PAQTNKEK: Consent education methods have been developed for the general population in educational institutions, however, there is a need to start considering what an Indigenous way, a community-based way, of teaching about consent might look like and how that perspective could strengthen consent education for everyone.
That was the subject of the roundtable discussion “Indigenizing Consent,” on November 5 at the Paqtnkek Mi’kmaw Nation. The event was hosted by the Paqtnkek Health Centre and the Advancing Women’s Equality Project of the Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre and Sexual Assault Services Association.
“When we look at the basis of consent, what happens to our lands happens to our bodies,” TJ Lightfoot said. “Even on our own land, and own territories, we’re engaging in abusive relationships with the government. Canada’s disempowering us, they’re holding us back from our own resources.”
Featured panelists included: Krysta Williams, an advocacy and outreach coordinator for the Native Youth Sexual Health Network; Lightfoot, a two spirit, full spectrum doula, who has expertise in Indigenous social and reproductive justice, as well as Indigenous medicines and environmental issues; as well as Milo Gray, a child and youth counsellor and program coordinator who operated a residential youth facility in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut and now works with Healing Our Nations.
Also sitting at the table was Paqtnkek band councillor Judy Bernard-Julian and two young people from the community.
Gray, who works with surrounding First Nations communities by educating and contributing to the continuity of culture, said consent, is extremely important – yet there is a lack of knowledge on all levels.
“When I go into workshops and explain to them if you’re under the influence of any narcotics or even a single beer, technically you can’t give consent to another party for anything,” he explained. “They’re usually shocked.”
Williams suggested every family has their own cultural ways of being and society needs to stop focusing so much on what’s wrong.
“But to focus on the skills and tools that we do have, that we do know that are working and are helping,” she said. “That could be a building block.”
Gray highlighted when he talks about love in his workshops, love looks different from family-to-family depending on the experiences and stuff they go through.
“I think consent in a lot of ways you need to narrow it down to exactly what the commonalities of the families are with consent.”
Bernard-Julian suggested people have been conditioned to not understand consent.
“To understand what is consent, we have to re-condition our people in order to be able to deal with all the issues that come up regarding consent, whether it’s a consent issue or not,” she said. “I think that is the real issue with some of our people, not really being able to understand.”
As councillors, Bernard-Julian said sometimes they’re required to dictate, because they’re dictated too from the government.
“Dealing with the government there is no consent there,” she said. “It’s just you do this, this is the way it is, these are the rules and the criteria.”
With guiding questions, such as “what is the role of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in building a broader consent culture,” “what would be essential elements of a consent culture,” and “what is the role of relationships in consent,” the group determined that consent is the ability to make a choice.
“I’m really glad people brought up these really simple examples,” Williams said. “Because that’s how it has to start, we can’t start at the top with the really complex issues.”