Can you describe what impact, if any, COVID-19 has had on you or on other girls you know?
Since summer started it’s been very lonely, my friends have always been an important part of my life. Most of the best memories I could make were during summer break, but since COVID it’s been difficult not being able to hangout with friends as well as meet new people. I like to think of myself as an outgoing person that loves to try new things, but as COVID-19 has been going around it has been hard to be that same person. I know others feel the same way because the things you can do are very limited.
A couple weeks ago my friend didn't feel safe at her own home. She didn't really have anywhere to go because of the self-isolation protocols and everything being closed down, and she slept in the woods one night with one other girl. She ended up coming over to my house to stay the night. I know there are a lot of other girls in that same situation. It’s just heartbreaking to see so many girls out there without any safe place to go, especially during COVID because you can't really open up your home to someone new. There’s also nowhere that I would know to go, neither would other kids. Kids that used to go to school, youth centers and community centers as a safe place are now sleeping on benches outside. You can’t get the help you need.
We understand that the COVID-19 crisis can be affecting some people more than others. Have you or other young women you know observed or experienced challenges during COVID-19 because of being Indigenous?
A lot of people on reserves have been getting into bad things because they have nothing else to do, but I know a lot of Indigenous people that don’t do that stuff. Lots of us go for runs and are trying to be more healthy and close to the environment. A couple weeks ago I went for a walk and I got catcalled and it was just horrible. Just being that scared on a reserve to even just go outside, you shouldn’t live that way. No girl should be scared of walking out of their house and trying to go for a run, especially when it's the only thing you can really do.
There have been a lot of girls on my reserve that have come to my door and have asked to spend the night, or “hey can you lend me some stuff because I got kicked out.” It’s horrible, and it’s heartbreaking that so many of my childhood friends have had to come to my door because they got kicked out or there’s problems at home. We all had high dreams for ourselves, especially when we were younger. We used to talk about our futures all the time. Residential school didn’t stop that long ago...only 1 or 2 generations ago. It’s awful how Indigenous people are perceived by the world, we’re seen as failures and threats. It’s not our fault that we’re perceived that way, it’s how much trauma we’ve been through. We (Indigenous people) are not the ones who put ourselves through the trauma. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t go through residential school, the trauma gets passed down because if something affects one person it’ll affect that person and everyone around them. Indigenous girls experience so many things that you shouldn't experience, at all. They already have to deal with all the things I’ve already talked about... and on top of that - intergenerational trauma.
How has going to school changed for you?
School has been quite difficult, many schools have been shut down including mine. The schools have changed into teaching through online schooling. Being as my online school finished a while ago, from my experience it was hard. It was also difficult having to learn about how to work different online apps. There isn’t as much support from online schooling compared to real school from your teachers. You need to motivate yourself more to get up on your own time and finish your homework before the due date as well as not having teachers there for you when you need to ask questions. I’m lucky that I have an older sister who’s finished school to help me. If she wasn’t there then who would I go to? I don’t have anyone else to go to, and I know so many girls out there that don’t have an older sister or someone to help them. A lot of parents on our reserve haven’t graduated, and if you know your parents haven’t graduated what help can you get? Especially during online schooling, because if they didn’t care about school that much then that image will be put in your head and that’s what you will think, “why should I care about school if my parents didn’t?” It’s because of residential schools that their parents are scared of school, and no one should be scared of school. Education is a right, and should be an accomplishment, not a fear.
Are you realistically able to practice proper social distancing and other precautions where you’re housed? Are there any restrictions on you in order to maintain adequate distancing?
I can, because there’s barriers and blockades up around the reserve so only certain people are allowed on to the reserve.
What do you think needs to happen to improve your (and other girls and young women’s) ability to succeed and cope with COVID-19?
