TEDxUNBC 2017: Dispelling Misconceptions

Tierney Watkinson | News Director

Tierney Watkinson | News Director

TED Talks, “Ideas worth spreading,” have long had a reputation for engaging audiences with thought provoking, grounded presentations of ideas that are novel, intelligent, and inspiring. TED Talks began as Technology, Entertainment, and Design talks in 1984, and has gradually transformed into the sensation that it is today.

 

TEDx is a branch of the original TED network, one that allows TED talks to occur as independently organized events in communities (the “x” signifies the event as being independently organized.) On September 30, a full day of TED Talks was hosted in Prince George, at UNBC in the Canfor Theatre.

 

Grant Bachand, Newsroom Director of CFURadio, was Lead Organizer for the event. Seth Jex, Director of Internal Affairs and Over The Edge Chairperson, was Executive Producer. They and a group of dedicated people ensured the success of TEDxUNBC. Tickets sold out long before the event, and there is no doubt that the chosen speakers inspired everyone in attendance.

 

A trade show, free to the general public, was open from 11:30am to 3:00pm in the NUSC space, with many booths featuring interesting things and city groups. The TEDx event lunch, and wine and cheese after-party, was catered by the Thirsty Moose.

 

TEDxUNBC: Dispelling Misconceptions featured seven local, incredibly wise speakers: Dahne Harding, mental health clinician at a maximum security provincial correctional facility; Leona Prince, District Vice Principal of Aboriginal Education for School District 91 and cofounder of Fireweed Canada; Shobha Sharma, founder of Our Satya; Seth Shelley, Associate Pastor at Timbers Community Church in Prince George; Cori Ramsay, who works with Living Wage for Families; Penny Jones, a Psychosocial Rehabilitation Practitioner and outreach clinician with Northern Health; and Nadine Caron, a General and Endocrine Surgeon at the University Hospital of Northern BC among other notable achievements.

 

The event was opened by Grant Bachand. UNBC President Dr. Daniel Weeks, Theatre Northwest Artistic Director Jack Grinhaus, and L’heidli T’enneh Elder Darlene Macintosh took to the stage for a few moments each to greet the audience and welcome them to the Traditional territory.

 

After each speaker presented their topic, the stage would be opened for a question period, led by Mr. Bachand or Dr. Ross Hoffman (Associate Professor of First Nations Studies at UNBC).

 

First up was Dahne Harding, a UNBC Alumni. Harding’s Talk, “Spaces Matter—Even in Prisons,” was incredibly inspiring and encouraged the audience to think of criminal reformation in a different light. “I believe human beings have a fundamental need to connect and belong,” Harding said. If you think people cannot change, she stressed, you yourself become a barrier to that change. Harding told the beautiful story of a young man she worked with who, over the course of three years, went from being under full restraint at all times to raising over two hundred dollars for cancer by running 72 laps of the prison field; from being denied anything but paper utensils to eating doughnuts and drinking tea from china cups; from withholding personal stories to laughing openly over anecdotes with Harding. All Harding had to do was change the space around the young man, to create an environment for him in which he was encouraged to be his best self. During the question period with Bachand, Harding stressed that everybody has the capability to change, and we as human beings have the responsibility to help others to achieve that change. It is all about the space you inhabit, the spaces made for you or that you make yourself, that guarantee success or failure.

 

Leona Prince followed Dahne Harding with her speech, “How I Came to Know My Privilege.” She spoke of her own cultural privilege; how people raised within a community with the knowledge of linguistics and tradition of that culture also enjoy the privilege that comes with knowing exactly who you are and where you are from.

Prince spoke about how many of the cultural gaps we see in our community are within our own minds. One of the toughest things to do is to reconcile with who we truly are. We must tell our stories freely, and respect the stories of others. “We all come to that place of understanding in our own time, and in our own way,” Prince said; we cannot force it. Misunderstandings between people comes from a lack of understanding about oneself.

Questioned about the meaning of change and Truth and Reconciliation by Dr. Hoffman, Prince explained that a series of small actions or steps that create change on a meaningful level are much more significant that the governmental broad, sweeping gesture. We are all searching for understanding, she told the audience, and we must find “our own place, in this nation, in this country, in this world.” Prince explained how she feels that people ebb and flow—in some situations, we are but an infant in regards to our knowledge. In others, we are an elder or adult; our knowledge is situational, and we must recognize this.

