With this publication, we want workers to see the commonality in our struggles across workplaces, across the city, across industries and across countries. We want to find our common interests so we can come together to organize autonomously against capital, our common enemy.
The First Nations worker featured in this month’s interview recently quit their job with a small settler non-profit. They quit because of a conflict with their employer regarding their job duties and the organization’s mission, a progression of organizational practices that culminated in a colonialist/racist statement. The worker did agree to tell their story for this interview, but then struggled afterwards with the amount of risk taken as a worker and also for the organization involved. Therefore, we will not be providing any specific details regarding their struggles in this workplace at this time. As a result, the interview has been redacted.
Over the course of these twelve interviews, this has been the most common theme: how can workers talk about their workplace struggles without suffering serious consequences? Although we cannot expose the organization involved, many progressives in our community are supportive of this particular organization, an organization which tolerated colonial and racist behaviour toward this First Nations worker. Due to the seriousness of the nature of her departure, we have also made the editorial choice not to choose a worker themed fake name for this particular interview. The worker will be referred to simply as the worker.
The main struggles in the worker’s workplace were:
• Undemocratic and conformist organizational practices
• Organizational culture that tolerates stereotyping of First Nations
Rachael: What [were] the main struggles in your workplace?
Worker: I just felt throughout the whole time there it was like a tug of war of different perspectives. I'm very vocal and very assertive, and stand very strong in my belief system as an Indigenous person, but also the need to want to help, and to be able to see that it's not just a presenting issue that a person has, that it's actually deeper, it's deeper rooted. So, I guess it comes from a very social work background, whereas the people I was working with were not social work background, so it was just entirely different.
Even the hiring process, the questions were: How would we reach First Nations communities? xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx There's a term I use and have made reference to a lot, and it's by Taiaiake Alfred, referring to Indigenous people who have been, or are being colonized, as apples, in the sense that you're red, and use your skin colour to your advantage when it's convenient, and when it's going to put you in a position of prestige, but everything in your being and essence is white, very mainstream, very Western; your thinking. So, as an Indigenous person coming into that organization, I felt as though I was the token Indian, and I was very vocal in saying that. So, if it's helping Indigenous clients achieve an end goal, because there are so many gaps in the system for Indigenous people, or lack of funding or services that mainstream people can access, but are not made available on reserves. That's how I saw my position going in. And that's what it was. It was very clear in the job outline that they wanted to bridge those gaps with First Nations communities, and how would we do that, is what they asked me in the interview. So I gave an example of how I would do that, and the approach that I would use, and you can't just go in and establish these relationships. There's protocols. There's going to the band council meeting and asking to establish that working relationship. And when you look at, historically, how so many, even research, even mainstream, Western ways of doing things have infiltrated Indigenous communities and exploited in so many ways, from mining to child welfare, and not really taking into account that understanding and that approach you need to take and you need to have in order to work with that community. So, I definitely felt like the token Indian, but I really just put that to the back burner and just went ahead with what I needed to do, and what my job description was, and followed that.
So, one of the things that they had mentioned they valued in my resume and my cover letter was my ability to advocate within the community. They've seen the work I've done within the community. People trusted me within the community, so there were certain events, projects, campaigns that they saw what I could bring, and they could make use of those – what skills can you bring to this organization – sort of deal. So okay, yeah, I can do that, I've done that in the past. So when it came time to organize for a first event, I realized that every event I had done in the past as an Indigenous person has always been rooted from within, so I always point to my heart area. That's what's driven me. It's not because it was on paper, it was a mandate, it was a mission. It's because there was a need there, there was a reason there. And I realized I really didn't have the energy for that particular event, and I voiced that. I mentioned to my employer that I realize you hired me for this reason, and I need to tell you that I'm not giving it my hundred percent because it's not something that I believe is important to my people, specifically as Indigenous people, because we're facing so many other issues. It was to a point where I was feeling like I didn't even want to be there. There was so much of a push to follow that organization's vision, their mandate, their mission, that that became the epitome of what we're supposed to follow. Anything we did had to be rooted in some way in that mission, in that mandate. So, a lot of missions and mandates are to work with clients, and offer dignity, respect, fairness. It goes across a lot of organizations.
