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Volume 54, Number 4 Fall 2021
Edited by Dominique Thomas, Morehouse College
Written by Ann Marie Beals, Wilfrid Laurier University
During a presentation for the Society for Community Research and Action (SCRA) 18th Biennial Conference, June 2021, I was asked to do a land acknowledgement in recognizing the unceded Indigenous lands and territories on which settlers “own” property and land. At first I balked, because why would an Indigenous person do a land acknowledgement on Turtle Island?
Then I thought about it a bit more, and realized this was an opportunity to share some thoughts around land acknowledgements, and I never pass up an opportunity to talk about how we uproot white supremacy, the theme of the 18th Biennial Conference.
Let me explain…
So initially, I thought land acknowledgements were settlers acknowledging their responsibilities in understanding whose unceded land they walk upon, what that means in hearing the truth, and consequently working toward rectifying colonial systemic oppression wrought upon Indigenous Peoples in moving toward (re)conciliation, but…
… land acknowledgements have become performative, empty, and inconsequential acts of ticking that box.
Hayden King, an Anishinaabe scholar writes that…
"Land acknowledgements are becoming so customary in institutions like universities that settlers are essentially giving themselves permission to reside on unceded land."
And in my never-ending quest to upend revisionist history, here is what I acknowledge…
Settlers and those who benefit from colonialism need to do the work in uprooting white supremacy.
Settlers, I say to you, do not permit a land acknowledgement to take the place of the necessary effort needed in unlearning and learning about how you come to be on unceded Indigenous territories and what that means for Truth and Reconciliation.
It means acknowledging, for instance, that the settler nation-state known as Canada is still a colonial state, with First Nations Peoples across these lands regulated and controlled by the Indian Act of 1876 and all its amendments and iterations. Today, on June 23, 2021, Indigenous Peoples are governed by imperialist colonial laws.
It means acknowledging that in 1885, the first prime minister of Canada stood up in the house of commons and declared,
"I have not hesitated to tell this House, again and again, that we could not always hope to maintain peace with the Indians; that the savage was still a savage, and that until he ceased to be savage, we were always in danger of a collision, in danger of war, in danger of an outbreak."
It means acknowledging that that same white man, in reflecting settler views, arrived at the conclusion that Indigenous Peoples are less than human and must be conquered, so the colonial settler expansionism project can continue.
It means that the attempted annihilation of Indigenous Peoples, to steal Indigenous lands for capitalist extraction was required for the white man to solve the Indian Problem.
It means that the blood of genocide and assimilation runs on these lands both historically and contemporarily, especially with the most egregious act of stealing our children and attempting to make them white.
Please acknowledge this.
From Lemkin’s work on the UN Genocide Convention of 1948, here are five concepts that identify genocide…
Killing members of the group,
Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group,
Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or part,
Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, and
Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
The Canadian settler state did and indeed continues to carry out all five of these elements of genocide, on stolen Indigenous lands.
From Lemkin’s work that did not make it into the 1948 UN Genocide Convention…
"[Genocide is] a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objectives of such a plan would be disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language religion, and the economic existence of said groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups."
So, in assessing Lemkin’s definitions of genocide…
Between the 1860s and the 1990s, over 150,000 children were forced, coerced, and physically removed from their Nations to attend Indian Residential Schools, run by Christian churches, under the authority of the settler nation-state and enforced by state police systems.
“Killing the Indian to save the Child,” and “Education for Extinction” were the mantras of the white man in attempting to expunge our languages, cultures, traditions, and ceremony, so that the Indigenous child no longer knows where they are from or where they are going.
As the white man John MacDonald said,
"When the school is on the reserve, the child lives with its parents, who are savages, and though he may learn to read and write, his habits and training mode of thought are Indian. He is simply a savage who can read and write… Indian children should be withdrawn as much from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of the white man."
These “schools” were assimilationist training institutions for Indigenous children to become cheap domestic servants and trades workers for the white man.
And if the children did not comply or ran away, they were harmed and murdered.
However, it became clear that, though the white man tried very hard to extinguish the Indigenous flame on our lands with the theft of our children, we would not go so gently into the night.
So, when 215 little bodies were found in unmarked mass graves on the grounds of the residential school that closed in 1978 in Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc territory, a month before this conference, we were not surprised – deeply saddened and grieving, but not surprised.
