YEG Global Dignity Day is celebrated with artists who spark dialogue
In response to the mayor’s task force on poverty in 2014 to 2016, a group of Edmonton youth has come together at the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights to brainstorm how to minimize poverty in the city.
The result, three years ago, was YEG Dignity Day, a part of the globally recognized Dignity Day that falls on the third Sunday of every October. By addressing the dignity of marginalized and stigmatized populations in the city, Dignity Day, which is a part of a greater EndPovertyEdmonton task force, also addresses the subsequent poverty that these groups often experience.
Executive director of EndPovertyEdmonton Andrea Burkhart notes that poverty isn’t only about economics.
“It’s a human rights issue,” she says. “Poverty robs people of the right to live in dignity.”
Since the first event three years ago, YEG Dignity Day responds to conversations and issues that are active in the community.
“This year we decided to focus on the dignity and voices of those within institutions,” says Maigan Van der Giessen with the John Humphrey Centre. “Whether the prison system, long-term care facility, child welfare or other institutionalized experiences.”
Dignity Day incorporates art as a way of bridging the gaps between people. The event uses artists, storytellers, performances, advocacy learning circles, and a film with panel discussion to challenge assumptions, sparking open discourse around important issues concerning dignity.
Indigenous artist, Day One, plans to use his live art to start a dialogue and spoken word poet Brandon Wint will perform his poems centreing around self-respect and personal agency.
“Dignity in the social sense to me means creating space for people to live in a way that’s expressive of their ideal vision of themselves in their lives,” Wint says. “That is how we accord one another with dignity.”
Both Wint and Day One have experienced moments in their lives when their own dignity was taken from them, which is why both of their art forms often revolve around the topic.
“There is a stereotype that exists that says that, ‘blackness and maleness can’t co-exist in a body and a consciousness that is also eloquent and thoughtful,’” Wint says. “Nobody expects the black poet to show up.”
“Disability generally is viewed with a lens of dereliction,” he adds. “If you’re a disabled person, you shouldn’t want to embody a life force that is as full and as passionate and as sexual and as full of agency as other people.”
In spite of this, he’s used his words to admit himself agency in the world. Similarly, Day One uses his art to express a message of indigenous dignity.
“Being aboriginal, my dignity has been attacked on more than one occasion,” he says. “Random people out in society figure it’s okay to tell a native to go back to the res, or treat me badly because of the colour of my skin without bothering to say hello, or get to know me.”
Some of the populations most significantly affected by a lack of dignity include children that may very well look up to someone like Day One. The proportion of indigenous youth in foster care is alarmingly high and as a result these children end up fighting to break free of a system that has the potential to hold them for their lifetimes.
In the same way, those that live in institutions and long-term care with disabilities or old age are constantly confronted with the realities they face concerning their rights and own personal merit.
“Individuals and communities impacted by these systems are often underrepresented in our conversations and public spaces, and it is vital that we make room for these important perspectives and stories,” Van der Giessen says.
“I can’t live a dignified life if I’m not aware of how my dignity, how my life, how my choices interact with the dignity and choices of others,” Wint says. “I think that relationship is inherent to being alive.”
Wed., Oct. 18 (1 pm – 8 pm)
YEG Global Dignity Day Boyle St. Plaza