Lateral Violence in the Workplace

In my first post I stated, “Trauma and Indigenous people. This is something that has affected us in different ways throughout the course of our life time. This blog is a recollection of my experiences and experiences of my family. For me it’s a way to speak my truth and release the negative experiences that sometimes have a way of lingering in one’s mind. It’s time to acknowledge the past and move forward.” Writing is therapeutic for me and allows me to release the negative and move forward.

For the last two years my job involved me working in a different capacity and not in the classroom as a teacher. It was a secondment which was only two years and within those two years I learned a lot more than just my job. The first year was fabulous. I was constantly learning and I had the most amazing supervisor who allowed me to flourish. She believed in me. She empowered me. She was compassionate. She was diplomatic. Unfortunately due to restructuring I was assigned a different supervisor for the second year. My gut instinct told me that it wouldn’t be the same; I didn’t get a good feeling. My gut feeling was correct.

During the summer before starting work again I was asked to speak at the university and discuss my experience as an Indigenous woman in the school system and in the workplace. I was honoured. I made arrangements with my then supervisor and the head of the department. Both said I could go and did not say I had to take a personal day off to attend. That all changed as my new supervisor called a meeting with the rest of the supervisors. Apparently it was a long meeting discussing me going to speak at the university. This occurred after I went to speak at the university, not before. I had told my new supervisor about the engagement prior to going and nothing was said. After my speaking engagement she came into my cubicle and was very adamant and her tone of voice was condescending. I felt like a little girl getting scolded when she told me I had to take a personal day for going to the university. I was gone from work for a total of 2 hours yet I had to take a personal day. I told her I’d take a half a day but the two hours I was gone didn’t even add up to a half a day so I was owed time. I also mentioned that nothing was said prior. I did cry because all of this was done behind my back and the way she was talking to me was rude and uncalled for. I was told the other workers around me actually left and went for coffee because of the way she was talking to me. It made them feel uncomfortable with her raising her voice at me and with me crying.

My supervisor had brought me a bag of goodies because she felt bad for how she treated me. I didn’t see it as a good genuine gesture, I saw it as a way for her to make herself feel better. Kind of like when an abusive spouse buys his/her spouse gifts after abusing them. I was leery of her.

I found throughout the work year she only came to my cubicle when I was “in trouble”. I had my guard up and was suspicious of her whenever she approached me. In my head I was always thinking what did I do wrong now?

One of my colleagues told me how she would divulge private information about me to others. This happened on a few occasions and it really made me angry. As my supervisor she had no right to talk about my personal issues. I knew I had to talk to her about it but it was extremely hard for me. My heart was pounding. My palms were sweaty. I really didn’t want to go into her office to tell her she needed to stop. I did eventually go and my voice was shaky. And I did end up crying.

My final straw with her was when she commented on my Performance Agreement. Most of her comments were good but I found them to be regurgitated from the year before. It was like she didn’t even know what I was capable of doing work wise. She commented that I should take PD on how to receive constructive criticism. First off, there is no such PD, only on how to give constructive criticism. I knew prior to reading her comments on my Performance Agreement there would be a negative one. I found she had become predicable. She didn’t discuss her comment with me prior to writing on it which should have occurred. I wouldn’t sign the document because I didn’t agree with that one comment and she ended up emailing me but carbon copying her supervisor and the director. I saw how she was trying to throw me under the bus and didn’t appreciate it. In the end the director was told how badly this affected me and that I was thinking of calling our union as the way I was treated throughout the year was uncalled for. It was lateral violence. My supervisor was told that was the end of the Performance Agreement. Afterwards she left me alone and didn’t even check in on me and I didn’t mind. To me she was someone who should have never been a supervisor and obviously had issues.

My supervisor was big on “decolonizing” yet she was backwards in how she approached matters. Her approach was anything but an Indigenous way of handling things. It was very colonial which is kind of funny because she would tell another coworker not to throw her “colonial papers” aka degrees in her face.

One belief I have is that when people treat others in a bad or disrespect way karma has a way of coming around. It may not show up in her lifetime, it could show up in her kids or grandchildren. Even though the lateral violence I received was wrong I still feel sorry for her. She seems like a lost individual who needs help. I’m glad I have a great support system to help me in times of need.