Now, when we're talking about dignity and fairness, there were certain clashes. One of the things was, we were supposed to develop a certain project, and the organization didn't have social workers on board, but wanted to make use of my social work skills. Now, my social work skills come from an Indigenous social work degree. In order for my school to be accredited, we have to implement mainstream methods, theories and stuff like that, and we incorporate what we can as Indigenous people to feed that part of the Indigenous social worker, and that need that's out there for our clients. So, there were a lot of things and ideas that I had, as a worker of that organization, that didn't meet up with their mission, their mandate, and they were very clear in saying that we have to stay within this mandate: “We have to do this,” and “That doesn't agree with our mandate,” and I've constantly, constantly heard that. So, I had my employer tell me, "Okay, we need this program developed, we want to make use of your skills, and this is what we want. Use your skills, design a program, a weekly program to meet the needs of the community." So I said, okay, alright, finally something, right, I'm helping people.
So, I designed a framework, and I see it now as, the Western way of seeing things is, everybody's one, regardless of whatever needs they have. Indigenous people, very much the same, and that's what kind of confused me at first because we want to treat everybody equally. So that's everything that ever came out of my employer's mouth was equality. So, we'll take the example of xxxxxxx, and we want to have a group around xxxxxxx. This is an example. So, the organization wanted a very diverse group, wanted elderly, youth, women, men, everybody; wanted to open it to the community. And I said, okay, but I really think we should follow that same model, but open it to xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx. And within that group, you're gonna see a lot of issues that are unique to them. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx. So, what are some of the other barriers? redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted That's your idea of equality? That's your idea of being fair and offering dignity and respect to each of those clients? redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted . Their issues aren't the same, and in order for us to treat them with dignity and respect, we need to be able to separate them, and have their shared struggle as xxxxxxx. And again, everything I've ever shared has been from an Indigenous understanding. There's stages of life within our circle, there's youth, adulthood, elderly, infancy.
For whatever reason, they could not budge, they could not even try to come to a sort of halfway point. Maybe it's because I've had a taste of all of this, redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted . There was not that history there, so there was a difference in perspectives and understanding. It's like pieces of me were slowly being torn. That's how it felt, because I was forcing myself to stay because I needed the job, I needed the money. So, in pitching this idea of this Indigenous social work model of running this particular group in front of a group of people who are very top down and there's no swaying, there's no thinking otherwise, and then to hear one of my co-workers say, redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted And for me as an Indigenous person, hearing that from a white person was very hurtful. And, I've heard it before in an academic institution, where [in] our Indigenous social work classes we had a non-Indigenous student in there. She [said], "I can't understand what the teacher is saying. I try, I study, I read, but I feel like my time is being wasted in there. Maybe it's easy for Indigenous people because xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx ." That's the second time I heard that. I heard it in academic studies, and I heard it in the workforce, and people referring to the way Indigenous people do things: it felt like inferior, it felt like less than, it felt like it didn't meet the high standards of the way mainstream and white people do it. The reference of an xxxxxxx xxxxxxx though – and not everybody will see it this way – the reference of xxxxxxx xxxxxx and Indigenous peoples and the xxxxxxx that is there. You realize you're saying it, but you don't realize the impact that it has on the Indigenous person. You can take a walk in downtown Sudbury, and what are you gonna see down there? Who are you gonna see on the streets? What are you gonna hear people uttering on those streets? So the reference of the need for support, the need to be within xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxxx , it's a jab, and you don't even realize it's a jab.
And one of the other things too, in talking about the way Indigenous people do things, and when I had expressed maybe it's because what discrimination is, I felt how it feels to be stereotyped and categorized that this is how I feel this particular event or program should be run. And she said, "xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx was another stab that she didn't realize. It's not an xxxxxxx , it's a way of doing, it's a way of functioning, it's a whole lifetime that has shaped you to be the person that you are today. For somebody to say, "You know what? That's your xxxxxxx ," I think that's really devaluing the person's experiences. If you have a person who is in a wheelchair and says this door is too small for me to go through, well, you know what, you're xxxxxxx xxxx xxxxxx xxxxxx , and it's big enough, I got through it. But you're not looking why that person can't get through it. And you're not looking at this whole life has shaped that person to feel like my wheelchair can't get through this door, but everybody else can get through it, so it's okay. And therefore, there's no meaning placed to it, or no priority placed to it because it's not important. So that's really how it felt. There's this really strong framework and structure in place that left no room for anything new. It was already there.
