Tracy Defoe on Her Reflections on Being a “White Settler” in Canada

Part of the #RootCauseRacism series…

Tracy’s website:

Tracy’s blog post:

See the RCR blog series:

Thank you, Mark. Thank you Karyn, for that offer. Always a hard act to follow, Ms. Karyn Ross, I’ve got to tell you. [laughs] I’m coming to you today from Vancouver, Canada. I am also not somebody who came to continuous improvement from business, but from education.

I’m an adult educator, specializing in what people learn at work. I also part‑time feature at university. It was my university work that first took me to workplaces. I think that’s enough. I teach part‑time at Capilano University in Vancouver.

I have a consulting company called The Learning Factor. I am a self‑described CAD geek and a curriculum nerd. Right now, actually spending a lot of my time helping people flip their training and their meetings to remote learning.
The thing that I wanted to share, and what my blog post is about, is a really personal thing that helped me take a step and change the way I see myself. As part of my work at the university, we are indigenizing and decolonizing our work as educators.

As I write in my blog post, my family history in Canada is a history of settlers from Europe who came to North America at the invitation of a colonial government who gave our lands, for example, to one of my great‑great‑grandfathers to farm that wasn’t theirs to give away.

When we started looking at what we call in Canada truth and reconciliation, I attended the hearings and heard the stories of indigenous people and the suffering they’ve had from systemic racism in Canada, and also realize the great gaps in my education.

My high school and elementary school education in Canada didn’t tell me about the ugly sides of our culture. As I read in so many books that perhaps America’s education system hasn’t told white people the real hard truth and lived experience of the people that they are in America with.

My tip was something that I did at the time. I’m just holding it up. There’s a picture of it on the blog. At the urging of Chief Robert Joseph, who said to white people in Canada, “Hey, settler people. We don’t want your house and we don’t need you to go back anywhere. We just want to live with you in respect and move forward to a better world.”

He said one of the things you could do ‑‑ white people ‑‑ is to start to call yourself white. I had never called myself a white person. If you had said to me or on the census, I’d put Canadian. I’m born here. My family’s born here. At his urging, I did that. I wrote on this piece of paper one thing I could do to make Canada a better place was to start to call myself white and a white settler.

I also decided to acknowledge lands. I didn’t do that this morning. It just seems so weird on a webinar, but I am coming to you from the unceded territory of the Squamish, Tsleil‑Waututh, and Musqueam Nations where I was born, live, and work as a guest upon these traditional lands.

The third one I wrote here was to support indigenous artists, voices and writers, something I have really enjoyed and sometimes been pretty uncomfortable as the only white lady at a book launch. It is something that has given me courage to say I can put my time, my energy, my money, my volunteerism into places that helps me learn and grow and extend my experience.

I would urge everybody who is listening to this who has never maybe called themselves white to just put it on a Post‑it note. This is an excellent continuous improvement tool. [laughs] It’s an excellent education tool. Chief Bobby Joe calls this your back pocket plan. I keep mine in my wallet most of the time.

You want to put it somewhere where you will see it and remind yourself that just this one little step can be a brave step that changes the way other people feel included and welcome, and maybe could expand the way you walk upon the earth as a kind and gentle person. That’s basically all I wanted to say.

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