It was already identified in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report that many missing children and youth were buried on the grounds of residential schools. And the commissioners noted…
"In Canada, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission listened to millions of hours of Indigenous testimony documenting the abuses at the hands of residential schools and the inter-generational trauma that ensued.
While the testimony was cathartic and documented actual instances of genocide, not a single scrap of Indigenous land was returned and colonialism didn’t end."
And we listened to the stories of the residential school Survivors, who told us of our relatives murdered at the hands of the state, church, and police.
But the white man chooses to ignore.
The pope chooses not to say sorry.
The police choose to continue to kill.
Settlers, acknowledge this.
We know that we will find so many more of our children buried in mass unmarked graves. It is estimated that at least 10,000 little ones who attended residential schools are dead at the hands of the church, state, and police.
Indigenous children have died from alienation from their families and communities, from diseases such as tuberculosis and influenza from overcrowded and unhygienic conditions, forced labour, torture, sexual exploitation, and assault.
Beatings and solitary confinement were the penalties for children resisting in speaking our languages, with electric chairs used as a form of punishment.
Children suffered spiritual abuse, including punishment for practicing ceremonial customs and observations, with a focused intent of proselytizing indoctrination to Christianity, as noted by the 1924 Memorandum of the Convention of the Catholic Principals of Indian Residential Schools, in Lebert, Saskatchewan,
True civilization must be based on moral law, which Christian religion alone can give.
We will find more of our children.
This sadly and furiously must be acknowledged.
To further control and assimilate, in 1951 the Indian Act was amended to extend provincial jurisdiction to health, welfare, and education, and an expansion of child welfare services, including the Sixties Scoop, where child welfare agents ripped Indigenous children from their families and communities at accelerated rates, without consent…
… and the provincial child welfare agencies applied to the courts to waive adoption consent, so Indigenous children could be expeditiously forced into the white man’s house to learn the white man’s ways.
Such assimilation was an attempt to ensure a break of the transmission of Indigenous ways of being and knowing on the land.
The current Millennial Scoop continues the legacy of Indian Residential Schools and the Sixties Scoop and the oppressive colonial legacy of theft of our children and intervention entrenched in poverty and subjugation of Indigenous Peoples.
Currently in Canada, over 52% of children in foster care are Indigenous, but account for only 7.7% of the child population.
38% of Indigenous children in this settler nation-state live in poverty, compared to 7% for non-Indigenous children.
So, as white supremacy is fluid and shifts and alters in the 21st century, the, “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group” has been taken up by child welfare, social, and carceral systems.
The genocides continue in colony Canada.
Acknowledge the genocides of Indigenous Peoples at the hands of the settler nation-state and the complicity of settlers in maintaining the status quo.
Nice polite Canadians are shocked when they hear that over 6500 Indigenous children are found in mass graves at residential schools, but the generations of traumas wrought by the white man’s oppression and death are ignored.
We need you, settlers, to acknowledge how assimilation policies have created systems of pipelines to prison, inequitable health and service provisions, and poverty.
We need you, settlers, to acknowledge how genocide laws affect Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit and Indigequeer people. Rates of homicide of Indigenous women are six times higher than non-Indigenous women. Indigenous people incarcerated in federal facilities rose from 18% in 2001 to over 30% in 2020. Indigenous women are just 4% of the population, yet are an overwhelming 42% of all women prisoners in federal custody.
This is the work of white supremacy.
We love our children, and we want so desperately for our children to stay with us.
Acknowledge the love of our Children and our Peoples.
Imagine settlers, if your children were ripped away from you, never to be seen or hugged again?
Acknowledge that we are human too.
And the white man steals children and land all around Mother Earth.
I was reading that in the US, interior secretary Deb Haaland is investigating the history of Indian Boarding Schools, including the burial sites of missing children.
"To address the inter-generational impact of Indian boarding schools and to promote spiritual and emotional healing in our communities, we must shed light on the unspoken traumas of the past, no matter how hard it will be."
I will lay down tobacco for the children, their families, and their communities and Nations, as the horrific truths continue to come to light.
I lay tobacco for the niños desaparecidos in Mexico.
I lay tobacco for the Stolen Generations in Australia.
I lay tobacco for all the children around the world who have disappeared from their communities and their lands at the hands of the white man.
Acknowledge as the death hands of the white man lay upon the children.
Give the land back and be aware that we are taking the land back in the name of Indigenous sovereignty.