Whatever our colour or culture, we all belong to this community. No one culture is superior or worth more than another. We all have things to give, to share. “Let’s truly be together and be proud of our oneness,” Prince told the audience. Let us get rid of “there’s the rez, and there’s the town”—the separation between cultures. “It’s going to take a lot of truths before we reconcile,” Prince said, “and those truths are our own.”

 

Shobha Sharma also spoke about gaps in cultures. She began her speech, “I Wanted to Change the World, but the World Changed Me,” by beautifully singing the first lines of “Amazing Grace.” Her organization, Our Satya, aims to provide global support in empowerment, education, and health for impoverished women.

Sharma explained how, through her work, she has discovered that “we are all inherently connected,” but, “while we are all connected…we are not.” She told the story of how she returned to Canada with her husband in anticipation of the birth of their son, and how she experienced a blood clot in her brain that would have killed her had she not had access to the advanced healthcare we often take for granted here in Canada. Impoverished communities in India, she stressed, do not feel the same safety in childbirth that we in Canada have come to expect.

Sharma urged the audience to respond to the plight of those less fortunate, by embracing their individual roles as local and global citizens; to respond, “by allowing the world to change you. We only have each other.”

Speaking with Bachand after her presentation, Sharma noted the similarities between Canada and India regarding the caste system and Indigenous and non-Indigenous relations. The caste system exists here, too, she said—we just call it something else. Growing up in Prince George labelled as an immigrant, Sharma knows what it is like to feel unwelcome, like an outsider. Luckily, she said, Canada has changed since she was a little girl. The community of Prince George is becoming more and more open-minded but we still overlook many global issues and, Sharma concluded, “If we don’t start caring, the chasm will only grow.”

Seth Shelley was honest and open in his talk, “Men Need to Talk About Their Sexual Abuse.”

“Are you a man, or a mouse?” he remembered his grandfather asking the boys in his family when they were upset. When Shelley was sexually abused by an older brother’s friend, Shelley said, “I felt like a mouse.” As one of “the Shelley Boys,” known in his community as tough hockey players, he had been raised in his society to believe that real men don’t get raped.

Shelley’s abuser would tell him things that were not true, such as, “This is your fault;” one-liners, Shelley said, that forced a new narrative on the story of himself, a narrative that threatened Shelley’s entire self-worth. “I lost the very idea of me.”

When it was revealed that a female relative of his had also been sexually abused, the community’s treatment of her made the young Shelley hide his own story all the more furtively. Not including unreported cases, 1 in 6 men will experience sexual violence, Shelley reminded the audience.

He told those in attendance that stories are the oldest human artifacts we have. Without stories, without the sharing of ideas, a community experiences a slow death. Likewise, a singular identity given to a diverse group of people generates only harm and loss. Our stories are important, not just for the teller, but for the listener. “What is your story?” Shelley asked, encouraging the audience to share their personal experiences for the benefit of others, to prevent those with similar experiences from feeling alone. As he told Bachand during the question period, the first person Shelley tried to tell his experiences to made him feel as though his story was definitely abnormal. We need to listen, and we need to generate understanding, Shelley insisted. Experiencing any kind of abuse does not make anyone a “mouse”.

 

Next up, Cori Ramsay wowed the audience with her talk, “Poverty and the Power of the Living Wage.”

Ramsay was open about the fact that she grew up so poor, she and her mother would dumpster-dive for treats. She had wealthy grandparents, but they did not offer her mother help. “It is always someone else’s problem,” Ramsay said about poverty. Meanwhile, 1.4 million Canadian children and 1 in 4 single parents live below the poverty line.

“Poverty belongs to all of us,” Ramsay asserted—people who cannot afford a healthy lifestyle inevitably become supported by the taxes we pay. Minimum wage and Living Wage are not synonymous, Ramsay explained. She urged everyone to care for and about the impoverished: “We don’t need a suit to be a hero… Together, we can put an end to poverty.”

As she told Bachand, the Living Wage is $16.39/h in Prince George; minimum wage in BC is $11.35/h.

The concept of Living Wage has grey areas and is controversial, she admitted as the questions from the TEDx audience kept coming. However, minimum wage is the lowest a person can be paid without an employer committing an illegal act, Ramsay clarified, and to make things worse it was frozen for 10 years; inflation was not. In addition, if you provide a benefits package to your employees, the amount you need to pay to be Living Wage certified becomes lower in relation to the value of that package.

