This Indigenous Father-Daughter Duo Seek To End Violence Against Women And Children, One Moose Hide Pin At A Time
TalentNomics Founder & CEO Neeti Banerjee and Program Analysts Aria Pahari and Nandini Singh sat down with father-daughter duo, Paul and Raven Lacerte, to gain deeper insights about their motivations and approach to the Moose Hide Campaign. They founded the campaign in August 2011 after hunting for moose along Highway 16—a section of land that runs through British Columbia, where dozens of indigenous Canadian women and girls have disappeared. Here, Paul and Raven honed in on the intersection between the violence, women and children endure and the role of moose hide in indigenous culture. The Moose Hide Campaign distributes pins made of moose hide to spark discussions about violence against women and children. Since 2011, the campaign has grown exponentially, to reach 750,000 Canadians across all walks of life. We spoke with Paul and Raven about its impact and what it means to “walk the talk” in their leadership context.
TalentNomics: How do you feel about being selected for the 2017 TalentNomics GameChanger Award for “Walking the Talk”? What does it mean to you?
Paul: It’s interesting because one of the phrases Raven and I use is, “Some people talk, and some people walk.” We think of ourselves as walkers, and we try to align ourselves with walkers. The main purpose of the Moose Hide Campaign is to bring the issue of violence against women and children out of the shadows by talking about it, and by mobilizing conversations that form a new narrative. People often ask, “What can we do?” and our answer is that we can start by using our words, because words contain incredible power. What “walking the talk” personally means to us is that we are both on a healing journey. We are both indigenous to Canada, and we are intergenerational residential school survivors. When we say “walking the talk”, we also mean that we are not exempting ourselves from the healing process. We are actively participating in our own healing journey.
TalentNomics: How do the roles and the titles of “father” and “daughter” inform your leadership and advocacy?
Raven: It’s been incredible as the daughter in this relationship to watch my dad’s leadership and soak in as much as I can of what he has to offer. Now that we lead together, it is special to share that relationship with everyone else. Not many fathers and daughters have a healthy relationship in indigenous populations, especially given the residential school experience, where kids were separated from their parents. It’s a real privilege to be close with my father, and it has been incredible to share what a healthy father-daughter relationship could look like and to be role models and leaders in that context.
Paul: My big motivation for launching the Moose Hide Campaign is that I don’t want any kind of harm for Raven or any of our daughters. What often informs my leadership is that I’m a dad first and foremost, trying to protect my own daughter. I don’t mean to say that I care less about supporting men in our society to change, but I always try to create conditions in which our daughters are safe, as much as possible. Acting as a dad makes me feel like I have to be a bit fearless, open myself up, and share deeply personal things, to connect with many people, in the deepest way possible.
TalentNomics: That probably helps build trust, because you open yourself up and share about how you feel. When you share at a personal level, do others respond at a deeper level as well?
Paul: Absolutely. As we connect with other people, I think that there is a depth of meaning that we find, like a connection or a kinship. It involves, for example, me taking risks to make disclosures about my own failings. Part of our path toward healing and change is to hold ourselves accountable and to be honest about the fact that not a single one of us is perfect. I share areas where I have fallen down, and try to model that accountability and honesty. It leads to trust, and it leads to other men feeling a bit more safe to be able to say, “Here are the things that I’m struggling with in the dark recesses of my psyche that causes me to behave in unacceptable ways.”
TalentNomics: How important is it for survivors of violence and abuse to share their stories with others? What characteristics and abilities are necessary to facilitate these conversations?
Paul: One of our objectives to create a kind and gentle invitation for survivors of violence and abuse to share, disclose, and talk. A key systemic change we are trying to affect, is to create more safety for survivors to talk, but obviously we never obligate them [to share] in any way. Our experience is that when you feel safe and you are able to share your story, it has a healing effect, and it breaks down social isolation. In terms of the characteristics and abilities that are necessary to facilitate conversations, there are certain circumstances where clinical supports and trained counselors are important. If you want to take people deep into a place of disclosures and trauma, you want to have the proper supports there. But this is a society-wide problem for which we don’t have anywhere remotely close to enough clinical support to handle all of the conversations that need to happen. Raven and I trust good-hearted human beings to increase the number of conversations. We are building some training that helps cultivate compassionate listening skills without taking on vicarious trauma. We just have to trust our neighbors and the spirit of community, and count on the idea that in many ways, people know how to be with and help each other.
Raven: Just to add to that, men come forward in small men’s circles we have at Moose Hide Campaign events and talk about the violence and abuse that has happened to them. In the circle, we pass around a sacred object while men share about what violence means to them. Often that comes with disclosures or talks about different things that have happened to them growing up. We often say that “Hurt people hurt,” and we want to create space for them as well to come and heal on their journey.
