December 10 marks International Human Rights Day. In light of this upcoming event, Audrey Siegl, a Musqueam First Nations member, reflects on local human rights challenges in Vancouver and her role in shining a spotlight on these issues.
A menu of words easily describes who Siegl is: Anti-poverty activist. Feminist. Artist. Role model. These words are indicative of the positivity Siegl says she maintains from her own culture. So even when she’s faced with difficult questions about the rights of her own people, she still embodies optimism and hope.
“I know this land, this planet, these waters will never be healed, but they can change,” says Siegl. “I know it’s possible because my ancestors tell me it’s possible.”
Shining a light on key issues
Born and raised in Burnaby, Siegl describes herself as a self-starter who was raised to speak her mind. Within the last few years she’s spearheaded a barrage of cultural dialogues within the Vancouver area – all of them related to her strong belief in equal human rights.
“Looking at the displacement of my own people, we need to mend in very real ways and include the Musqueam practices and cultures and way of living in everyday life in Vancouver,” says Siegl.
Siegl ran for Vancouver City Council under the Coalition of Progressive Electors in 2014, hoping to represent her culture. She was a key influencer in the Idle No More movement and participates in anti-poverty initiatives within the Downtown Eastside. All of these pursuits require endurance and patience, says Siegl, but this comes naturally.
“What I do with my days and energy is continue to speak the truth and shine lights on issues that need light and attention, issues that need to come out into the day and not live in the shadows; because when things are able to live in the dark, they do,” she says.
Small changes make big differences
Siegl perceives Vancouver’s diverse population as an opportunity for all cultures to treat each other with love and respect.
Her approach to life is to remind herself to have an open heart, an open mind and not to forget that people have challenges to surmount in their daily lives.
“I really work to see each person I encounter as a human being and we need not just City Hall, not just a mayor and council, not just people behind the scenes that have power with their pens, but we need every person in society to be the best human they can be,” says Siegl.
Siegl believes changing Vancouver must begin in the smallest of ways. Exerting even just a little bit of effort can make an exceptional difference.
“Care about the next person in the supermarket or in the skytrain or in one of the million cafes that Vancouver has. We are all here now and we need to find ways to work together. We are one and this is the truth. We have the ability and we have the knowledge to be able to remove those obstacles and barriers,” she says.
Siegl describes herself jokingly as “too brown for one world, too white for another.”
Siegl, who is also a musician and solstice enthusiast, will be playing drums and singing at the 22nd Annual Winter Solstice Lantern Festival On Dec. 21 at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden.
“I am so excited to be involved because I’ve been a believer, supporter and practicer of all the solstices,” says Siegl.
For more on Human Rights Day, visit: www.un.org/en/events/humanrightsday/.
For more information on the Winter Solstice Lantern Festival, please visit www.winter-solstice-2015.eventbrite.ca.