TEDxToronto: Sarain Fox on Identity, Community, Ancestry & Activism

TEDxToronto is quickly approaching (October 26), and we think it’s one of the best ways to soak up new perspectives from local change-makers. This week, we’re rolling out a series of interviews with a few of the speakers whose stories truly inspire us. 

Of Anishinaabe lineage, Sarain Fox is a dancer, choreographer, activist and television host. You may recognize her from Rise or Cut-Off on VICELAND, or APTN’s Future History. When it comes to amplifying Indigenous issues and voices, Fox is a true leader. We’re honoured that she was able to make time to answer some questions we had about identity, the theme of this year’s TEDxToronto, how her activism has shaped her identity, and important life lessons that have helped her on her journey. 

SDTC: How has your identity (or notion of identity) shifted in recent years?

Identity and the notion of who we are, where we come from, and where we belong is at the core of our very existence as Indigenous people. The first thing I say when I introduce myself in my language (Ojibway) is who I am, who claims me, and what my roles and responsibilities are within my community.

As I have grown into the woman I am now, my understanding of that greeting has changed. My search to identify and be identified is no longer a personal or introspective concept. Who I am is a reflection of my community. My people, my family, and those who I am accountable to. That being said, I find great comfort in knowing that I am not searching to define who I am, but rather who I want to be and what I am yearning for, reaching for and dreaming for my people. I is we.

Have you ever had conflicts with your identity? What helped you get through that?

My early childhood and adolescence are scared with the experience of being bullied and having to constantly fight to be who I am. As a proud young Anishinaabe, my mom fought hard to ensure that I would have my teachings, my songs, my culture. I often found myself having to correct my teachers and authorities (mostly from settler origins) about my history and our collective truth.

As a result of this questioning, I was often left without resources to protect myself within the western education system. The very people that I would turn to were inherently against me because of my upbringing and my families strong commitment to Indigenous ways of knowing and being. What I was most proud of—who I am and my origins—was used against me. This caused great internal conflicts. It took decades for me to really trust that I was allowed and okay to be unapologetically Indigenous, unapologetically me.

I realized that this bullying was not something I would just come across in school, but in my art, my professional life and my activism. I continually choose to educate, to reframe, and to reaffirm who I am as a way of overcoming this. Instead of hiding who I am to protect myself, I share it. I put it on the table and offer a safe space to learn.

People always turn against that which they cannot understand.

You are a strong voice for Indigenous people and have a huge platform. How has this shaped your identity?

My community has always held me up. We have a teaching that tells us every single decision we make, we must consider how it would affect our ancestors from seven generations back, how it will affect our present moment, and what it will do to those seven generations yet to come.

I feel a huge responsibility to create meaningful dialogue between settler and Indigenous communities, and to carve out and create space for those coming up behind me.

I am so inspired, so empowered and so incredibly proud of all the work that is being done to reclaim, renew and reMatriate Indigenous knowledge. It is a great privilege to identify as part of my community and part of a collective movement that is working hard to ensure a sustainable future for us all.

What’s one message you want to share at TEDxToronto?

I want to invite Torontonians and all audience members to consider their own origin stories. To not only adopt land acknowledgments, but to also learn the history of the land they call home and the history of the people who have cared for it since time immemorial.

I am eager to engage in meaningful dialogue where we don’t just see the past and conversations as difficult and painful, but rather we talk about and engage with the truth and make sure it is not still a part of our realities and our future. It’s time for action. Truth. It’s time to put truth before reconciliation and it’s time for reconciliACTION.

What’s a piece of advice, or a philosophy, that has really helped you on your journey?

Always respect your elders. Respect and honour your relationship to all of creation.

We were given two eyes and two ears, but only one mouth, so look and listen twice as much as you speak.

Kindness Kindness Kindness—no matter how cheesy it sounds!

What’s a goal, small or big, you’re currently working on?

To ensure that all First Nations communities have access to clean drinking water. To protect our water. To speak for the water and ensure that all humans have access to water in the future. Our leadership must be accountable to the commitments made to protect this basic human right.

You cannot disconnect the damage being done to the land and water from the harm that is inflicted on Indigenous people. When we stand for and protect our environment, we inherently stand for and protect the people.

TEDxToronto is now sold out. You can catch the speakers and performances through their live stream. Simply visit tedxtoronto.com on Friday, October 26 at 10:00 a.m. EDT and watch it live! If you’re interested in attending this beloved event next year, be sure to stay up to date on ticket sales and buy early!

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