There should be at least some support, especially for young girls. Lots of girls I know don’t think about their futures, and they just want to become famous, like the people they see on social media. Getting a house and job and finishing school, now that’s an accomplishment, but there’s little support for girls to do that. I was thinking about getting my first job this year, because I’m turning 15. I should be thinking about jobs but I know that I won’t get that experience till I’m older because of COVID. I don’t know what kind of job I can get either, because I never see Indigenous kids working minimum wage jobs, (like at the grocery store or something). Like, I don’t know where we (Indigenous girls) would go to get jobs. It’s challenging, and I would say it’s definitely easier for a white girl to get hired than an Indigenous girl if you don’t have any work experience. People are more likely to take a chance on a white girl than an Indigenous girl because the stereotypes about us (Indigenous people). Lots of people think that we’re failures, alcoholics, lazy, and ‘they just want this job to get alcohol and drugs with.’ But, no, I don’t want that. I want to get a job so I can get experience, so I can have a better future. But what’s really terrifying is that if I don’t get a job then that’s who I will become because I didn’t get the experience that I needed. Then when I can’t get a job, I'll end up ‘lazy’ on unemployment and it’s not our fault. It’s people with more power, which are usually white, and racism against Indigenous people.
Have you noticed any particular social media trends regarding young women and girls since COVID-19?
I’ve seen lots of people not taking it (COVID-19) seriously, and also lots of Black Lives Matter posts. Everyone is on social media even more than usual, because your devices are just right there. There’s a lot more challenges being out, some of them are good some of them are bad, but most of them are bad. I’ve seen a lot of fitness challenges geared toward girls. A lot of girls are looking at these ‘creators/influencers’ that make new videos, they are the ones who start new trends and challenges. The image that people are putting out on social media is just horrible how they're like “you need to be skinny, you need to eat this, this and this, you need to look good for guys, you need to look more like her, her and her.” There’s a challenge going around where you basically just compare yourself to the famous, white, thin influencers. There’s more videos like that than there are supporting girls. Whenever I’m choosing a filter for a post, it impacts me too, because I always try and go for the lighter shades to make it seem like I’m actually lighter than I am. I know I shouldn’t feel that way but it’s the image that is constantly being shown to me, you need to be whiter. It’s like you have to be white to be famous. I don’t see myself represented.
For example, there’s no Indigenous people that play (soccer) for team Canada. My dream is to be the first Indigenous woman to play for Canada because the image that young Indigenous women are ‘supposed’ to be is a homeless person on the street. I don’t want to become that, or accept that future for myself. In reality we should push ourselves to become something more and the best versions of ourselves that we could be. So, I want to become a professional soccer player not just because I love playing soccer but because I want to inspire other young Indigenous women to pursue their dreams.
Is there anything you would like your government or community leaders to know?
Cut it with racism. Knowing how the Prime Minister takes so much of Indigenous things for granted is just painful for me and my community. Growing up on a reserve means I don’t get the same rights and treatment as other Canadians, even as a kid. I can’t even go out onto the street without being judged and looked at because of the stereotypes about Indigenous people. We’re not given any good attention, so the world only sees us as bad. But they aren’t educated about what land they’re on, who they talk about and why they talk about us like that. Our (Indigenous peoples') past and present is horrible, a real leader would teach people about Indigenous rights, what land we’re on and how this land was taken. Knowing that someone with that much power doesn’t think about other people - and the First peoples, just shows how he’s selfish and how he takes it for granted.
He’s like everyone and he’s no better than any other white man in Canada. Just because he has power he thinks that he’s better than everyone else, but he’s not. He's at the same level as any racist white man. He spreads lies around Canada saying he’s going to do things and make changes, but they’re empty promises. We shouldn’t be supporting that man when what he’s saying is not true. Stopping our peaceful protests for our land and saying that we’re in the wrong. I want him to explain how we are in the wrong. I want him to explain why we don’t deserve rights as Indigenous people and why he has the right to take and destroy our land. I want him to have one of those press conferences or whatever and I want him to stand in front of all the young Indigenous women and tell us why we don’t have rights and why we can’t speak up and why the world sees us so negatively. I want him to be in a room full of Indigenous people and see our lives and see how we live, to see how much pain we live with that he doesn’t even realize. He ignores our struggles, including murder of our people. That’s a huge sign that we need help! The people who have power - we need their help. He (Justin Trudeau) has power, he needs to help us! He’s the one who ‘controls’ us. He has the power to do that and he chooses not to. I want to genuinely see his reaction when he sees a reserve and see what conditions children are living in right under his nose. It’s like he can’t even see it, or worse, he’s choosing not to! He turned his back on us (reconciliation), and said he dealt with it, but he didn’t.