Rachael: So, it’s not democratic, because they're not integrating your experience into their organization.
Worker: They're not. xxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx . And to be able to follow those signs right away. If you're in an organization, and it just feels like a box, and you're dreading going to work every day. It's not a healthy place. And I stayed beyond what my body and spirit and mind would allow.
Rachael: Do you think those physical sensations you described correspond to [what] I mentioned to you yesterday [that] individuals don't change organizations, that organizations change individuals, and that feeling of being constricted is the organization trying to constrict-
Worker: Definitely, and when I read that, I was like, oh my gosh, yes, I gotta go and do this because that is so how I felt. I went in with, I'm gonna establish these working relationships with First Nations, I'm gonna help First Nations. I'm gonna do this and do this, and set up, build that networking for xxxxxxx to xxxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxxx xxxx , whatever it might be, whether it's xxxxxxx services, or whatever else. But I couldn't because it wasn't the mission, it wasn't the mandate. It wasn't our job. It's not what our grants cover. So, I said, but there's gaps. Do you not see it? You can see it. And how can you just see it and not wanna do anything about it?
Rachael: Did you feel [the mandate] was conflicting with your job description? Why were they saying that wasn’t consistent with their mandate?
Worker: I have no idea, because I can look at the mandate of an organization, and I could see a sentence or half a sentence, and I could fit in what I wanted to do in there. And it's there, it's right there. You wanna talk about fairness? This is fairness. You wanna talk about dignity? This is dignity. You wanna talk about respect xxxxxxx ? This is respect xxxxxxx How can you not see it that way? We wanna be able to serve our clients with dignity, fairness and respect. We wanna be as inclusive and diverse as possible. And you go into an organization who prides itself in being inclusive and diverse as possible when everyone in that organization is white, when everyone in that organization is a xxxxxxx . We're inclusive, we're diverse as possible. A number of people accessing these services are Indigenous people. Yet you have no indigenous representation within that organization. So, when I saw this job, I saw this service is lacking for Indigenous people, and this is my way to offer those services to Indigenous people. But I was restricted. I understood that a part of this was to serve other communities, and I was doing that, but the approach that I was [taking] was maybe too indigenous, if that makes sense. It was too foreign to the organization. So, when you already have a preconceived way of doing, thinking and being within an organization anyone else coming into that, if you don't think, do and operate in that same way, there's gonna be parts of you that do die. If you go into an organization where you have room to expand and grow and implement strategies in an organization that is open to trying new ways of doing things in order to reach people, because ultimately, that's human service organizations: it's the clients, it's the people, it's who are we serving, it's how many people are we reaching, how many cases are we opening? And you're not going to continue opening cases, and sticking to that same way of doing and operating. You have to be open to trying new ways of doing things. And an organization that isn't willing to do that is not an organization that I want to be in, or anyone, I don't think anyone would wanna be in. But if you're in a situation where your rent and your mortgage and everything else depends on it, then you don't really have a choice.
Rachael: There's also this idea that non-profits replace what the state should be doing, and that this also gives [the state] a lot more resources for things we don't want them to have resources to do, like conquest and repression and accumulation. [Do] you have any comment about that idea?
Worker: I see it from both angles, I guess. We have our for-profit and our non-profit. I know one of the things though that I saw within my not-for-profit organization, a lot of the positions were covered by grants from different organizations. You had a focus, so you applied for your grant with specific this is what we're gonna do, we're gonna reach First Nations communities and da da da, this is what this is gonna do. So okay, here's fifty thousand for one year or whatever, office supplies and what not. Some of the grants, you have to fundraise a certain amount of money before a deadline, all this sort of stuff. When I think of not for profit, I think more humanistic, there's a lot of inclusion with clients, whereas for-profit- it's funny, now that question's made me think that it's a not-for-profit organization that's acting from a for-profit mentality, if that makes sense.
Rachael: I think this might be what we're finding now that we have a little bit more experience with non-profits is the culture isn't terribly different.
Worker: No, it's really not.
Rachael: Well, this brings us to a really important part of it for me, is that idea that got its start in social work, that idea that we can sort of be paid to make the world a better place, and that now, it's really been pushed- NGOs, non-profits are creating a real niche now for people to find a way to make the world a bit better of a place, but it's also at the same time subverting mass struggle. [That] these organizations exist to divert people away from mass struggle, to try to help [people] more immediately?
