by Kayla Buttress, CFUR Contributor ***Opinion***
Dahne Harding was the first presenter at this past weekends TEDxUNBC event. As an active social justice advocate, she spoke about how the spaces we create for people in the criminal justice system can limit their potential and even lead them to re-offend. Harding spent nearly six years working as a mental health clinician in prison and during this time she learned that the closed ecosystem of a prison could be violent and not very constructive to one’s rehabilitation into society. The lack of choice within a prison can often lead to confusion and uncertainty when people are released back into the community. This uncertainty can lead to people going back to the familiar, which can land them back in the criminal justice system. The social stigmas attached to individuals who have been in the criminal justice system further alienates them from society. Harding said that you understand yourself as reflected in your environment and if people exiting the criminal justice system see themselves the way that society does, their future can look pretty bleak. Instead of alienating these individuals we need to offer them support to grow and meet them where they are, seeing their potential instead of judging them from their past. After all, we all make mistakes, and we all can change.
The second presenter of the day was Leona Prince. She spoke about cultural privilege and truth and reconciliation within the Aboriginal community. There is a spectrum of cultural acceptance. At one end there is cultural persecution, and at the other, there is a cultural privilege. Prince spoke about her childhood, she grew up in a multicultural family and felt out of place around her peers in school. During this time she experienced persecution. As Prince grew older, she began to recognize her cultural privilege for having been raised “in culture,” where she was immersed in traditional Indigenous knowledge and grew to a strong understanding of who she was. She didn't recognize her privilege until she was introduced to a woman who recognized herself as someone who lives “in the shadows of those who live in culture”. Residential schools have stripped “those in the shadows” of their culture. In Prince’s view, the act of truth and reconciliation does not have to be a grand gesture- it is about taking many small steps and slowly unpacking history. We need to recognize that cultural privilege exists and that your truth is not everyone’s truth. We need to come together as a community and connect with ourselves before we can connect with one another.