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Opinion: A mind toward consent will bring us closer to the reconciliation we seek

Opinion: A mind toward consent will bring us closer to the reconciliation we seek

Did you know that only 28% of Canadians fully understand what it means to give consent?

Comprehensive sex education is a human right and yet there is much to be desired in Canadian curriculums. Growing up in Alberta during the mid-2000’s, the sex education I received in both the public and Catholic schools I attended was spotty at best. It only covered reproduction, STI prevention, and abstinence. I didn’t learn what consent was until my first year of university, as an adult. Most Canadians don’t properly learn it at all. This has real consequences: up to 20% of girls and 14% of boys will be sexually assaulted before age 18. I was a part of that 20%.

I’m also a young Indigenous woman of mixed Mi’kmaq and settler descent who sees the connection between colonialism and the high rates of sexual violence that Indigenous people in Canada face. From forced sterilization to restricted freedoms for practicing culture and tradition to the legacy of the residential school system and MMIWG2S+, Canada’s ongoing genocide against Indigenous peoples often manifests in the theft of Indigenous peoples’ right to choose for themselves. I feel the impacts of these violations of consent. I see the ways they affect my life and the lives of my peers.

Many Indigenous peoples see the land as being in constant relationship with its people. As a consequence, the intersections between Indigenous experiences of colonial violence and interpersonal consent run deep. “…today we see that the strategies of colonization, genocide, and ecocide hinge on that very connection between Indigenous lands and bodies,” Iako’tsira:reh Amanda Lickers (Turtle Clan, Seneca) says in Violence on the Land, Violence on Our Bodies.

Experiencing violence at the hands of another Indigenous youth left me with a lot of questions. How do I understand the connection of my own lived experience with colonial violence and its impact on being an Indigenous youth in Canada? Before colonization, everything we needed to know about sexuality and relationships would have been provided by Elders. If our communities and relatives were empowered with the freedom and resources to educate us in a traditional way, there would never have been a question of whether a school board could or should distribute this knowledge.

With another National Day for Truth and Reconciliation having passed, it’s important to start thinking about not only dismantling the structures that hold Indigenous people back, but also replacing them with systems and beliefs that are empowering and uplifting. Now more than ever, we have the resources and opportunity to work towards more equitable and inclusive spaces for all people in Canada.

While a lack of consent education was not solely to blame for what happened to me, perhaps comprehensive sex education would have helped mitigate some of the systemic risk factors that contributed to my experience of sexual violence.

This past month, Possibility SeedsCourage to Act project and community partners across the country launched the first national Consent Awareness Week. The third week of September was chosen because the first six weeks of school are designated as the Red Zone, when there is a significant increase in sexual violence on post-secondary campuses. But Consent Awareness Week isn’t just for post-secondary schools; it’s for people of all ages, in all communities. It asks us to expand our understanding of consent beyond the bedroom, to see it as a lens through which we approach all relationships and relations.

Normalizing conversations about consent means safer spaces and community-building. It means empowered personal decision making and ongoing reflection on the obligations we have to each other.

In a country built on a lack of consent, applying consent in daily life is an important step that everyone can take toward building a better Canada. My educational experience would have benefited significantly from the institutions I attended taking part in an initiative like Consent Awareness Week. Recognizing this week in September opens many possibilities for building a safer Canada for the next seven generations and beyond.

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About The Author

Aubrianna Snow

Aubrianna Snow (she/her) is a Mi’kmaw woman living in Treaty Six. Graduating from MacEwan University’s Bachelor of Communications program in Spring 2022, she has since been pursuing gender equity through her work as a Stakeholder Relations Specialist with Possibility Seeds. Aubrianna is passionate about creating accessible learning environments and Indigenizing policy across institutional spaces.

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