The white man may have tried and continues to try to crush us with genocide and assimilation, but we are still here, and we are strong, and we are fighting for our sovereignty.
The white man entered into treaties like the Dish with One Spoon, which acknowledged mutual care and respect of the lands.
But the white man wants all the Dish for himself in his hunger for wealth, power, and land, and now we all reap the benefits of his greed.
We need you to acknowledge how the white man, and all those who benefit from the hegemonic privilege of white supremacy, and for those who think that by moving closer to whiteness you will garner benefit from that privilege; but as Fanon reminds us, you will never be accepted by the white man, but you will be used by the white man in the continued oppression of our Peoples…
… we need you to acknowledge the realness… see the truth of white supremacy.
A land acknowledgement is a call to action – a settler call to action.
We need you, settlers, to work – put in the work of dismantling systems that harm Indigenous Peoples!
Transform the white supremacy mindset and all systems of oppression will follow.
Please, acknowledge and restore, because we cannot keep going in the ways we are going.
Acknowledge the land and make the changes, and do the work in a good way.
This is my land acknowledgement.
Weji-sqalia’ti’kw, Wela’lin Mi’kaju.
Written by Christopher Corbett, Independent Researcher
As community psychologists (CPs), we are trained with a unique set of values, skills and competencies. With that training, we are often able to understand community problems in ways others simply cannot, and we are often able to conceptualize or craft solutions others will never see. CPs are also an optimistic lot. With that training, they very often are willing to confront the most complex, challenging problems communities face. Given their values and training, with strong emphasis on primary prevention coupled with the critical importance of devising interventions that implement second-order change, and by applying their consultation skills, few problems go beyond what CPs are willing and able to tackle.
Evidence of this is SCRA’s 2021 Online Conference. With its ambitious theme of “Uprooting White Supremacy” hundreds of CPs have presented, or participated in, sessions on a wide range of topics that seek to debate, expose, solve or prevent many pernicious elements of system-wide racial bias and discrimination present today.
The Challenge Ahead
As idealistic, ambitious and hopeful of an agenda as this is, much work lies ahead. As CPs, the burden or responsibility remains to determine what it is that we can do, either individually, or with others, to gain incremental progress. What role, if any, lies ahead for me?
Can system-wide racial bias and discrimination be reversed or remediated where it is present, and prevented where it has not yet emerged? My answer is yes. With right understanding, and application of problem solving methods and strategies, much incremental progress is possible. The preceding is predicated on application of CP principles, understanding root causes and systems that support the status-quo, and the application of second-order change solutions necessary for incremental and enduring change.
What Level of Intervention?
A first step in tackling a complex problem is to determine the level or levels of most effective intervention. One helpful method of identifying potential solutions is to disaggregate the issue or problem by Sector. While there is not universal agreement on number of Sectors, and researchers will quibble over the number, the three Sector model has virtues of simplicity yet is capable of capturing the vast majority of formal and informal organizations that exist in society. For the purposes intended here, we will use the Government, For-Profit and Nonprofit (or Voluntary) Sectors as highly inclusive of the various organizations within which systemic bias resides.
With regard to the Government Sector, whether federal, state, or local levels, generally systemic bias problems and issues are primarily controlled, or remediated, through the elective and legislative process which lies outside the scope intended here. This leaves the For-Profit and Nonprofit Sectors, capturing a very large portion of society’s institutions, as worthy targets of interventions designed by CPs to remediate or prevent systemic bias and discrimination.
Where to Intervene?
Considering the essential need for second-order change, it is helpful to understand where exactly change may be directed to result in systemic change that is at least enduring, if not permanent. Is there one intervention point, common to both For-Profit and Nonprofit Sectors?
The answer is yes; one intervention point common to both Sectors are Boards of Directors. Both For-Profit and Nonprofit organizations have board members where the former’s members are elected by stockholders, and the latter, by the membership, or other board members. A key question: How diverse are For-Profit and Nonprofit boards?
Some Board Data on Diversity
As USA TODAY notes (J. Guynn, March 16, B-1), of 27,000 board members in the Russell 2000 index, only 1467 or 5.4% are Black. This exposes racial inequality at the top of corporate America. The article also reveals underrepresentation is even lower for Black women. Nor is USA TODAY alone in reporting damaging diversity data. The New York Times, reports despite years of efforts to diversify corporate boards, non-white board members went from 10% to 12.5% over five years. Their reporter, Peter Eavis (September 16, 2020), reported Black directors comprise only 4%, up from 3% in 2015. Further, Black women make up only 1.5% of 20,000 directors studied.