TalentNomics: Have you all facilitated any conversations about toxic masculinity with the men that you work with? How has this contributed to the healing process?
Paul: Yes. It’s interesting because we’re in an emerging space of understanding healthy masculinity, and [recognizing that] there’s no one definition of that. Many of our conversations are about toxic masculinity and exploring what that means for different folks. Our narrative is about kindness and love, vulnerability, healing, and how that’s as much of an expression of masculinity as protecting your family against intruders.
TalentNomics: How does the Moose Hide Campaign seek to redefine the concept of a “warrior”?
Raven: For us, the term “warrior” is about a protector and provider, and not someone to be afraid of or who exerts power over anyone. One of the things that we are doing is trying to reach young boys and have them internalize this message. We started a program called “Ten Men”, in which ten boys from a high school volunteer for a big event we throw at their school. They fast for the day, and we refer to them as “men” to give them a sense of responsibility and ownership toward the goal of ending violence against women and children. We try to bring out that “healthy warrior” spirit in men.
TalentNomics: What role does institutional or systemic racism play in facilitating or preventing women from sharing their experiences and, subsequently, creating behavioral change?
Paul: In this patriarchal and paternalistic world, we’ve gendered the superiority of men over women, all the way up to what we consider to be the spiritual or ancestral world. Institutional and systemic racism and gender bias is something we have been grappling with fairly significantly as it relates to indigenous populations. Institutional and systemic racism is a profound and central challenge that has given rise to violence against women—that has perpetuated it, that’s made it permissive. This has certainly created a hierarchy between the indigenous and non-indigenous, and certainly women of color. That dehumanization and hierarchical relationship of looking down on women of color, new Canadians, and indigenous women is much of what emboldens men—particularly white men—to perpetuate a “class” approach or a superiority complex that keeps women, especially women of color and indigenous women, in vulnerable positions. It’s one of the reasons that our engagement efforts heavily target elected officials. We have a truth and reconciliation theory of change. Describing the inequities, the cost of racism, and by naming racism—that’s an important first step for our work in effecting change inside institutions and systems.
TalentNomics: What has been the most noticeable change you have seen in the behavior of men and women since the creation of the Moose Hide Campaign?
Raven: The part I love most is when people bring the Moose Hide Campaign to their communities and own it. I was out for dinner one night during my travels, wearing my moose hide pin. A young, indigenous woman came up to me and said, “Oh my goodness, that’s the Moose Hide Campaign! That’s about ending violence against women and children! I know the woman who started that campaign and brought it up to the Northwest Territories. Our community is so proud of her.” I did not say anything about who I was. The moment was just about that specific community having their own Moose Hide Campaign founder who brought positive change to the community. It was magical for me to see that happen and know there is somebody out there who feels that ownership and leadership.
TalentNomics: Has the campaign measured any outcomes in terms of reduction in violence against women and children in Canada, at any level?
Raven: We haven’t done it yet. We measure where the Moose Hide packages go, and how many packages are being sent out. We then try to get information on what the communities have been doing with them. It is hard to measure impact, especially on an indigenous, First Nations-focused level. It has also been a challenge to figure out what success looks like, or how we might measure success. It is one of the learnings that we are going through right now.
TalentNomics: In hindsight, what is the best advice you received when you were about to launch the Moose Hide Campaign? Did you talk about it in your community, or with people you think highly of?
Raven: We recognized there was a gap in this space, and in terms of problem-solving, we had to figure out what it was that we could do. Leading up to it, there were lots of people we talked to. There was lots of support from our family and our community.
TalentNomics: What are the unexpected learnings you have had during the last 5 years that have caused you to modify your strategy or approach?
Raven: Yeah, we’ve learned a lot along the way—especially me, being 16 when I first started! One of the learnings for me has been trying not to step on the toes of the women’s organizations who have been in this space for a long time. There are women and organizations in this space who have been working to support women who have experienced abuse. We try to encourage men to engage, but we understand that sometimes the women’s organizations feel that men should not be in these spaces. We want to navigate and honor everyone’s experiences by creating a space of love and healing, and by not blaming or shaming anyone. We need the men to join us and to take that stand to continue on their healing journey through prevention work.
Paul: There are a few real, very powerful underlying principles that we’ve also been learning about, especially regarding how to foster and invite men into this space without reinforcing harmful modalities of masculinity. Another would be struggling with the question of—and it’s a bit of a role reversal now— what is the role of women in the Moose Hide Campaign? Many women have said to us that they feel excluded from the Campaign. And it says on the card that we’re a movement of men to end violence against women and children, which involves creating personal accountability for men, healing, and advocacy and leadership in joining the struggle collectively. A big part of our learning has been about embracing solidarity and not reinforcing divisions between genders.
