Kalsang Dolma speech at Milky Way Garden Fundraiser

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Hello Everyone!

I’d like to welcome you all to our Milky Way fundraiser. What a beautiful Saturday evening! Thank you for coming here and supporting this community-led project. You could’ve been anywhere today, but you’re here, and for that I want to thank you. Please give yourselves a hand.

My name is Kalsang Dolma, and I’m a board member for Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust. PNLT for short. I’ve lived in Parkdale for over 12 years, ever since I first landed in Canada. In the Tibetan traditional calendar, 12 years is a significant period because it means I’ve gone through a whole cycle of the 12 birth signs here in Parkdale: the mouse, the bull, the tiger, the hare… and so on. FYI, my birth sign is mouse, so if any of you are also mice, you know we’re full of energy, talkative and charming but also have a tendency to become aggressive. We’re also capable of surviving any situation. That’s what google said, anyway.

I don’t want to take too much of your time, but I just wanted to do a quick exercise to illustrate something that I’ve been thinking about lately. By show of hands, how many of you live here in Parkdale? Ok. How many have lived here… let’s say between 1 and 5 years? Ok. How about more than 10 years? Let’s take it on a generational level now… how many generations deep are you into Parkdale, or even Toronto? 1st generation? Second? Do you go back 5 generations? How about 7?

The further back we go, the less rooted we are to this land. I wanted to do this thing just as a way to show that the issues that PNLT tackles—accessibility, affordability, gentrification—also touches fundamentally on the issue of displacement. I know as a Tibetan refugee myself, my story is one of displacement stretching back to when my parents had to flee the violent Chinese occupation of Tibet. And now, as an immigrant Canadian here, I have to be also mindful of the original displacement of the First Nations peoples here in Parkdale, Toronto and the rest of Canada. Because not being mindful of that fact, not understanding and trying to correct the legacies of the European colonization and the ongoing effects of it on Indigenous lands and peoples, means that the work here will not be complete.

So PNLT touches on work that has to do with resisting colonization, in my opinion anyway. It also is linked to anti-poverty. To immigrant rights. To racial equity. We know, and I have seen this personally myself as a community organizer and settlement worker in the last 7 years here in Parkdale, that the impacts of gentrification disproportionately affect racialized, immigrant, differently-abled and poor people. It’s not just about new hipster cafes that sell 4 dollar lattes. But more importantly, its about making this community livable and welcoming to everyone, especially those who come from or are in vulnerable situations.

I rent here in Parkdale. And even for us renters, Parkdale is going out of our reach. This is a problem that’s not unique to Parkdale, of course. We see this played out in much of Toronto, Vancouver, Brooklyn, Harlem, Oakland, London. The goal for us is not to become that. We believe Parkdale is unique and vibrant and real, precisely because we welcome people from everywhere and also because i live here, i don’t want to see Parkdale becoming the next brooklyn.

The forces of gentrification and development are many and variegated. Many of the newer residents and businesses here who are complicit in making my neighbourhood unaffordable don’t believe this is a problem. Or, maybe they don’t mean any malice or are unaware of the problems they create when they bid for a property, flip it, and evict the rooming tenants that live there. We have corporations like Akelius who deliberately intend to drive out their tenants and raise rents.

This is a matter of social justice, and also of personal responsibility.

The stakes are high and so are the challenges. But I believe we can hold our ground here. This land, lovingly tended by Tish’s ESL students, is a physical testament to the will and passion of committed individuals, and for their love of everything that makes Parkdale Parkdale.

I want to end my talk by acknowledging that we are on the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of New Credit. I would also like to acknowledge the Dish With One Spoon territory, on whose lands Toronto is situated, and the Haudenosaunee and Anishnaabe Nations. We thank you for allowing us to have this event and this gathering here today. Thank you to John and Stephan. Thank you to all. Enjoy the screening. Miigweech! Thu je cheyNang

Kalsang Dolma