It also notes board members have much power and that a “special board committee nominates new members” has the power to diversify boards by selecting non white-male candidates. Reporting by both USA TODAY and The New York Times exposes the problem, and challenge, using data. Both USA TODAY and The New York Times articles are long on criticism-- yet lack action based solutions. We are, however, pointed in the right direction given the noted source of power: the board of directors and “special board committee” that nominates.
Nonprofit Board Diversity
With regard to Nonprofit board diversity, according to BoardSource (Leading with Intent, June 2021), its 2019 Survey found a Black board member level of 10% (p. 3). The report acknowledged high levels of dissatisfaction with the state of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) among Nonprofit executives, with 66% dissatisfied with the status-quo. The Report further reported that only 29% of board chairs were satisfied their boards represented the communities they served. Clearly, much progress is urgently needed on Nonprofit boards as well.
Where to From Here?
Many articles document lack of diversity on boards and excel at discussing the nature of the problem, urgent need for diversification, and, in some cases, the societal benefits of inclusion. While helpful in describing the problem, they fail to identify root causes and solutions. My purpose here: examine supporting data; root causes; and solutions for all For-Profit and Nonprofit boards in grave need of diversifying their organizations, while addressing the problem of external regulation.
The “Regulatory Solution” Dilemma
As widely reported, the National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations (NASDAQ) has proposed board diversity requirements, for companies on its exchange, by reporting race, gender, and LGBTQ status, as self-disclosed by board members. Also, it requires at least one woman and one from a racial minority or the LGBTQ community--or to opt out. As reported by the Albany Times Union (Clare Bryan, May 10), experts worry this Proposal will inadvertently make matters worse by promoting more whiteness. Moreover, as the article reports, the Proposal has no requirement to elect a single person of color.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission approved it on August 6 (USSEC Approval, August 6). This Proposal illustrates the grave consequences of well-intended solutions, externally imposed, often directly or indirectly by government, that fail to remotely grasp root causes and the unintended consequences of solutions that stand to make matters even worse.
While greater transparency externally imposed may reveal board composition, how will this move beyond superficial tokenism for boards not serious in the first place? As the article notes, there is a real risk of selecting “tokens”, for appearances sake, not giving them voice, nor valuing their views, resulting in window dressing. Regulatory solutions often create false hopes and have unintended consequences that bureaucrats fail to grasp, or grasp but act solely on self-interests.
Given the preceding, it is helpful and necessary to gain insight into root causes and identify systemic solutions, where proposed solutions are based on the board diversity practices of “A” rated Nonprofits. That is, using self-regulation, internally imposed, rather than external regulation which may be cosmetic, voluntary or otherwise non-enforceable.
Root Cause Analysis
The root cause is systemic board governance that consciously, or unconsciously, excludes minority candidates. The power to remedy lies at board level and boards will lie on a continuum, from opposed or highly resistant, to less resistant, or even welcoming a change in the status-quo. For boards that overtly favor a white or white dominant board, preserving the status-quo is the board’s prerogative. While they might favor token window dressing-- they will refuse, or not readily enact, governance solutions to promote board diversification. In any case, there are systemic causes and diversity progress requires second-order systemic solutions that are enforceable by the board--not just cosmetic changes or wishful thinking.
Intervention Point: Board Nominating Committees
The necessary intervention points are Board Nominating Committees, where the power lies. The role they must play is first, to identify a diversity of candidates with requisite skills the board urgently needs and secondly, place that information in the board’s hands at the critical juncture when nominees are identified for approval by the board and/or other approving authority.
Boards approve nominations on regular term expiration schedule--but also intermittently when board vacancies occur unexpectedly due to unanticipated factors including: illness or death, new work responsibilities, or performance dismissals to name a few. Those unanticipated board nominations may occur, and be approved, with little or no notice, circumventing the best of intentions to pursue board diversification. Both nomination junctures require intervention.
Illustrative Bylaw Provisions
As a nonprofit researcher, I have examined the governance practices of “A” rated nonprofits as contained in their bylaws (Corbett 2011). While nonprofits need to diversify too, some have model provisions clearly designed to promote diversification. Following are three illustrative bylaws designed to diversify boards and organizations that can be readily adopted by simple board motion. For enduring systemic change, focus must be on the Nominating Committee:
* The Nominating Committee shall evaluate and recommend candidates for
the board and all committees. In evaluating candidates, consideration shall
be given to (1) organizational needs, (2) board balance and diversity, (3) leader-
ship ability, (4) availability to serve, and (5) other factors the board may specify
including financial literacy.