TalentNomics: What advice would you share with others who wish to be change agents and bring about social or cultural change?
Raven: As the youth ambassador for the campaign, I reach out to younger populations. I went to school in one of the smaller communities here in British Columbia, and of the women in the school, 25% of them self-harmed, and 4 of the young girls here were pregnant. It’s important for us to understand that there’s a lot of pain in young people, and that they’ve experienced a lot of trauma. Oftentimes, they experience a sense of hopelessness. What I try to do is tell them that change is possible and that there is a better life out there. If they do not like something that is happening in their lives, they can address it and then do their best to move away from it as they get older. I use my own story to reach and connect with them. My mom went to residential school, and we faced a lot of challenges growing up because of her experiences. I just want to show young people that they have the power to change their own lives. I also always encourage people to find a mentor if they can. Someone who they trust, and who can show them different skills.
Paul: I would share our truth and invite others to reflect on whether or not that is a truth for them. This is an inside job—if we’re going to affect a change, the most powerful path forward is to embrace our own healing, as individuals. The strength in a movement can get lost if it’s “other-centered”, which can be seen in the forms of blame and shame.
TalentNomics: How can other change agents, both individuals and organizations, support the goals you strive for and expand the ecosystem you are connecting?
Raven: We always try to encourage people to get pins and wear them. We want people to understand the significance of the moose hide pin as a daily reminder of their commitment to live violence-free lives. We will be bringing pins with us [to New York for the Crucible]. When people wear the pin, it starts a conversation, even with complete strangers. Fasting is also really important. To go without food or water for an entire day is a good time to reflect on one’s commitment to ending violence.
TalentNomics: What are your two big insights about addressing resistance to change? How have you transformed “naysayers” and “disinterested” people into passionate advocates and change agents?
Raven: I wish we were able to transform some of these people a little bit more. Oftentimes, the folks who come forward against our campaign are those who perpetrate violence and hence want to keep things quiet. It is difficult for us to try and engage these people. We come from a place of understanding, but we do not tolerate violence. It is difficult to get such people to change because they are probably entrenched in cycles of violence and haven’t embarked on their healing journey quite yet. We are there for those who are ready for change and want something they can feel connected to. There are definitely people who were perpetrators in the past but have embarked on their healing journey and are now advocates. But there are also some who are not quite ready. Sometimes, some people who come to our events have had a violent past, and we have to try to figure out how to engage them and keep our events safe for all. Sometimes we also have to respectfully turn people away.
Paul: One of the experiences that we’re having now is in that context of resistance to change. Because of what’s happening in the White House and Hollywood right now, there’s an incredible power dynamic, that’s becoming more polarizing and acute regarding misogyny. When faced against that power, it can feel daunting. So, for people who are resistant to change or are deeply entrenched in a belief system about punishment, coercion, and control through physical, emotional, or spiritual violence against women and children in their community, we begin to wonder, “what can we do?” What Raven and I have started to experience as the Moose Hide Campaign has begun to take on some levels of scale, is that, in the face of resistance to change, there is tangible power in our collective voices. It can be, in some way, coercive, when the majority of people stand together and raise their voice, but there’s power in that and that helps create change. We’re primarily experiencing this in institutions. We’re building towards a critical mass of voices and acceptance of certain kinds of behavior. When enough voices get raised, there’s a new narrative, a new paradigm, and a new level of tolerance or intolerance, especially towards misogyny.
TalentNomics: What is a value, principle, or motto that guides you in your journey, and that you embody in your decisions and actions?
Raven: I believe that good lies in everyone, and that healing is possible. I practice “ if we do our best, good things will happen.”
Paul: It’s not really a value or a motto, it’s an imperative, and the imperative is this: the status quo is unacceptable. I may have shared with you and your team that I’m a plane crash survivor. I thought I was going to die, so that led to a period of great trauma in my life and I had developed PTSD. When I came out of this period, and I became whole again, I gained an acute appreciation for how precious life is, how precious every moment is, and how precious every person is. That became a truth for me. My truth is that every single human being is precious. The lie is that people aren’t precious. The lies are the assumptions and the judgments we have about each other. My universal truth is that every moment we’ve been gifted, and every human being that we’ve encountered in this life is precious. So, violence against the most vulnerable people in our society, the people who have the least ability to protect themselves like the women and children in our communities— [this is] profoundly contrary to that preciousness. The starkness of that relationship between those flawed ways of being and this universal truth is what guides me in this work.