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Our Voices

Decolonizing Our Hearts

Decolonize Your Mind Exhibit. Photo: Radio 2016

When you hear the word “decolonization,” what comes to mind? Land acknowledgements, the KAIROS Blanket Exercise, or the Medicine Wheel? Learning Indigenous traditions and the history of colonization? The act of offering the lands that were taken from Indigenous people back to their rightful owners? (See further reading by Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang below.)

Diem Marchand-Lafortune, who created an intensive two-day workshop called “Decolonizing the Heart,” describes decolonization as “a process” that guides us to look, with a critical eye, at the history of North America and its power structures, including economies and governments, which “have been formative in developing one’s own and one’s ancestors’ worldview.” It requires “working to dismantle and transform one’s way of seeing and being in the world,” and that means unlearning principles that we may take for granted. For instance, this could include analyzing our business practices and offering up products and services as gifts to people in need rather than expecting money for them.

Marchand-Lafortune, a Cree-Métis and Jewish woman who was adopted and raised by an Acadian/Mi’kmaq father and Scottish mother, says she synthesized and “indigenized” 40 years of knowledge, life experience, philosophy, psychoanalysis and practice in negotiations and law school within the two-days of teachings. The program is not a 101 on Indigenous issues. It includes complex ideas. Marchand-Lafortune warns that both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people who feel invested in exploring decolonization in more depth should be prepared for “hard work and self-examination.”

One goal of the workshop is “to understand oneself better so that one can interact with other people in a more healthy way,” she says. “I’ve put all these disparate things together that allow people to learn we can’t reconcile with other people till we reconcile with ourselves.”

I began to learn about decolonization when I was doing my Masters of Social Work at the University of Toronto through academic readings, experiential re-enactments of colonization, and cultural competency training. However, I felt my education on Indigenous issues was insufficient, especially following a poorly facilitated class discussion on the findings of “cultural genocide” from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (see further reading below). Students were upset and complained to the administration. Seeing the harm social workers have caused and continue to cause Indigenous people prompted me to take a class on building Jewish-Indigenous relationships at the Lishma Jewish Learning Project.

I heard about the Decolonizing the Heart workshop from a fellow student in my master’s program. Monica Henriques is a social worker of Dutch and Jamaican ancestry who took the workshop and became Marchand-Lafortune’s executive assistant.

The workshop was a lot for me to take in. I felt a bit overwhelmed by all the ideas floating around in my head while simultaneously trying to remember how to put the tools into action. Undoing nearly 35 years of colonial education, changing deep-rooted emotional reactions, and relating to others in new ways may take me more time and practice. However, the experience left me with a great deal to think about.

Decolonizing the Heart Workshop participants–photo by Carmelle Wolfson

About a dozen people attended day one of the workshop at the Toronto United Mennonite Church in Toronto’s east end, including educators, non-profit professionals, writers, social workers, and religious professionals. The workshop integrated seemingly disparate topics throughout, including traditional Indigenous teachings, anti-oppression practices, conflict resolution strategies, and object relations theory approach to human development. It involved lectures, group discussions, experiential activities, visual mapping of individual ancestry, personal reflective writing, role-playing exercises, and video re-enactments. A second day was added to allow more time to cover the expansive material and practice role-play exercises.

On the second day, we simulated a variety of scenarios in which we responded to racist remarks. In one role play that took place at a liquor store, a customer suggests to the cashier that she shouldn’t serve Indigenous people and uses an offensive racial slur. The workshop teaches tools to guide us in identifying what may have happened in our past to trigger our emotional reactions to the situation, and for bystanders to take a few moments before acknowledging the harmful comment so that we can “call in” with compassion for the person causing the harm, trying to empathize and understand that person’s motivation, rather than “call out” the harmful comment through shaming and blaming. As the type of person who tends to freeze up in conflict situations, I have a hard time finding the right words to speak up. In one role play, the bystander asks, “What did you mean by that?” The customer says that Indigenous people are prone to alcoholism and wants to protect them. The bystander then provides information found on their phone’s web browser on alcohol rates among Indigenous populations in Canada. When the discussion wraps up, the Indigenous customers jokingly suggest the customer making the racist comment might pick up the tab at a nearby cafe–in exchange for conversation and a reading list to deepen the learning.

