Getting People to Care about First Nation Water Services

“You do not have to be Indigenous to care about Indigenous issues” according to Dr. Katherine Starzky, a University of Manitoba psychology professor. Her research is all about how to get people to care about an issue, and what language to use.

She conducted an experiment in which a sample population was split into three groups. The groups were given a handout saying: (1) Is water a human right? (2) What does it mean to be Canadian? or (3) no instructions. Then each group was asked the question “would you support government action to help First Nation communities get access to running water?” The response varied according to which group respondents were in. Group 1 was the most supportive on this issue. Group 2 was the least supportive and Group 3 was supportive. This experiment showed that if you frame an issue as a human rights violation, you are more likely to get support. If you make people think about their national identity as Canadian, you are least likely to get support, since people want to perceive Canada as a positive place without significant injustice.

A photo of an Indigenous child with an obvious skin rash on his face was shown to experimental subjects with the caption: “Water is a human right. Do you have running water? I don’t… and I live in Canada, I need your help.” This was part of a campaign to increase awareness of the water crisis in First Nation communities, but the photo did not have the intended effect. The photo did frame water as a human right, which was good. But the photo invoked a bad feeling about being Canadian and viewers almost felt ashamed. The sad picture of the child with a skin rash may have been too disturbing and people did not want to see it. The photo alone not give people a way to deal with the issue, such as a website, a phone number to call, or any hope for resolving the issue. Therefore the photo by itself did not create public support for water rights issues in First Nations communities. In the original campaign, the photo was on one side of a postcard. On the other side, people were encouraged to mail the card and their comments to their members of Parliament.

Questions

I have 3 types of relatives: racist, indifferent and agreeable. If I am trying to get their support on an issue, who should I focus my attention on?

Focus on the people who are indifferent first. There is often the snowball effect where if you change one mind it is easier to change another mind.

How do I get people to support my issue?

You need to show that there are solutions that are feasible and affordable. You need to invoke a community connection, and make suffering clear, without stigmatization. Do not appeal to nationalism, and know who your allies are and get them on your side.

Audio podcasts are also available for seminars in this series.

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