Worker: It definitely channels and corrals. It felt like it corralled everybody into this one, this is the struggle you're experiencing, but it really takes away from other issues. It takes your focus away from the gaps. It takes your focus away from real actual pressing needs. I don't know. Maybe that's the opposite of what you're trying to get at.
Rachael: Well, that's dialectics, though. Contradictions are the opposite and to practice dialectics is important. I'm wondering how you feel about the idea that [we’ll never] be paid to thwart the system, and that we're gonna have to accept this idea that our organizing has to happen outside of work, and that it doesn't really matter what we do for pay because we all have to compete to survive under capitalism. And yet I've heard you say that you very much expected this as an opportunity coming out of your program, that you do expect your work to make things better for people. So I'm wondering how you handle that contradiction?
Worker: I don't know. I can agree with both sides of that. Ultimately, everyone wants to be paid for what they love to do, right? You go to school, you get this degree, you get a job as a social worker, and you go in an organization, ideally where you can expand and strive to serve as many people as possible. I couldn't work on an individual basis. I work collectively, group. That's why I was like, the group sessions, awesome, reach as much people as possible. That's how I see it. Does everybody see it that way? I don't know. Some people like working one on one.
Now that's not to say I don't do stuff where I don't get paid that I get so much more satisfaction from. I've done a lot of organizing of various events that just feed that part where we need to collectively help one another. Maybe that's the part it feeds. But it's a void that gets filled when I do stuff like that. It takes time away from my family. Sometimes, my kids come with me and partake in it. But it's that human part of you that needs to be fed.
Now, was I a little naive maybe in thinking that I could get a job like this and in some way create change? I don't think so. I recognize a gap in services for Indigenous people, and saw this as my way of providing those services. And I think if you flip that, and you say, collectively we have this desire to, if we have a garden, and we notice the neighbour down the street is struggling with food, we're gonna share our food. Or, somebody's struggling with their hydro, we're gonna pitch in an extra hundred dollars, or find a way to fundraise so they can do that. Now, if you flip that, and you put yourself in the position of the person whose lights are gonna be turned out, the person who doesn't have food, or maybe is experiencing violence in the home, their partner is abusing them, we get a certain amount of help from turning to a friend and disclosing that. That's not gonna solve the man's issues with dominance, or whatever it may be. So we have police, we have social workers, we have PAR [Partner Assault Response] programs. We have programs that are designed by, ideally, someone who's been in the situation that will help that individual.
When I think about all the struggles I went through, and the many many many organizations and services and agencies I went to, could I have received that same amount of help if I'd turned to my family members, my neighbours? The reality is for First Nations people – especially First Nations people – that that is everywhere. It's all around you. There's no way to seek help from a family member, from a peer. And the need to have and trust in somebody who has a degree, has that education, has spent those thousands of dollars, and years in school, to say that I am qualified to help guide you out of this struggle that you're in, offers a sort of relief for that person.
When there were no degrees and doctorates, we had elders. We had people who excelled in certain areas, people who were herbalists that we turned to for help if we had an ailment. Now this is indigenous way of understanding. We had men within the community who were excellent hunters and could provide not only for his family but maybe five other families. Was he paid for that? Money? No, there was no money then. But maybe something was traded. Maybe a blanket was offered, so we've always had that. We've always had that overall understanding that there's somebody out there that can help me. There's somebody who knows more, or who knows specifically about this certain area, that can help me. Now, as an indigenous person, I recognize the importance of Western understanding and ways of learning, but I also stay very true to indigenous ways of understanding and learning, and try to enmesh both of those equally in everything that I do. And I have to because there's no Indigenous person out there who has remained true throughout all of this process of colonization and Western imperialism and capitalism and all that sort of stuff.