The workshop led me to reflect on standard practices in health and mental health care that I learned during my master’s. For instance, the Medicine Wheel includes four sections that represent the intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and physical realms of each person. Well-being is feeling balanced in these four areas. Within health care and mental health institutions, the spiritual component of healing is usually missing. Though it may sound simple, finding that sweet spot where mind, body, heart, and soul are aligned is anything but simple. In this way, traditional Indigenous teachings hold the knowledge that Western society is lacking.

The workshop also reminded me of how important relationships are to our continued survival. This includes our relationship to other people, the natural environment, and ourselves. Indigenous societies lived on the land, co-existing with plants, animals, and their natural environments long before Europeans colonized and settled North America. Living in Toronto, I rarely have the chance to connect with nature, and I do not need to think about how the food I buy in the store is cultivated. I was also raised to compete with others for limited resources and taught to be independent and self-sufficient, ideals upheld by capitalism. However, Marchand-Lafortune explains the importance of collaboration with others and building strong ongoing relationships with the people around us.

This is the fundamental question that arose for me after attending this two-day workshop: Do you want to participate in colonization and colonial practices or do you want true change? When decolonizing the heart, you may never feel like you’re getting it right, but if you are not grappling with difficult questions, then you’re probably getting it wrong.

Marchand-Lafortune offers this analogy: “It’s really hard to be a feminist if you start acting like entrepreneurs that are in the capitalist paradigm—competition, aggression, all that stuff.” Put yet another way: though people may crave sugar, we don’t need it so why not consider what is driving that craving for sugar? She suggests focusing on meeting needs rather than creating businesses that are feeding “false needs.”

The Heart in Practice

The workshop provoked months of contemplation on decolonizing the heart. What does this look like in practice? For me, that process looked something like this while writing this article:

1. Acknowledging my power and privilege as the writer crafting this story and asking critical questions. Why am I, as a white settler journalist, believed to be an expert on decolonization after attending one workshop? Whose voices are heard and whose are not? Who is given credit for this knowledge, who is benefiting from it and in what ways (financial gain, prestige)? Why are Indigenous writers reporting on Indigenous issues rarely published?

2. Engaging in ongoing conversations with the editor, publisher, and workshop facilitators while trying to understand the motivations and needs of each one. Prioritizing relationships, by allowing time for these conversations, rather than being rigid and guided by speed and productivity.

3. Identifying my emotions when they arise (anxiety, anger, frustration, sadness) and asking which unmet need each feeling is connected to. Taking the time I need to do something to dampen these emotions before re-engaging in discussions.

4. Showing up to retake the workshop a second time even though I felt exhausted and overwhelmed by the start and end of the day. Offering to help make coffee after arriving and staying after it ended to clean up.

5. Asking for advice from friends and doing additional reading on the topic. Then giving credit to those involved in my creative process at the end of this article.

6. Connecting with the spiritual traditions of my ancestors in a way that is meaningful to me.

7. Rewriting this entire article while incorporating what I learned in steps one through five.

With files from Diem Marchand-Lafortune, Monica Henriques, freygl gertsovski, and Emily Green.

Further Reading and Resources

KAIROS Blanket Exercise

Decolonization is not a metaphor by Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang (2012)

Canada grapples with a charge of ‘genocide.’ For indigenous people, there’s no debate by Alicia Elliott, Washington Post (June 2019)

Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon (1961)

Women and the Gift Economy: A Radically Different World is Possible, Edited by Genevieve Vaughan (2007)

The Maternal Roots of the Gift Economy, Edited by Genevieve Vaughan (2018)

This article was made possible thanks to the generosity of Startuphere Toronto!

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Body, Mind & Pleasure

Don’t Mock These Cocktails

Temperance Cocktails bottles (Image by Jennifer Crawford (they/them))

There’s a reason people kindle romance in bars: they hope alcohol will soothe their first-date jitters. For Haritha Gnanaratna and Audra Williams, booze wasn’t an option. Gnanaratna was a professional bartender, but Williams, a writer and media personality, had never had a drink in her life.

“People get really defensive when I say I don’t drink,” says Williams. “They think it’s about them, like I’m judging them just by being sober.” But Gnanaratna saw her choice not as a hurdle to overcome but a new bar to reach. Says Williams: “He made me the most delicious non-alcoholic cocktail on our first date.”