If he was sitting here right now I would ask him: What are you going to say to me? Why don’t I have the same rights as white people? Why am I scared to walk out into the world by myself without getting told that I’m going to steal or that I’m a threat to white people? Why do they see me that way? Or why am I afraid of being killed on my own land? Why don’t I have the same things as your kids that are white and privileged? Why am I less than, even though we’re the same, except we're a different shade of colour. Why does that give them a right to have a better life than me?
What does that show you as an Indigenous girl?
It shows me that people in power are scary. We shouldn’t feel scared about who takes care of our country. We should be able to trust them, and I personally don’t trust him with anything. If I could vote, I would not vote for him. I would vote for someone who speaks up for everyone’s rights, not just white people.
What are your recommendations?
Educate our leaders and they should be educating our country. There’s also not enough Indigenous women in positions of power and as role models and we need to encourage that. There should be more like Jody Wilson-Raybould, she stands for what she believes in. We need to change the whole system.
We also need a shelter for Indigenous girls, with other Indigenous women to support them. Indigenous young women really need support right now and they’re not getting it. I feel like there should be a place that we could at least go for support and safety.
What is your opinion on the positive environmental effects of COVID-19?
There are a lot of really good environment impacts because of COVID. It's pretty amazing how just a couple of weeks or even months can change the climate. In some heavily polluted cities people can finally breathe some fresh air, fish are coming back in certain areas around the world, orcas are swimming closer to Vancouver and the waters are clearer.
For my generation it's not fair to us that adults are now taking for granted so many things when they don’t see how much impact humans have on the environment. Even if they do recognize it they still don’t care about it because they’re leaving it up to the youth to have to figure out how we change this. There's going to be sea level rise, weather changes in the world, and so many more floods, especially in Vancouver. Richmond is supposed to be flooded completely and so is our reserve, and it's going to be the same with so many other reserves. Indigenous people are just pushed into one area (reserves) and once that area is destroyed what are we supposed to do? Where are we supposed to go? The government won’t give us another place to live even though it’s our land and we should be able to live wherever we want. I have that weighing on me; having to know that when I’m older, the area I grew up in might be flooded. I’ll have to move and find a new place to live. I don’t want to be carrying that with me and no one should be thinking about that stuff at such a young age but now that this is happening I think that we should step back on how much fossil fuels and oil we use, and just to know when enough is enough. I don’t think we should go back to before the coronavirus. I think we should go back to before colonization, to before we got to this point.
What impacts have COVID-19 had on your life or on other girls you know?
Since COVID-19 ‘officially’ hit in B.C., everything in my day-to-day life changed. I left my home in East Van at the beginning of the shut-down, as one of my roommates had been in contact with someone who tested positive for the virus. Fortunately, I was able to stay with my mother in her 1 bedroom apartment for the majority of the shut-down -- not all young women in Vancouver have this option. Although I have safe places to shelter, due to the number of people in those spaces, it has been virtually impossible to social distance. I have also been on the look-out for a place of my own, and just about every place within my budget has been far out of the city, in an inaccessible area, or has been a scam. The pre-existing housing crisis in Vancouver has been exacerbated in this pandemic.
I am concerned knowing that during the COVID-19 shut down, access to healthcare and reproductive health has been seriously limited. When I was a teenager, I was already very reluctant and distrusting when accessing health resources. I can only imagine how barriers to accessing health care for girls have grown exponentially. I know that many girls have been forced to quarantine with their boyfriends/partners and fear an unwanted pregnancy. Without access to reproductive and sexual health, I fear that teen pregnancy, the spread of STDs and increased sexual assaults are yet another effect of this epidemic.
How has going to school changed for you? What challenges have distance learning presented?
I had to finish my college semester online, including my final papers, group project and exams. I went from attending lectures and having access to the Langara library/campus daily to working completely from my mom’s couch. I was considering taking some summer courses, but learning strictly online is not the most compatible way for me. I learn best when the curriculum is taught a variety of different ways, and I benefit most from stimulating discussions in lectures/groups. I was able to pass the semester, and thankfully all my professors were very understanding, but it was with great difficulty. Distance learning has made it difficult for me to stay engaged, to focus, to manage my time and I feel like I am missing out on the discussions and lectures. The lack of separation between work, school, and home makes it extremely difficult for me to be productive. It looks like my classes will continue to remain online in the fall, which is another challenge I’m going to have to deal with.