If you pay your employees less than $16.39/hour in PG, then you are not paying them enough to live, Ramsay insisted. BC is the only province without a poverty reduction plan. Despite the onslaught of skeptical questions and comments about her points, Ramsay said that open dialogue is her goal. This is an issue that still needs plenty of discussion and development to be successful.

“What is the value of a life?” she asked the audience.

 

Penny Jones lightened the mood with “Perils of a Fat Woman,” using her abundant humour to get her points across. “I am fat, blue-haired, and beautiful. Just ask me,” she said to the crowd.

Jones showed the audience a chart depicting body health based on one’s body size. She pointed out where she was, somewhere off to the right in the “obese” section. However, she posed the question to the audience: Is health not more about mind, body, and spirit? Rather than what is on a chart?

When people look at her, Jones said, they seem to think she needs to be taught about how to eat healthy. What they do not assume is that she is healthier than she has ever been in her life.

Change your own self-image, Jones said, and you will change your life.

The shaming of people who are not in the “normal” spectrum of those body charts needs to stop. “I am 50. I am fat. And I am fabulous.” Self-acceptance is key, Jones explained, saying she was happy not because she is fat, nor despite being fat. Her happiness in life, in fact, had nothing to do with the way she looked.

Struggles are usually based on a lack of skills, knowledge, and resources, Jones told Bachand during the question period. She told everyone how she used to be thin and healthy-looking—and she smoked, did not eat properly, drank all of the time, and had multiple “gym partners.” She was the farthest from “healthy” that she could have possibly been. “I think we need to embrace who we are,” Jones said. Of those who talked down to her because she was heavier than they, she said “I will no longer accommodate this attitude towards me.”

Speak positively to yourself in the mirror, leave encouraging post-it notes for yourself, have mental chats with yourself to move past negative thinking, proclaim the fact that you love yourself out loud— “Strive to who you want to be, but love who you are today.”

 

Dr. Nadine Caron was the final speaker of the day. As the first female First Nations university student to graduate from a school of medicine, Dr. Caron presented “The other side of being “First”” to speak about the negative undertones this title had.

She remembered an absence of voices on a chosen path, and coming to understand the silence. Her goal had not been to be “the first”—it was to be her best. She asked if being the first Indigenous student to graduate in 1997 was really a positive.

After a call from her school’s president after she graduated medical school, who congratulated her for being the “first,” she said being the “first” became a part of who she was, despite having nothing to do with her.

“What if the first hasn’t happened yet?” Dr. Caron asked the audience. She spoke of chasms that crush aspirations. She urged the audience to celebrate the individual for the achievement of their goal, for their work, and “not for the void they fill.” She urged people to not confuse “the first” with “the only.” Grass in a field does not become a path when one person walks on it, Dr. Caron explained. It takes many people to make the path permanent.

Speaking with Dr. Hoffman, Dr. Caron emphasized that the fact that no one came before her in her field had nothing to do with her. In fact, it is a failure of our society that it took so long.

We don’t need to integrate cultures, she said. We need parallels. We need to be comfortable in our space as Canadians, she said, stating that she is Canadian first, and First Nations second. Her university president only called one student after she graduated, Dr. Caron reminded the audience—and it was simply because she was a “first.”

 

Grant Bachand took to the stage again to close the event. He highlighted the fact that this was a student-led event, made possible by a host of amazing volunteers and partners. Title Partners for the event were the University of Northern BC and the College of New Caledonia: RAJ Fabricating and Contracting Ltd. and the City of Prince George were Gold Partners; SpeeDee Office Experts Ltd, Settings Event Design & Décor, and the Prince George Chamber of Commerce were Silver Partners; and the Bronze Partners of TEDx were the Northern Undergraduate Student Society of UNBC and CFURadio.

 

Videos of the Talks held at UNBC will be uploaded to the TEDx account on YouTube, which has 9 million subscribers. Follow the TEDxUNBC Facebook page for updates about the upcoming free screening of the TEDxUNBC 2017 event.

 

For more information about the speakers, you can still visit TEDxUNBC.com or check out their Facebook page. News about the availability of YouTube video links for each speaker will appear on the Facebook page as it becomes available.