That zesty drink—smoked black tea swirled with celery cordial, cardamom, agave, and lemon—was the beginning of their romance, and a new business venture, Temperance Cocktails, launched in September 2018. They split tasks, with Gnanaratna focusing on product design and testing, and Williams on communications and marketing. They both liked coming up with drink names, playing off tarot cards (The Fool, The Hierophant).

Williams, a former speech writer for NDP leader Jack Layton and self-described “left-wing fixer,” now works as a content and engagement specialist at the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) in Toronto. The CSI industrial kitchen provided them with an early production facility to make and bottle a line of original drinks, which are available for sale online. They also mix drinks fresh at special events, offering an alternative to people who choose not to drink, prefer to drink less, or simply want the sublime taste of a good cocktail without the booze.

The Sober Nightlife

Their market may be a drop in the bucket of the alcohol-dominated beverage industry, but it’s an expanding niche. Gen Z may be the first generation in centuries to drink less than their forebears. In Canada, interest in non-alcoholic and low-alcoholic drinks has increased, with sales rising by 10 percent in 2018. Interestingly, less alcohol doesn’t necessarily mean less partying; according to one study, young Americans were drinking 15 percent less on a weekly basis, yet continued to frequent establishments where alcohol is served, a trend the research group called “sober nightlife.” This trend might be attributed to an increased interest in health and wellness, financial concerns, or even the legalization of marijuana in Canada and many states in the US.

The Temperance co-founders note that even industry insiders are cutting back. “People are realizing that the lifestyle is untenable,” says Gnanaratna. “And, I hate the word, but they’re going on ‘detox weeks’ or whatever. It’s kind of a cool litmus test for how things are going to be translated. If people in the industry are moving towards that direction, I can only guess at how much larger the demand is on the public side.”

As a bartender, Gnanaratna has seen the worst of how alcohol can influence behaviour—from bar fights to sexual aggression to outright exploitation. On more than one occasion, he has been fired for cutting off regular patrons he thought had too much to drink. Williams chose sobriety for personal reasons. “My mom drank a lot,” she says, “and it just seems to make every situation worse.”

The First Feminist Movement?

Their business name is a nod to the temperance movement that some historians, such as Ruth Bordin, consider the first major women’s rights movement—and a radical one at that. In the 18th and 19th century, public drinking was rampant but a woman married to an alcoholic had very little recourse but to suffer his unemployment, poverty, and the domestic abuse that often came with it. In the US, female temperance leaders advocated not only for reduced alcohol consumption and outright prohibition but also women’s right to vote. The movement gained traction when religious leaders took up the cause (backed by industrialists wanting a sober workforce). Notably, the 18th and 19th amendments to the US constitution—prohibiting alcohol and enfranchising women—were passed in the same year, 1920.

Williams and Gnanaratna self-identify as feminists and are trying to instil their business with feminist values. But he’s the sole proprietor. A feminist thing to do? She says she didn’t want her middle-class, white privilege to be the face of the company when applying for funding, and she still works a full-time career at CSI. In marketing, they avoid gendering drinks (no “girl drinks” here), refuse to shame or stigmatize drinkers, and avoid the language of alcohol recovery because as Williams says, “That’s important, but it’s not my community, so I can’t speak for it.”

Rather than demonizing alcohol, they want to provide people with choice and shift how we perceive alcohol as “the default” drink in social spaces such as bars, nightclubs, networking wine and cheeses, wedding receptions, sporting events, and so on. Gnanaratna admits that, while he designed non-alcoholic drinks in his previous bartending career, he sold very few. “What I realized,” he says, “is that those people were kind of self-selecting out of those spaces.” Says Williams, “For us, it’s really about accessibility. Anytime a person is making a choice that’s not the status quo, you’re pushing back against something.” Their goal is to make it easier to make that choice.

Temperance Cocktails also enables non-drinkers to feel more comfortable in those social spaces by offering fun and celebratory options with all the trappings of alcoholic cocktails (fancy glasses, exotic garnishes, bright colours) that also don’t signal you’re abstaining. As Williams knows well, being an obvious non-drinker in a room full of tipsy people can invite all kinds of defensive reactions and intrusive questions. With a Temperance cocktail in hand, folks can relax into regular social conversation rather than fielding uncomfortable queries about addictions or whether they’re pregnant.