* The Nominating Committee when submitting nominations shall also report on the
makeup of the board with regard to gender, race, and nationality. Diversity shall
also be considered in staff recruitment, and the president shall report annually
to the board on the makeup of the staff.
* The board shall fill all vacancies caused by resignation, removal, or death of any officer, board member, or Nominating Committee member upon recommendation
of the Nominating Committee. (Adapted from Corbett 2011, p. 35; 2007)
Promoting board diversification through bylaws achieves second-order change. Boards, operating with its Nominating Committee following very simple reporting requirements, at both nominating junctures, empower the board at critical times in the governance process. That is, such bylaw provisions empower boards not only to select from a diverse pool of candidates but annually monitor the whole organization. Bylaws are approved, and are fully enforceable by the board, and achieve the potential of second-order change-- in contrast with “Policies” that are malleable, changeable and often un-enforceable. Also, bylaw violation is a basis for termination.
This approach avoids tokenism and enables the board to monitor and self-assess whether it is actually achieving progress in fulfilling its board approved diversity expectations. Or, alternatively, empowers the board to implement necessary corrective action essential to achieve the board’s diversity prerogatives. Compliance reporting enables enforcement (p.75-76).
Boards overtly biased are unlikely to embrace or approve such bylaws-- but can, and should, be so exposed, and at the very least confronted-- by any single board member given each member’s power to raise concerns for discussion and to propose new bylaws. Moreover, if the confrontation is constructive, and the parties brought closer together, mutual adjustment becomes possible, as well as an evolution towards consensus on reforming the bylaws.
The method identified here is designed to achieve structural change, through Level IV Consultation, identified as the highest or first choice of intervention and considering its prevention potential (Parsons & Meyers, 1985; 181,199). Further, these bylaw provisions, if implemented and enforced, will alter “behavior settings” (Moos, 1986; 214-224), not only at the board level but across the entire organization, including all Committees, by changing their compositions in a positive way, enabling many benefits of diversity and inclusion to be realized.
Community Psychologists willing to take on DEI advocacy directly through either nonprofit board service, or board level intervention as a paid or pro-bono consultant-- have great potential to transform boards and organizations themselves, by strategically applying their values and skills to eliminate or mitigate both racial and gender bias at the organizations of their choice. CPs can also building public awareness through Community Education and Awareness, Core Competency #16, such as through Op-Ed publication to reach mass markets and many outlets where racial and gender justice is a high priority. As illustration, USA TODAY recently published my Op-Ed entitled: “Sorry, But Diversifying Boardrooms Does Not Go Far Enough” (Corbett 2021). All the preceding illustrates the potential of CP consultancy as a highly valuable future training and education direction for the field with a focus on second-order change.
Please contact the author with questions or comments at: email@example.com.
Christopher Corbett is a nonprofit researcher and author of “Advancing Nonprofit Stewardship Through Self-Regulation: Translating Principles into Practice” (Kumarian Press) which contains the above illustrative bylaw provisions, along with many others. He is a member of ARNOVA, ISTR and SCRA and has presented research at their conferences since 1994.
Corbett, C. (2021). Sorry, but diversifying boardrooms does not go far enough. USA TODAY Regional Network, August 5, 2021, B-1.
Corbett, C. (2011). Advancing nonprofit stewardship through self-regulation: Translating principles into practice. Sterling, VA: Kumarian Press/Lynne Rienner.
Corbett, C. (2007). Preventing and Remediating Board Bias in Nonprofit Organizations. Poster presented at the Annual Conference of the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action, November 15-17, 2007 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Leading with Intent (June, 2021): BoardSource index of nonprofit board practices. Washington D.C.: BoardSource.
Moos, R. (1986). The human context: Environmental determinants of behavior. Malabar, Florida: Krieger Publishing.
Parsons, R. & Meyers, J. (1985). Developing consultation skills. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
USSEC Approval (August 6, 2021). Statement on the Commission’s approval of Nasdaq’s proposal for disclosure about board diversity and proposal for board recruiting service. Printed August 7, 2021 from www.sec.gov.