up booths downtown, facilitating conversations about white privilege and systemic racism in the Elk Valley. Despite the rain, over a hundred people showed up to engage with one another in a socially distant manner.
Following the success of Cranbrook’s Black Lives Matter (BLM) rally on June 5, a group of Fernie residents organized Sunday’s event to stand in solidarity with the BLM movement. The organizer’s original idea was to do a march, however they faced difficulty in sourcing local Black, Indigenous, and people of colour (BIPOC) speakers. The organizational committee decided that rather than speaking for people of colour, an educational way to bring the issue forward was to host a learning event where attendees could discuss their thoughts and experiences.
“Being a predominately white community, we wondered how to contribute to the BLM movement without seeming performative,” said organizer Mirey Faema. “So we got together a group of people who were also feeling passionate about it, had discussions, received feedback from people of colour within the community, and decided on this event as a starting point to begin having conversations. We want this event to enable people to share how they feel about systemic racism, their experiences, what they’ve noticed, and to show support to people of colour in Fernie.”
To supplement their efforts, printed resource sheets explaining systemic and institutionalized racism littered tables alongside lists of relevant books including titles such as Birdie by Tracey Lindberg, The Invisible Empire: racism in Canada by Margaret Cannon, and America in Black and White by Abigail Thernstrom and Stephan Thernstrom.
“You have to accept you’re going to make mistakes and that you’re going to continue to make mistakes, and not to let your ego get in the way of learning,” said organizer Michael Bull. “The more you read and educate yourself, the more you realize that the world is beyond this town, and that we all have to make an effort.”
According to Bull, organizers are not claiming to be experts on the subject, but rather want to highlight that racism is a systemic issue present in the Elk Valley, albeit sometimes invisibly. In order to better understand how to change oppressive systems, they seek to keep the conversation going by sharing resources pertaining to Indigenous discrimination, white privilege, and racism.
Sunday’s event is just the beginning of the Awareness and Accountability Project’s efforts. Organizers are hoping to continue the movement through email education, movie nights, increased sharing of resources, and other events and action items addressing racism. The organization will also continue focusing on what other BLM chapters in larger cities as well as local Indigenous organizations are doing, while continuing to engage the community, sharing petitions, and sourcing locations where residents can donate to support the movement.
“It starts somewhere, and it evolves the more we talk about it. We don’t really know what to do, but we do know that doing nothing is not helpful. We need to start by talking and growing together,” said Faema.
Organizers are open to all ideas for furthering the movement, and encourage new members to get involved whether it is as organizational members, or simply by contributing to the conversation.
For updates on the Fernie Awareness and Accountability Project, visit their event’s Facebook page.