The Secret Ingredient: Choice

As for running a business together—which can strain any romantic partnership—the co-founders enjoy working together. Williams loves being the go-to product tester and watching Gnanaratna employ “mad scientist” things in the kitchen, such as an antique meat slicer for making extra-thin fruit garnishes. Gnanaratna is thrilled to have found a career that draws on his experience as a high-end bartender, without having to count out tip coins into the wee hours each night.

Williams andGnanaratna at a cafe on the Toronto Islands. (Photo by Yulia Tsoy)

But it has been hard work scaling up the business. Last year, the two launched a Kickstarter campaign to create 22 original recipes, produce a recipe book featuring those cocktails (designed with tarot-themed visuals), and pay eight people to work on the product. They targeted their month-long campaign to their personal network and turned to cultural figures they knew to be non-drinkers for help promoting it. They raised $40,256 from 553 backers, surpassing their $36,800 goal. When it was almost over, Williams tweeted that she “wasn’t sure” how tired she was, until someone pointed out to her, “You are literally summoning nearly $40,000 from thin air. That is some amazing magic.” Then they went to work filling holiday drink orders and developing a 2020 action plan.

One hundred years after prohibition banned the sale of alcohol in the US (giving rise to illegal speakeasies, bootlegging, and perhaps the Jazz Age), the Temperance duo is jazzed to create new products for a new age fuelled by choice. Says Gnanaratna: “Maybe [our customers] just want to drink less, or not that day, or they’re finished drinking for the night. Or, [like] at one of our recent events, people were kind of staggering back and forth between us and the wine bar because they wanted to pace themselves.”

Williams says they want to make drinks that stand out for their own qualities. “We don’t want to talk about alcohol or not-alcohol all the time. It’s kind of like the men’s rights movement,” she jokes, “where they say they want to help men but, somehow, they’re always talking about women. I don’t want the focus to be on what’s not in the drinks, but on them being their own lovely thing.”

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This article was generously sponsored by Startup Toronto!

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Body, Mind & Pleasure Our Voices

She Scores!

Kristi Herold . Founder and CEO, Toronto Sport & Social Club

During a recent Sunday evening at a school gym in Toronto, the Ninja Monkeys, a co-ed floor hockey team comprised of five women and seven men who have played together for nearly a decade, nailed their competition to the wall. Then they headed to a nearby bar to celebrate their 13–9 win with a round of drinks.

Team captain Tammy Symes, a 39-year-old recreational athlete, loves to play sports so much she signs up for two softball teams and two floor hockey teams each year, sometimes adding in ultimate frisbee or soccer for an extra dose of fun. “I’ve made so many friends, it’s unbelievable,” said Symes. She also gets to flex her leadership skills, serving as captain for most of the teams she plays on.

Supporting all that healthy fun and personal growth is a unique business model. Kristi Herold founded the Toronto Sport & Social Club in 1996. She had competed on rowing and ski teams at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., but when she graduated and moved to Toronto, she fell into an accessibility gap in recreational sports—especially for women.

“I thought maybe I could play soccer. But at the time, the only soccer I could find for women was highly competitive,” said Herold during a recent interview at the company’s Toronto office. “I couldn’t play at that level.” Yet she also couldn’t imagine her post-university life without sports. “If you go and play after work, you’re going home happier, you get a little sweaty, you’ve had some laughs on the field. You’re going to be less stressed, and your health is going to be better.”

Herold, who ran two small businesses while completing her commerce degree, seized on the gap in recreational sport for adults as an opportunity to launch her own company. “I realized I had to go out and do something on my own,” said Herold, who sports an athletic build, wild curls, and a ready smile. “I’d heard about these clubs in the US and I thought, well, I’ll give it a try.”

That was back in the analogue days, so Herold called up friends and friends of friends to see if they might be interested in playing on a co-ed sports team in a downtown location. She explained her idea as “intramurals for people who aren’t in university anymore.” By targeting recent graduates who faced the same lack of sporting options she encountered, Herold managed to sign up 52 co-ed teams that first season to play soccer, ultimate frisbee, flag football, basketball, and beach volleyball.

She charged $350 per team for the season, signed Spalding and Wilson as equipment sponsors, and launched a sporting enterprise that, 23 years later, has 130,000 annual participants playing about 30 sports. It employs some 50 full-time and 250 part-time staff, has expanded to eight Canadian cities, and can boast of being one of the largest sports and social clubs in North America.