Lateral violence is real. It does happen more often than we think. I have learned that I need to be strong and I need to deal with issues head on.

Here’s a good video on lateral violence from Bear Paw Media and Education. Published on April 28, 2014.

Personal Narratives

Our personal narratives are ones which are near and dear to our hearts. I find a lot of times when minorities tell their stories people who hear them often downplay the experiences by saying they experience the same thing or they come up with “research” to disprove the person. To me this type of behaviour is negative and doesn’t help hearing other people’s experiences and learning from it. In Canada we are supposed to be in a time of reconciliation, but how can we be when there is a lack of empathy?

Recently an Indigenous woman posted on Facebook a situation where she was called a “squaw”. The way she handled the situation was not the best (and could have been handled better), but the fact that she was called a derogatory word was downplayed by many on social media. Many people came to the defence of the man who spewed this offensive word. One lady even said the place where the situation occurred (car wash) that she’s always been treated well there. For starters the woman who said that is a white woman. Huge difference! As Indigenous people we typically know who is and isn’t racist. To me it’s just innate. The whole situation blew up and people started to say that the lady called the man a “tugeye” and that was just as bad as being called a “squaw”. Ummmm, excuse me? That’s just as bad? No!! There is no comparison. If empathy was present in this situation it would have been acknowledged that the term used towards the woman was uncalled for and it also would have been acknowledged that the whole situation was not handled well by either party.

When we start to listen to minorities and hear their experiences we can start to build empathy and gain ground in terms of reconciliation. Until then we will continue on this path of racial separation. It is the stories and experiences of Indigenous people which need to be told as we are walking on land which has a story beyond the “settlement of this country”.

Instead of downplaying racist incidents allow the speaker to tell their story. You might learn something new. Just because you’ve been treated well somewhere doesn’t mean everyone has the same experience. Personal narratives need to be told and not filtered in order to make others feel more comfortable.

Lateral Violence

Lateral violence happens and it has the ability to crush people. I have experienced it a few times throughout the course of my life. The most recent one was from a supervisor. I know that my supervisor wouldn’t admit it, but it happened. No relationship was formed. I constantly felt like I was under the microscope.

I got to a point where my supervisor would contact me and I would think “what did I do wrong now?”. It was an unpleasant thought and very unnerving. I felt I couldn’t approach her as she spoke over me and when I did speak up she never fully heard or understood me. I loved my job; I disliked feeling put down. There were times when she would raise her voice at me and intimidate me in front of others.

My supervisor was a promoter of decolonizing, but how can you decolonize when you treat others with disrespect and lead through fear?

It was an unpleasant working condition and I’m glad to be in a different place and away from the negativity. In order to move forward we need to recognize these negative experiences and learn from them. I know I shut down due to how I was treated, but I know how to handle myself better in a situation like that again. Speak up even when others don’t hear you. And if they don’t hear you, someone else will.

Our Stories…

I love this quote by Michelle Obama in the beginning of the guided journal “If you don’t see that your story matters, chances are no one else will either. So even though it isn’t always easy, it’s important for you to find the strength to share your truth. Because the world needs to hear it.”. It speaks volumes to me as I know that my story matters and I want to tell it. I rarely share my blog with others as I am afraid that it could hurt my career as I am bound to a professional code of conduct, but at the same time I know that I shouldn’t be suppressed and not be able to tell my story.

I read an article awhile back and there was a woman who had an Indigenous relative. There was a job posting for an Indigenous position, but she felt that she wouldn’t even apply because she was not Indigenous and didn’t grow up that way and she also felt someone Indigenous should get the job. Kudos to that lady as I’m finding more and more people are claiming to be Indigenous to advance themselves in jobs or even to get a job.

It is bothersome to me that people claim to be someone who they are not. As an Indigenous person I grew up knowing my background. I do realize that there are many who suffered not knowing their background because of government policies and such, but when one clearly has no connection and is claiming for self advancement it is bothersome.

Connection to the land and our way of life is essential. I find that there are just things which are innate. Those claiming lack the connection and it shows. Even our demeanour.

What are your thoughts on this topic?