The way I've been taught, the way I have been guided by elders, by professors is, you can't create a whole lot of change if you're down here. And that's true. You can't. You can help your neighbours, you can help your family. In going to high school and getting that Ontario Secondary School Diploma, I had a little more room to move. When I went to college, I had a little more room to create change. When I finished university, I had a whole lot of room. I had gotten my foot in a whole lot of doors. And when I got my foot in a whole lot of doors, a lot of doors were closed on me right away. Some, I got to go in and wander around a little bit before I decided I didn't want to be there, and that's with a bachelor’s degree. Now, all these things, when I talk about creating change, it's about creating change where it matters, it's about touching those people along the way, but it's also about never forgetting where that change needs to be made. But in order to create the change that we need to see is we need to have those people that are down here, that are fighting and are trying to mobilize and collectively gather like-minded people. If you have somebody up here with that same mentality, the possibilities to me are endless. The possibility of really creating change where it matters is, there's so much more doors up here than there are down there. I know that because I've been down there, and I know that because I'm up here. I could be up there, but this is where I am right now. It's like infiltrating a system that you don't really- we in indigenous culture call it an indigenous backpack, a cultural backpack. We have that. Elders have talked about it like, you're soldiers, you're going into battle. Out here you have to think like the white man. You have to learn his way of doing it, but you never forget where you came from. You never forget why it is you came into this institution, what it is you wanted to learn, what it is you wanted to change. And that's still very much there. The sad part of it is, so many people lose that backpack. So many people become those apples I mentioned earlier.
Rachael: For me when you're describing the apples, you're describing upward mobility. You're describing class divisions amongst Indigenous people, but you're not calling it class divisions, you're calling them a name, or you're using a different framework for it.
Worker: It's not so much a name, because within indigenous culture, we can say apples. We can say, "Be careful you don't become an apple.” We joke about it.
Rachael: I think it's great.
Worker: And that's one thing about indigenous culture is there's so much humour, when you're really talking about a serious topic, there's a way you can talk about it and add humour. So, when we're talking about those apples, I was able to pinpoint apples in my own family and my own community. And we have, they're there, they exist, but I think when we talk about class division, it's not so much, working people, from the poor to the proletariat to the bourgeoisie, and all that sort of stuff. It's, you have all these levels, all these classes, and if you're looking at indigenous society and, I don't know how much you've read into it, but we've always had families that were excellent hunters, great providers, and we had families whose husbands couldn't hunt worth shit. So, I was in a sociology justice class, and they described indigenous societies as communist societies, so you're a communist? No, I'm not. So, when you think about there was this shared responsibility, duty, a human duty, a human responsibility to help. Well, to Indigenous people, a leader is somebody who acts on behalf of the people, somebody who lets the people go first, led by the people, advocates on behalf of the people. So when we're talking about apple, we think of a lot of the INAC leaders, we think of provincial chiefs, even First Nations chiefs. They get so immersed in these paid trips, and these provincial chief meetings and Assembly of First Nations. And you can really see the people, I'm gonna take for example our own chief back home. He's very much for what the people need. He very much does what he has to do as a chief to attend those meetings, but you'll see him playing hockey at the local arena, you'll see him coaching his kids' games at the arena. So it's very human, you'll see him at Sun Dance ceremonies, you'll see him at Sweat Lodge ceremonies. So it's a healthy balance. It's a balance of that Western way of doing and thinking, but also remaining true to that Anishinaabe way of thinking and doing and being. So, class division, I don't know if I would call it class though.
Worker: I don't know if I would. I had a conversation with a girl from my community, we're now women, we're now mothers. And she goes, "You know, I don't know why anybody talks so bad about our community. You know, it wasn't like that for me growing up." I said, "Were you ever in foster care?" "No." "Did your parents drink?" "No." "Your mom and dad, are they still married?" "Yeah." So when you think about the lucky ones. Class division? The lucky ones, the lucky ones who got to not experience life as harsh- maybe her grandparent was the one who snuck away from residential school Indian agents coming to scoop kids up. I think it's a collective, it's a shared understanding that we've endured the same experiences. I was able to get out of it, and you can't. Why can't you? Because you're not applying yourself. It's not so much, you're pissed off because I have a house and own a car. I've worked hard to do this. You'll hear a lot of that in class. Well, if they only worked harder, if they didn't stay at home. If they went to school, if they went and looked for a job, they wouldn't be in that position. You do see that with indigenous communities, I've seen it, I've said it, but it's not so much we're striving to achieve, to own that house, to own that car, there's no power associated with that, if you could say that. It's different in that sense. I can't really describe why or how it's different.
Rachael: What about as a measure of assimilation? Do you see anything in terms of these class divisions in First Nations communities, is it ever discussed as a measure of assimilation that these class divisions are becoming more pronouced, if you accept that they are becoming more pronounced?