Even in her first year running the future sports empire, Herold knew she was on to a good thing. “I was out at games every night…and showing up at sponsor bars afterward to make sure everyone had a good time.”

The concept is relatively simple. Players pay to play for a season that runs about 12 weeks. They can join either as an individual or a group can sign up as a team. Sport & Social Club handles all the organizing: matching individuals with a team, providing equipment, setting rules, creating a schedule, renting venues, tracking standings, and arranging social gatherings.

There are single-sex, co-ed and open leagues. The goal is to make it welcoming to anyone, regardless of skill or experience, with an emphasis on fun and making friends. On co-ed teams, there must be a minimum number of both men and women in play at all times. As Symes said, “If you join, you get played, and you have a good time.”

Said Herold: “I wanted to show it was possible to start something that everyone can play.”

When her business proved to have legs that first year, she formed a 50/50 partnership with her boyfriend, Rolston Miller. He had recently retired as a semi-pro cyclist and was looking for flexible work. As the company had no money for stamps, his first task was to deliver printed flyers that promoted seasonal registration. He did that, of course, by bike.

The two married later that year. Miller focused on building a digital platform for the company that would eventually become the foundation for internal and external communications. Herold led the business as CEO. “We were really hustling,” said Herold. “We grew by word of mouth, didn’t spend much on marketing.”

One of the club’s earliest hires was Rob Davies, an operations whiz. In 2007, Herold and Miller invited Davies to buy into the company, which is now run by the three partners, with Herold as CEO, Davies as president, and Miller as director of marketing.

Meanwhile, on the home front, Herold and Miller were struggling to manage a growing family with three young children. They found ways to distribute the workload at home according to practicality, rather than gender expectations. Still, Herold often felt overwhelmed. She’d grown up in Sudbury; her father was an entrepreneur and her mother stayed at home. “I grew up wanting to be both of them, which was challenging,” said Herold. “I felt I was failing, both as an entrepreneur and a parent.”

That crisis led Herold to take bold action. In 2005, she decided to step away from the business for 16 weeks of the year. She did that for several years. It wasn’t easy, but it seemed possible, Herold said, because of her innate leadership style, which she described as “bottom up.”

“I like to think of me as the base of a tree. I’m here to support. I say, tell me what I can do so you can go and do your work. It’s not me, standing on top, talking down.”

She and Miller divorced in 2012 but they’ve maintained their business relationship.

Now, after a decade of focusing on family while Herold placed the business in a slow-growth mode, she’s back in her CEO chair full-time. And she has a new goal of getting one million people off the couch, which means leading the company into an era of ambitious expansion.

Over the past two years, Sport & Social Group has expanded into new markets by buying up clubs that were already operating in Ontario and Michigan. Leaning on the parent company’s infrastructure and its custom digital platform, the newly acquired clubs can sign up and retain more members than they had previously. More acquisitions are in the works.

In the #MeToo era, ambitious growth in the sport industry comes with a responsibility to create a safe place for women. Herold aims to create gender balance—in the workplace and at play. Currently, about 40 percent of the club’s staff is female. And about 45 percent of its membership is female. Herold celebrates those stats in the male-dominated sporting industry.

So far, the company has not faced harassment issues, but Herold wanted to be ahead of the issue and hired an old friend from Queen’s University, Bay Ryley, to deliver online training for employees, teaching them how to identify and report harassment.

Sport & Social Group’s also developed gender policies that are trans-inclusive. Such measures are particularly important in co-ed sport, with teams required to have a minimum number of both genders in play at all times. For example, on the soccer field, two of six players must be women and two must be men. The other two can be any gender.

To register in single-sex or co-ed leagues, players can self-identify as either male or female at registration. Those who don’t identify a gender when they register are welcome to play, though their teams may not count them as either men or women to meet gender requirements. In open leagues, there are no gender requirements.

Within Herold’s expansion plans is a mission to improve access to sport for children. The company has started a foundation called Keep Playing Kids and aims to connect adult mentors—including Sport & Social members—with kids who need sport support. “We know that if you play when you’re younger, you develop a love for it, and you’re more likely to play as an adult,” says Herold. “We want everyone to keep playing.”

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This post was made possible due to the generosity of Startup Toronto.

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