Many other girls and young women also lack adequate access to technology and this has posed many educational challenges during this time. One young woman in my group project didn’t have a functional laptop, making it almost impossible for her to work on the assignment. I have heard other young women express how difficult it is to ensure everyone in their home has access to the internet to do their school work.
What is your opinion on the environmental effects of COVID-19?
With the world seemingly on ‘pause,’ the planet has been given a chance to breathe. It shows us what is really important in life: shelter, food, clean water, human connection. I feel as though the world should never return back to “normal.” This is a key moment in history; as businesses and public spaces reopen, we must reconsider the way we live. The positive impacts on the environment have been astonishing, and only confirm and validate the science about climate change. We have been given a glimpse at what a less polluted world can be. We need to recreate our society in a way that drastically reduces emissions, and rebuild a world that is much more sustainable. Global climate change is a threat to the survival of children, cultures and future generations. Climate change is an urgent human rights matter that disproportionately impacts girls – especially Indigenous girls and girls in the global south and Arctic regions – threatening their rights to life, security, health and numerous other social, economic, and cultural rights.
Unfortunately, in B.C., they have ignored the calls to halt all construction of the pipeline. They have continued with construction, filling the ‘man-camps’ with workers from out of the area, literally threatening to bring the virus to isolated first nations communities, (similar to when colonizers brought smallpox with them). It is extremely upsetting, but not surprising, to know that our governments value profit over human lives, and the future of the entire planet. As we move forward, we must look to Indigenous leaders, as well as young women leaders, who have been on the front lines of the environmental movement. We must put the needs of people and the environment before profit. We must consume less and live simpler lives if we want a future as a species on Earth.
Have you noticed any particular social media trends regarding young women and girls since COVID-19?
One that has really stood out to me is the pressure to remain extremely productive and take ‘advantage’ of this global epidemic. The reality is, most people aren’t in a privileged enough position to be able to be extremely productive, and they’re actually at a huge disadvantage during this time. One particular trend is for girls to get a ‘quarantine body,’ or get ‘fit’. Personally, I already feel immense pressure to look a certain way as a young woman. Everyday on social media I am bombarded with fitness challenges, before and after photos, ads for plastic surgery, gym clothes and accessories, crazy diets and cleanses, diet pills and supplements and most importantly, heavily retouched, photoshopped images of women. Due to less activity, added stress and sometimes just boredom of being quarantined, many, like myself, have gained some weight since COVID-19. This is a completely normal and perfectly fine symptom of living in the highly stressful, unique time of COVID-19. I find myself harshly criticizing and comparing my body, feeling like I have wasted this time or feeling poorly because I’m not being my usual productive self. This trend was already dangerous for girls, but like everything else, is worsened due to this epidemic. It is no surprise many people’s mental health is in a precarious state at the moment, especially teenage girls living in poverty, in government care or experiencing violence.
How has your overall stress level been since COVID-19? How are you coping?
My stress level has increased since covid-19. I have definitely found it difficult to not lean on unhealthy coping mechanisms; such as overeating, oversleeping, excessive drinking and smoking. I am generally a very busy, active and social person with school and work, so I have been restless for the last three months. Going on long walks alone in nature has been a life saver, and I’ve been working since the shut-down, which I am grateful for. Working (even though it’s not the same remotely) gives me a purpose and a reason to wake up every morning and continue to look forward, look for hope and fight for equality.
Is there anything you would like your government or community leaders to know?
Girl specific supports and resources must be made available. There is a serious lack of girl-only emergency housing in the entire province. It is heartbreaking to receive a call from a teenage girl and have nowhere safe to send them. With increased violence, and girls being the most vulnerable to violence, we need sexual assault services tailored to their specific needs (which also don’t exist in Vancouver). Housing and safety are inextricably linked, the right to adequate housing and freedom from violence are human rights (that Canada supposedly upholds).