Speaking up about racism: Debbie’s story

Debbie Green

Although 2020 has been full of unexpected events – from a global pandemic, to economic instability, to a renewed call and movement for civil rights and equality seen and heard around the world – it has also given us the opportunity to reflect. At Suncor, it’s been a time of transformation and a call for us to come together to be different, be better and do better.

In 2020 we announced our support of the Black Lives Matter movement, and our intention to do better. We take this seriously and as part of our long-term commitment to listen, understand and learn, we had three company-wide conversations about racism and discrimination, and we also heard directly from our employees about their lived experiences.

We are sharing our employees’ stories, and this one features Debbie Green, Indigenous workforce development with our Inclusion and Diversity team. Debbie shares her reflections as an Indigenous woman and her thoughts on how to keep moving forward:

I was asked to participate and share my lived Indigenous experience during an employee call earlier this year. As I prepared, I was also in the midst of being told to take a break and preserve my mental health. Normally, I can do that through my values and beliefs in my Indigenous spirituality and ceremonies; however, it made me pause and think, “Do I really ever get a break?”

Do I truly get to take a break from the colour of my skin, or the systemic, overt and subtle racism that I have faced, and continue to face, in my life? How long have I gone without a break?

So, I took pen to paper and began to write down some of my lived experiences facing racism and discrimination, and developed a piece called Walk a day in my moccasins, which I shared on the call:

I don't get to "take a break." 

I don’t get to “take a break” from the colour of my skin. 

I don’t get to “take a break” from being able to walk in society without overt and subtle racism. 

I don’t get to “take a break” from being targeted as a young girl on a country road that was almost kidnapped by a stranger. 

I don’t get to “take a break” from the police telling me it was my fault a loaded shotgun was waiting for me from an abusive partner at home.

I don’t get to “take a break” from the kids in the schoolyard mocking powwow with cupped hands to their mouth and calling me “squaw.”

I don’t get to “take a break” from being ignored at the check out counter at Shoppers because I am in sweat pants, no makeup and my hair in ponytail, while others are served before me even though I was next in line.

I don’t get to “take a break” from the landlord who asks me if I am Native, and do I have lots of friends over and drink all the time.

I don’t get to “take a break” from non-BIPOC ( Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) that choose to spew their uninformed opinions about their bias and stereotypes.

I don’t get to “take a break” from being Indian and being under the “ward” of the government with a number to define me. 

I don’t get to “take a break” from being followed in Walmart and Safeway by security for simply grocery shopping. 

I don’t get to “take a break” from the dentist who used to hit me when I cried as a child when he was hurting me because he told me nobody would believe me, and to shut up. 

I don’t get to “take a break” from my brother being assaulted and stopped by police simply for waiting for a bus on the corner.

I don’t get to “take a break” from losing my sister by RCMP taking her out into the country in the dead of winter without a coat and leaving her to walk to death. 

I don’t get to “take a break” and choose to turn off the news, or social media and go out into public without living an existence of racism. 

I don’t get to “take a break” of being in fear, angry, and hurt so that I cry at the injustice, cruelty, and loss of life of BIPOC. 

I am not OK. And you may not be OK. But, if you are tired of hearing about race, about colour, and the draining responsibilities of being an ally, imagine how tired I am living it.

- Debbie 

We thank Debbie and many others for their vulnerability and willingness to step forward and speak up. Together, we will be better. We are committed to continuing to listen, understand, learn, grow and support one another. We are stronger together.