Ten Years…

Getting a permanent contract with any district is always great. It usually takes one year of being on a probationary contract to get a permanent one. I wasn’t so lucky. I knew the district I worked for and the people in head office didn’t particularly care for me and I knew why. When I started working for them I took over a maternity leave and was given a temporary contract. They kept me on a temporary contract for a bit, I can’t remember exactly how long; I just remember feeling let down because I worked my ass off and seemed to be a pawn for them. I eventually got a probationary contract. After that I was offered a 0.5 FTE all the while I saw teacher after teacher (non-Indigenous) not have to go through what I went through. They got probationary contracts and were offered permanent the next year. I was given excuse after excuse from head office. Each year I asked my admin if I could get a 1.0 FTE as it was stressful on me as I didn’t know how much or how little I’d be working the following school year. Finally after TEN YEARS I received a 1.0 FTE. When my admin told me I cried. No other teacher in the division had taken as long as I did to get a 1.0 FTE.

Not receiving a 1.0 FTE for ten years played upon my teaching self esteem. I struggled and I always thought I wasn’t good enough. I knew the students and parents liked me and thought I was good, but not receiving a permanent contract messed with my mind. Deep down I knew that I was a good teacher with plenty of great experience. I marked provincially and also developed test items at the provincial level. I was also the subject lead at my school for a few years. Even though I did those things I felt I was never “good enough” for the district. I did call our union on many occasions and each person I talked to knew what was going on. They knew I was targeted because of my cultural background…but how do you prove it when it’s hidden racism? I’m not one to pull the “race card” but I will call it out when I see or experience it. I knew my experience was a result of my culture and not my ability as a teacher.

My current place of work is, by far, much better. My supervisor is amazing and allows me to flourish. She trusts me. She encourages me. She listens to me. Things eventually have a way of working out.

Keep Motoring On…

Coming out of the movie “Indian Horse” I felt a wide array of emotions. One of the was anger. When Saul said “I’m done” I knew exactly what he meant. The year after being rejected for the VP position had been tough on me and at times I felt exactly like Saul in that particular scene.

When we as Indigenous people work hard for our accomplishments and continually run into barriers it can be more than difficult at times. However, I know at times of adversity it is how we deal with it which can make us stronger. Even though I do feel like Saul at times I know I have to keep motoring on.

Taking Back Our Power…

Recently I participated in a sundance, it was my first time. It was quite powerful and spiritually fulfilling despite the sacrifices made. The next day we attended a sweat. Prior to the sweat one of the Elders was talking. The thing that resonated with me was when he said that people can be educated about our histories and such, but they will never have the full understanding of our ways unless they are spiritual and experience our ways. Learning our ways enables us to take our power back in more than one way.

Everyone has a story…

Todays’s blog is going to be a little different. I won’t talk about some of my life experiences, but the thoughts behind what lead me to share my story.

Everyone has a story. Everyone’s experiences help shape them. I know there are a lot of Indigenous people out there who have stories like mine, but a lot of our stories are swept under the carpet. We’re too “sensitive” or we’re always complaining. It boils down to understanding people, their background, and their experiences. It’s the ignoring of our experiences which bothers me. I feel that people need to hear about what we face on a daily, weekly, monthly basis to help understand us. There are far too many people out there who have misconceptions. These experiences can either make us or break us. Our journeys are what we make of it; how we deal with our experiences is unique and tailored to us as individuals.

For myself, as I’ve mention before, healing began by attending a sweat. Ceremony is very powerful. From there I gathered my strength from having a great support system; my family and select friends. This whole blog is part of my journey. Releasing my stories I’ve kept inside for many years in hope of helping someone else along the way.

Set Up For Failure…

After returning to work from my leave I noticed things hadn’t changed. I saw too many instances where there were injustices, not only in my professional life, but within the schools themselves. The school I worked at had a Culture program. I was the teacher for that class. While I love my culture, I hated teaching the class. It always seemed that the class was filled with too many students and many of those students had behavioural issues. The odds were always stacked against having a successful Culture class. I was the “token Indian” at my school and I knew it. As long as the Culture class was in the three year plan, it looked good on paper. The reality was the class was often filled passed capacity. And many times the students didn’t even choose that class so they were upset about being in it and often behaved accordingly. I often felt that the class was set up for failure.