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Creating More Dignified Communities

October 18, 2016

“Global Dignity is about taking action and building the many faces of dignity into our lives so we can all contribute to building a healthier, happier world together. Dignity is about respect, compassion, mutual understanding and loving kindness.” – Giovanna Mingarelli, National Chair of Global Dignity Canada


On October 12th, the world celebrated the 10th anniversary of Global Dignity Day. On this day there were 500,000 students in 60 countries around the globe celebrating human dignity. Over the past decade, Global Dignity Day has impacted 1.5 million young people around the world. For Global Dignity Day 2016, the Samuel Family Foundation sponsored a live video conference in collaboration with the Centre for Global Education, TakingITGlobal and Global Dignity Day Canada. This live video conference was hosted at Parliament in Ottawa and included participants from 8 schools coast to coast: Sa Halli Secondary from Kamloops, BC, Queen Elizabeth High School from Edmonton, AB, John Arnalukjuak High School from Arviat, Nunavut, Kiizhik School from Treaty 3 Northern Ontario, Jean Augustine Secondary School from Brampton, ON, Hillcrest Academy from Shelburne, NS, Kenai Central High School, AK, USA and Soldotna Prep from Soldotna, AK, USA. This special event, which brought together young people of all ages to celebrate and foster what dignity means to them, was started with a ceremonial flag raising ceremony and prayer from students at Kiizhik School in Treaty 3 Northern Ontario.


Following this, students from each participating school introduced themselves and shared what dignity means to them. Students from John Arnalukjuak High School in Arviat, Nunavut stated that “In our language, Inuktitut, dignity means Tunnganarniq and we believe dignity is important because it makes our community stronger and that working together we can make things happen.”


As the live video conference progressed, we were honoured to have two very special guest speakers share their stories of dignity. The first speaker Lindsay DuPre, is currently the Indigenous Youth Engagement Coordinator at TakingITGlobal and works with First Nations, Métis and Inuit youth across Canada to create opportunities for empowerment through leadership and education. Lindsay spoke about the collective story of dignity that is re-emerging and being retold through Indigenous communities in Canada. She stated that “When talking about dignity in the present we need to reflect on the past as well…we are moving forward and finding ways to heal and that is an extraordinarily hopeful thing..I see this greater movement of dignity revitalization, how Indigenous youth are stepping forward and fusing their traditions with contemporary knowledges and approaches to learning and living.”


The second guest speaker, Wes Prankard, was named a global dignity role model in 2012. Wes’ has a mission to build a playground in every community in Northern Canada, giving all children the right to play, spreading awareness about the inequalities at times between non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal children. He spoke of the power of one’s voice and how this tool can foster connectedenss and help create more dignified communities, “For me, dignity has been using my voice. When something is wrong I talk about it, I voice my concerns and I make myself heard. The voice is such a powerful tool and when it’s used right it can change someone’s life. Since last dignity day I’ve been making sure to use my voice in living a dignified life, to help myself and others, just like I know every single one of you can as well.”


During this memorable event, participants of all ages shared the importance of dignity within our everyday lives. In addition to our two guest speakers, we had the pleasure of experiencing the gift of throat singing by Lois Suluk-Locke and Patricia Kablutsika from Arviat, Nunavut. As Lois stated, “Throat singing is usually done by two women and is a form of entertainment and worship. Most songs are mimicking environment, the tools we use, the animals and birds”. Throat singing is a symbol of how communities can become more dignified by sharing traditions with others and help strengthen community connections.


To close the event students shared their own stories of dignity with one another, highlighting what dignity looks like and means to them within their communities. As students shared their stories, similarities emerged. Students talked about different supports they have, pride they feel, actions they can take and the importance of culture that a dignified community consists of. Here are some statements from students: British Columbia: “My Dignity Story is being who I am and striving to become who I want to be and not someone who someone else wants me to be.”         


Alberta: “I dropped a pin to my headscarf and a girl I hardly knew gave me one of her’s. It was a small action of respect but it meant a lot to me.” “We drew our school logo as it represents our school and our community and gives us a sense of pride in our collective identity”            


Northern Ontario, Treaty 3: “I was asked to sing and drum and I felt proud that we still had hope to do any ceremony we could and not be made fun of. When we were singing, the people on the sidewalk were making funny/weird faces but the singers didn’t care and this made me feel proud.”


Brampton, ON: “Today we made dignity action postcards, outlining our wishes for a more dignified community. My wish for my community is to show more pride towards the LGBTQ community and I will sign up for the LGBTQ club in my school.”    


Nova Scotia: “I helped my cousin with her reading, through this she gained self-dignity.”


Alaska: “Dignity means to me respecting your elders because in my hometown elders are the main part of our culture, sharing stories with us” “Dignity is treating other cultures with the same respect we have for ourselves” “Dignity to us means having respect for ourselves and others and accepting, not excluding or discouraging. It is honouring the valuable things in life, caring for others wellbeing and having welcoming arms with no judgement …helping someone across the street is an act of dignity.”              


Arviat, Nunavut: “This summer youth came up with the idea of walking together and called it the Hope Walk. This Hope Walk was done to help prevent suicide and to celebrate life. Youth gave out inspirational messages to all those who attended”            


Ottawa: “We created a dignity superhero called Super Peacock! He is of all colours and all shapes and sizes because he respects all colours and shapes and sizes. He understands and encompasses different cultures and different identities that we find here in Canada and across the world.”          


It is important to remember that Global Dignity Day is not just about October 12. This day and what it represents is something we can truly experience and embody on a daily basis. As Giovanna Mingarelli, the National Chair of Global Dignity Canada stated, “It’s about integrating dignity into our lives everyday through the smallest of actions that have an impact on our own lives and those of others.” How will you help make your community more dignified?