‘It’s the power we have in ourselves:’ Advocate Tania Cameron is trying to change the system

Tania Cameron does not sit back and complain. Whether it is food security or voting rights, Cameron is not only pointing out the inequalities, she’s working to address them head-on.

Advocating for Indigenous people is something she has been doing since she was a teenager and something she hopes she’s passing on to her own children.

“It’s the power that we have in ourselves. And I learned at a young age at a youth conference, some woman said ‘don’t ever sit back in your community and think, oh someone should be doing this, someone should be doing that’, sit back and say, ‘could I do this, could that be something I could do’ and I do that and I practiced that right from the hop so I’m always glad to help,” Cameron tells host Dennis Ward on Face to Face.

Most recently, Cameron has been organizing for Bearskin Lake First Nation in northern Ontario. Just after Christmas, the community declared a state of emergency after more than half of the community’s 400 residents tested positive for COVID-19.

Cameron was dealing with an outbreak in her own household. Friends and family were offering to bring by supplies and food for her family. Living in Kenora, she had access to grocery stores and other services but that was not the case for Bearskin Lake First Nation.

Using her social media reach, Cameron launched a fundraising campaign in the hopes of collecting $5,000. By the time the campaign had wrapped up in mid-January, more than $61,000 had been raised.

This was not the first successful fundraiser during the pandemic for Cameron. Some people still call her the “potato lady” after a potato drive, in the early day of the pandemic.

Cameron says early on, it was clear how sensitive the food supply was in the Kenora area with many shelves left bare.  Cameron noticed a farmer, who had lost much of their customer base with restaurants closed down, selling potatoes for $15 for a 50 lb bag.

Again, Cameron took to social media to see if anyone else wanted in on a good deal.

“In the end, I ended up doing six potato runs into northwestern Ontario. That total was 185,000 lbs of potatoes in six potato runs, so the equivalent of six semi-truck loads. And that went to all of the towns in northwestern Ontario and 30 First Nations. That was quite the experience, I totally didn’t anticipate it would grow to,” says Cameron. “There were a lot of people laid off. A lot of people that seen their wage gone or significantly lower and when I did the potatoes, it wasn’t just First Nations people, there were a lot of non-Indigenous people in the towns reaching out to me to get this deal.

“Some of them would start to tell that they got laid off, that they’re really struggling and I would say there’s no need to tell me your story if you don’t want to share. One woman wrote that she was so embarrassed to ask and I said you just tell me that you need potatoes and you’re going to get a bag of potatoes

“We need to take care of each other. As much as we rely on the government to help us go through the pandemic with the financial resources, we also rely on each other as neighbors and as a caring community to say ‘let’s do this together’ and it was just a really beautiful thing that I had not intended,” says Cameron.

Last year, Cameron also did a fundraiser for menstrual products for First Nations schools in Ontario after the provincial plan to distribute them to school boards left out schools, on reserve.

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