By Rick Garrick
THUNDER BAY—Red Rock Indian Band’s Ashley Nurmela was pleased with the turnout for her third Stand Up In Unity Against Racism campaign at Confederation College in Thunder Bay.
“The turnout was amazing,” Nurmela says about the April 21 walk. “Quite frankly, I organized it in the last two weeks. So it was short notice and people had busy schedules and they need to work and deadlines need to be made.”
Nurmela says she did not plan to hold the campaign this year because of her work and family obligations, but she was encouraged to hold another walk by people in the community.
“It’s official, it’s my baby,” Nurmela says. “And it’s going to grow very old, so I look forward to seeing everybody year after year and having it get bigger and bigger. So tell all your friends for next year because I’m already starting to plan.”
Northern Superior Regional Grand Chief Pierre Pelletier appreciated the people who participated in the walk, noting that it is a “great cause.”
“It’s a great turnout, but there should be a lot more [participants],” Pelletier says. “It would be really nice if there was more people out to bring the awareness of the severity of the racism problem in cities and small communities.”
Pelletier says there are some First Nations people on the streets in Thunder Bay, but there are also others who are pursuing post-secondary education goals.
“We have a lot of First Nations people now who are very educated,” Pelletier says. “My niece is a doctor here, my nephew is a pharmacist, my daughter is a nurse. We have very educated people out there.”
Nurmela says last year’s walk filled the Student Commons area at the college.
“We had almost 500 people,” Nurmela says. “And in the first year we had almost 300. And we had lots of notice for those ones, this one not so much. So I’ll start pumping the event probably in January-February of next year.”
Confederation College President Jim Madder says the campaign makes a “significant difference” in the community.
“It is the absolute actions of individuals that make a difference and that is what you are doing here today,” Madder says. “I don’t think anyone is going to let Ashley let this go because it is just too good. Thank you for adopting the college as the place to kick this off. It’s wonderful to see the people who are current students, people who are employees, people who are graduates and others who will be associated with us in a whole variety of different ways in the future.”
Thunder Bay Councillor Rebecca Johnson says the issue of speaking up against racism is “very important”.
“Having worked in the area of diversity, anti-racism and inclusion for about 25 years or so, you will know that racism and removing racism is a passion for me,” Johnson says. “Racism is not unique to Thunder Bay, and unfortunately, it is a global issue. But today I am going to ask you one question, one thing to think about — what would a city look like without racism? Can you imagine what that would be?”
Johnson encouraged people to stand up for respect.
“All the established religions of the world concur in one axiom, namely, love your neighbour as yourself,” Johnson says.
Nurmela was recognized in 2016 with an Advocacy and Activism Award at the 12th Annual Northwestern Ontario Aboriginal Youth Achievement and Recognition Awards for her campaign, which she began over offensive and racist posts on social media.