Worker: I think my view of it would- it's critical in the sense that I've been removed from the reserve, I've been placed in white homes, I've returned to the reserve, I've left the reserve, I've stayed off the reserve. I'm urbanized. There's this Facebook post that says, don't call me an urban Native. I'm a bird along the fence that flew from home but has always remembered my way back. And I think that when we see these apples, or when we point fingers and say apples, that they're, it's not so much that we're pointing out that they're now driving a Lexus and have their trips paid for and wear these fancy suits, we're pointing out that they've forgotten who they are. We're pointing out that their red exterior, they've used it to their advantage in the wrong way. They've forgotten why. They've been so immersed in INAC functions or whatever it may be. Maybe they're a lawyer, maybe they're a judge.
Worker: Academic. I think a question we would ask is, when's the last time you went to pow-wow? When's the last time you went to ceremony? When I think of apple, I don't think of, wow, I'm so envious of the car you drive, the home you live in, the cottage you get to go to, the clothes your kids are wearing. It's saddening because when we talk about assimilation, I would never say you've been assimilated. I would say you've forgotten who you are. I would say you've forgotten your way home. I would never say assimilated. I don't think I've ever said that to any Indigenous person. I've jokingly said, “Be careful not to become an apple.” Those are like bad words. You don't say that. I think it's there. From my perspective, is that we're really saddened to see. And then we have our traditional elders who, sadly, use those ceremonies and stuff to their benefit, to make money off of them, to exploit. That's sad. That's not so much you're better, or you're bad. You've just lost who you are.
Rachael: Is there anything more that you wanna say about leaving this job, or your struggles at this particular workplace?
Worker: I just think as an Indigenous person, it's really tough unless you have the Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres or an organization like Shkagamik-Kwe that's rooted, and all programming stems from that Indigenous understanding. Maybe in Toronto it's a little different, the organizations, 'cause it's a lot more diverse, but in Sudbury, it's so close-minded, it's so not open to- yeah, it's exhausting. I'm tired. I feel like I'm ready to retire.
This First Nations worker participated in the direction of their workplace, but their non-profit employer was more interested in obtaining their conformity than their participation. Every organization shapes the individuals who constitute it. To ensure an organization cannot mistreat individuals, their participation and development needs to be integrated, which did not happen in this worker’s case, and that is the norm.
Although in decline, the Canadian state is still, via grants, the dominant funder of non-profits, demonstrating a “dynamic and symbiotic” relationship between the state and non-profits. In fact, it has been argued that, under neoliberalism, the state’s rapid downloading of public service delivery to non-profits has pushed the so-called third sector to the “breaking point”, forcing competition with the private sector, driving precariousness for workers, and imposing entrepreneurial behavioural models on previously philanthropic organizations. In these ways, public service delivery is being made to adapt to the needs of capital. The state is able to dictate all decisions relating to an organization’s activities with the grants themselves, often with line by line restrictions for funds. This allows the state to override the objectives of the non-profit which may or may not have had a genuine interest in delivering services to First Nations. This is consistent with the worker’s realization that “it’s a not-for-profit organization that’s acting from a for-profit mentality.”
While this idea is certainly not at the level of a theory, I like to think of non-profits, NGOs, and even co-ops and social enterprises, as the new and improved, more portable and more disposable, middle class. Historically, the state has bribed sections of the working class in order to create a middle class that buffers the capitalist class from working class organization and power. But raising a middle class is costly, and ideological control is more advanced now, especially in terms of compulsory middle class identities, and so the need for a large middle class is waning. With non-profits and NGOs, the state can erect a middle class quickly when (dis)organization is needed, and then dismantle it just as quickly during the next funding round, if that specific (dis)organization is no longer needed. I like to think of it as a So You Think You Can Disorganize The Masses reality type competition, brought to you, as always, by capitalism.
And that’s why I was intrigued by the Indigenous
tendency to stigmatize their “apples”. I have unity with the idea of stigmatizing
individuals who are willing to play this precarious role, especially when
we think of how puny the bribe is now, with no business unions, security,
seniority, houses, cars, or pensions to speak of for many in the new and
improved middle class.
Workers Struggle-Sudbury is edited by Rachael Charbonneau and John Newlands and is published monthly.