By Rick Garrick
THUNDER BAY—Two Superior North community members are standing up with the Lakehead University Aboriginal Awareness Centre’s Stand Out campaign to combat racism and negative stereotypes of Indigenous peoples.
“I believe it’s breaking down the stereotypes by fighting them head on,” says Red Rock Indian Band’s Ashley Nurmela, an Honours Bachelor of Social Work student who was featured on one of the Stand Out posters. “There’s no getting around it when you see the two images side by side. You have to stop and acknowledge.”
The Stand Out campaign features five different posters portraying the image of an Indigenous post-secondary student, one in a mugshot pose and the other with a smile on their face.
“It actually is quite inspiring that the university is so supportive of these Aboriginal initiatives that create the safe space to have these hard conversations,” Nurmela says. “I’ve had some unfavourable experiences, but for the most part, I come across people that I have the ability of engaging in conversation with and changing their perspectives, educating them or raising awareness in the issues we have, for instance, stereotypes like Treaties and that we get free things, free money, and how that actually doesn’t exist.”
Aboriginal Awareness Centre coordinator Clyde Moonias says the Stand Out campaign was inspired by the KC Adams In-Your-Face-Project, which featured similar posters on city buses in Lethbridge, Alberta and Winnipeg, Manitoba.
“Similarly to what we are doing here at Lakehead University, it was trying to target racism and negative stereotypes of Indigenous peoples,” Moonias says. “A lot of these individuals who did take part in the campaign actually faced these stereotypes in real-life situations.”
Moonias says the Stand Out posters have been posted around the Lakehead University campus in Thunder Bay. The Stand Out campaign was kicked off with a sharing circle on Jan. 16 at The Study Coffeehouse on campus.
“The general message that I’ve been hearing is that it’s making students stop to take a look at these posters, whether it be for 10 seconds or a minute,” Moonias says. “It’s being noticed for sure on campus. And on social media too, it’s been reshared to over 13,000 people. So far it had a great response for being a university-based campaign.”
Fort William’s Anne Marie Demerah, a student in the Indigenous Learning program who was also featured on one of the Stand Out posters, appreciated the different perspectives that were shared by participants during the Jan. 16 sharing circle.
“Some were funny and some were truthful about how they feel,” Demerah says. “It was all honesty and how they feel and how they go about their lives and what they experience. It was nice that they opened up and felt strong enough to share.”
Demerah says the Stand Out campaign will help youth to be stronger.
“Sometimes they are not strong and they need to feel that strength,” Demerah says. “It’s strength in numbers too, so they won’t start feeling so low about themselves and start feeling more strong about who they are as Indigenous peoples.”
Demerah says the campaign also creates awareness about the different kinds of racism in the community.
“I liked that we are talking about it because I think no matter how many times we talk about it, it is still relevant and it is still really happening,” Demerah says.
The five Stand Out campaign posters are posted on the Aboriginal Awareness Centre – Lakehead University Facebook page.