My Service Learning experience with BTS has been truly incredible, and to say that I am sad it is coming to an end would be an understatement. From the very first session—meeting Laura and Indigo and learning the history of the network—I knew that I was very lucky to be involved in some small way with BTS. So, first I want to say thank you so much to Indigo for being such an incredible community partner and educator for the past couple months, and to Laura for giving us a very warm welcome and for all the work that both Indigo and Laura put in to planning our meetings each week. I also want to say thank you to the entire BTS network as well, for taking on Service Learning students in such an uncertain time, under circumstances that required substantial change to how Service Learning is normally conducted.
My learnings began in our first few meetings. The first reflection activity we did during our second meeting was particularly powerful for me. We reflected on whose land we live on, or have lived on in the past. I knew being from Calgary, Alberta that I had been living on Treaty 7 Territory, and I knew vaguely what that entailed. However, I had never explicitly stated that I had been living on the land of the Blackfoot, the Stoney Nakoda, and the Tsuut’ina Nation. I found this activity so important and thought-provoking that Natalie and I decided to include it at the beginning of a presentation we gave in one of our classes earlier this semester. The students and professor involved also noted how interesting and compelling they found the exercise.
Another activity that we did during one of our first few meetings together that has stuck with me—and likely will stay with me forever—was the reflection activity on privilege. Collectively, we worked on a non-exhaustive but extensive list of the possible privileges that one could have. In total, we came up with 28 aspects of a person’s identity that could give them privilege. We then went through and individually counted how many of the 28 forms of privilege applied to us. I have spent a considerable amount of time reflecting on this exercise since then. By making me explicitly aware of all the ways in which I do have privilege, I feel I was also opened up to an increasing amount of ways in which I could be not only an ally, but a co-conspirator.
For me, this activity—along with a quote that Indigo and Laura shared with us earlier by Lilla Watson—set the stage for the rest of the placement. I started thinking more about how connected and interrelated the various problems and ills of the world are. I thought about the ways in which I could leverage my privilege and begin my part in dismantling a system in which misogyny and the climate crisis and environmental degradation are linked and systematically attached to racism, colonialism, homophobia, the patriarchy, xenophobia, neoliberal capitalism, ableism, and every other form of oppression.
“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” – Lilla Watson
One of the things that has interested me most about BTS is its history as an accompaniment initiative and its organization as a solidarity network. Before this Service Learning placement, I had never actually heard the term “solidarity network” before, so it has been extremely interesting to dive into what that entails. Last semester, I took a course called Community Development. Each week we learned about different approaches to community development, and I remember very clearly learning about Asset-Based Community development for the first time. It was the only form of development that I had learned about that I felt I could participate in—in a meaningful and positive way—as a person from the global North. Asset-Based Community development focuses on providing support for communities in any way they indicate they need, as opposed to entering spaces and asserting what sort of changes communities need. Solidarity networks reminded me a lot of this sort of approach to community development, in which partners are working together to achieve goals stated by the community to benefit the whole. I am looking forward to further exploring ideas surrounding solidarity networks and the nuances of leveraging privilege in an essay that I am writing for one of my classes this year, which is inspired by what I have learned at BTS.
I also feel it is extremely important that I mention the practical knowledge and learnings that I gained from diving into land-based struggles and resistance movements in Mi’kma’ki, what we currently call Canada, and Guatemala. Using a lens focused on identifying parallels once again helped me to understand how interconnected so many issues taking place across the world are and how personal they are to me. Without this experience, I am not sure I ever would have been aware of the extent of the damage caused by Canadian companies in countries like Guatemala. However, because of the time I time spent with BTS, I feel confident sharing the knowledge I gained regarding both the damage inflicted by the Escobal mine and the El Tambor mine specifically, as well as the community-based resistance movements working to defend their land from these projects, which were both initiated by Canadian companies. It was also difficult for me to come to terms with the fact that I had lived in Antigonish for four years now, and only through my placement with BTS did I come to understand the immense injustices that people not far away from me are experiencing at the hands of Canadian extractive companies. For example, looking into the Cochrane Hill Goldmine as well as the Northern Pulp Mill during my placement has made me aware of the horrible and destructive actions of these companies. Actions which will negatively impact us in all in the form of pollution and environmental degradation. However, it has also made me aware of the incredible resilience demonstrated by individuals and groups fighting for their communities. The picture on the left exhibits this resistance, showcasing the action taken by members of Pictou Landing First Nation to demand the government uphold the Boat Harbour Act.
I am so grateful for the opportunity that BTS provided for me to learn not only about privilege and solidarity, but also about land struggles and resistance movements close to home and in Guatemala.
Be sure to check out the students’ podcast about their projects, featuring interviews with Lisa Rankin and Antigonish Local Committee member Janette Fecteau.
Written by Alex MacIsaac (she/her), a fourth-year student at St. Francis Xavier University. Alex will be graduating this spring with an honours degree in Development Studies with a subsidiary in Political Science. Before moving for university, Alex lived in Treaty 7 territory, which is currently referred to as Calgary, Alberta. She is very passionate about climate justice and the social impacts of the climate crisis, as well as learning about sustainable forms of agriculture, specifically agroecology.