I am Sorry.

My Facebook profile picture, June 11th, 2008Last Wednesday the Canadian government finally issued an official apology for the injustice of the residential schools forced upon Canada’s Aboriginal people.

This apology was long overdue. The residential school system was meant to ‘assimilate’ Canadian aboriginal people into white culture. They were taken from their parents and left at the mercy of the churches who ran these programs. It’s one of the many injustices Canada has perpetrated against aboriginal people in this country – redressing these injustices is probably the most important social justice in Canada right now.

The apology was the lead news story even before it happened on Wednesday afternoon, and it was going to be a big event. This was a perfect “High Enthusiasm/Information Ratio” moment, a time when Canadians would be paying attention to this important issue and looking for some way to contribute to change. Our campaign has, in the past, worked with the Assembly of First Nations to support their ‘Make Poverty History for First Nations’ campaign, which seeks to close the gap in living standards between First Nations and the rest of Canada.

I spent Wednesday putting together a few quick pages on the Make Poverty History site, creating an online action and starting a Facebook group. The basic ask was simple:

Join in the apology to Canada’s First Nations people for the injustices of the residential schools program. It’s simple: change your Facebook status to ‘Sorry’ and your profile picture to black.

For more info visit:
http://www.makepovertyhistory/sorry

Now I don’t believe that saying ‘Sorry’ on Facebook is going to solve things, any more than issuing an official apology solves the problem. But both are an opportunity to engage Canadians in this important issue, and are opportunities to build towards a push for real action to redress these wrongs.

I like this action for two reasons:

1) it was simple to participate, and allowed for increasing levels of engagement, from a simple show of solidarity to contacting the government to push for change (and signing on to an email list for further work on the issue)

2) It allowed people to spread the message easily and effectively: many people told me how they had to explain to their friends why they were ‘sorry’ and this led to the spread of the message.

The results were reasonable, though hard to quantify accurately. John Stahl from ONE Northwest asked about tracking results – a good question. It’s almost impossible to tell how many people actually changed their Facebook status, and I do know it was far more than the number that joined the Facebook group (~2000 by Monday). And more people joined the Facebook group than sent a message to the Prime Minister and their Member of Parliament, asking them to support Bill C-292 which would go a long way towards closing the gap in living standards between First Nations and the rest of Canada – that action sent ~700 messages as of Monday.

If I could change one thing, it would be to start a day earlier. Our entire campaign crew was working on a launch event for another push the days before – I only decided to move ahead with the action on Wednesday morning. As it was, I couldn’t get a media person to represent the campaign (or a release sent) until too late in the day on Wednesday. I think that to go truly viral the campaign would have needed some media mentions. And to be honest, the content could have used some polishing (or at least proofreading from someone other than the person who wrote it!)

The next step is to work with the Assembly of First Nations to engage and build this list to work on First Nations issues. This is a start, not the end of the online work!

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Posted in Online advocacy, The work I do

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