On the one hand, I cannot believe that we as Indigenous peoples are still subjected to such overt racism on a such a frequent basis. On the other hand, I am not surprised, given that this kind of anti-First Nation sentiment is still out there in more hidden forms also known as systemic racism. I guess the best way to describe my feelings is that I sometimes feel overwhelmed that these perverse ideologies don’t just come from a few wackos, but comes from all elements in society – individuals, business, professionals, academics, politicians, and government.
I received this picture from people on Facebook today who wanted to bring this issue to the attention of the public and the police. This picture is allegedly of a restaurant in Lakefield, Ontario. It was reported in the Toronto Sun that the police are investigating this as a hate crime. Here is the link to that story: http://www.torontosun.com/news/canada/2011/03/16/17638211.html If this incident actually happened (and everyone is innocent until proven guilty), it is a symptom of how Indigenous peoples are portrayed generally in our society – in schools, the media and by federal and provincial governments. Even if this one turns out to all a big misunderstanding, there used to be many similar signs like this, just for Aboriginal people:
I am less surprised by this kind of overt racism from members of small communities, when I hear famous people, like Kevin O’Leary (who appears on Dragon’s Den and CBC News’ Lang & O”Leary show). You will recall, that Kevin O’Leary called his co-host an “Indian giver” and when she rebuked him for such barbaric language, he repeated the phrase and defended his use of it. http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/950584–cbc-ombud-slams-o-leary-s-offensive-on-air-comment This comment was made on Canada’s CBC News during prime time when a large number of Canadians would be watching. It happened LAST October 2010 and not a word of apology was issued by O’Leary or CBC. It wasn’t until 5 months later and AFTER the CBC Ombudsperson had publicly released their decision that the comment was wrong and so was CBC for not immediately addressing it – that we heard any mention of an apology. Specifically, the Ombudsperson stated: “In this instance, the preferred course would have been for O’Leary not only to privately recognize the fault of his ways but to publicly express remorse, either that night or the next night or soon after. But if he wasn’t going to publicly apologize, the program could have done something further to make amends. Its obligation goes beyond the complainant to the viewers in order to uphold the broader reputation of the program and CBC itself.” http://www.cbc.ca/ombudsman/pdf/2011-03-02-Jamieson.pdf This is obviously the point I am getting at about the effect such comments have, especially when left for many months to fester. The problem is that Indigenous peoples are getting it from all sides and by not acting to address these issues, it’s no wonder society thinks this is acceptable. Scripted apologies forced by legal decisions, litigation or threat of job loss are hardly sincere or even effective at undoing the damage caused. http://www.nationalpost.com/news/canada/pundit+censured+offensive+exchange/4399119/story.html You will recall on the very same day that Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered a public apology on behalf of all Canadians for the physical, sexual, and other abuses committed in residential schools, his conservative MP, Pierre Poilievre, had the nerve to question the compensation being given to survivors and asked whether it was “value for money”. I still feel nauseated when I read his comments. As if there is any monetary amount that could ever compensate for sexual abuse like rape, physical abuse like beatings, neglect that resulted in many deaths and the loss of culture, language and hope. http://www2.macleans.ca/2008/06/11/pierre-poilievre-shows-his-empathy-for-residential-school-survivors/ Keep in mind, Canada has compensated Japanese families for ripping them from their homes and putting them in camps during the war. The Chinese were also compensated for the head tax that was imposed on them to prevent them from immigrating to Canada. While the Supreme Court of Canada has specifically said that discrimination is not “a race to the bottom” (i.e. who is more discriminated against), they have said that often times Aboriginal peoples are dually disadvantaged on mulitple levels not necessarily experienced by other groups. http://www.canlii.org/en/ca/scc/doc/1999/1999canlii687/1999canlii687.pdf Indigenous peoples suffered in residential schools for their entire childhoods and many others suffer the deadly inter-generational effects for communities all over the country which could take generations to address. How could the residential school compensation be less “value for money” than another group’s? Somehow, conservatives and others find a way to insert doubt and blame into the conversation when it is about Indigenous peoples. We all know about Senator Patrick Brazeau who uses the Senate chambers, resources, and logo to film carefully worded videos meant to portray First Nations as lazy and corrupt. In fact, on my previous blogs, I have highlighted his negative, stereotypes of First Nations and how in one show he even accused First Nations as hubs of “illegal activity”. This all coming from an individual who claims to be First Nations – imagine the powerful effect this would have on the views and opinions of non-Aboriginal peoples. That brings us to Minister of Indian Affairs, John Duncan. As you know from my previous blogs, I am no fan of Minister Duncan given his past racist comments about Indigenous peoples and their rights. https://pampalmater.com/2010/09/indian-agents-are-back-pm-new-indian.html Duncan was very much opposed to Aboriginal and treaty rights to fish, ignored their constitutional protection, and characterized them as “race-based”. http://www.mediaindigena.com/rickharp/issues-and-politics/indian-affairs-minister-john-duncan-menacing-or-muzzled More recently, however, Minister Duncan appeared before the Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples regarding Bill S-11, the bill dealing with safe drinking water on First Nations. Senators have commented that all witnesses, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal alike, including water experts and legal experts all agree that this Act is so bad that even amendments could not save it. On March 8, 2011, Minister Duncan, expressing his frustration, commented that:
“This committee has been receiving a very one-sided view on the way things are going. We’ve actually been working very collaboratively especially with the Treaty 6, 7 and 8 group from Alberta…. You’re correct in concluding that everyone does not have the same view. But I think this committee has managed to somehow capture a prevalence of negative views. Sometimes that’s what happens. It’s easier in First Nation politics to be aggressively contrary to something than it is to be supportive. And that’s an observation that I will make and stand behind and it’s something I hope we can change”
How could we as Indigenous peoples NOT be, at the very least, “agressively contrary” to the sexual abuse in residential schools, the outlawing of our cultures, the legislated exclusion of our women and children from our Nations, the removal of thousands of our children to child welfare agencies, the early deaths of our people from extreme poverty, the theft of our traditional lands and resources, and the political and legal destruction of our laws, governments and communities? In other countries, this can and has resulted in revolutions. While I can’t say for sure what was going on in his head, it certainly appears to me that Minister Duncan gave his comment some thought before he said it as he followed up his comment with confirmation that he will stand behind it. This is not dissimilar to Kevin O”Leary standing beside his racist remarks, or Tom Flanagan standing beside his comments. I have always been told to believe people when they tell you who they really are – so I am listening. Aside from showing a pre-disposition to having racist views about Indigenous peoples, Minister Duncan’s negative stereotyping of First Nations does little to suggest his views have evolved over time. Looking at it from society’s point of view, if the Minister of Indian Affairs, who is supposed to be an advocate and champion for Aboriginal peoples in Canada has such hostile, negative views about Aboriginal peoples, why would we expect society to be any better? It is almost as if Minister Duncan is sickened to even have to work on this portfolio – which begs the question – why the heck does he?
Sadly, comments by our top law enforcement agencies about Indigenous peoples do not fair any better. Official documents in the Canadian Military have characterized Mohawks as insurgents or terrorists. This not only false and offensive, it also serves to spread fear and distrust amongst non-Indigenous society. My children’s own friends ask questions about whether we are “terrorists”.
The damage has been done. No carefully worded apology will be able to undo the damage to Indigenous peoples and especially the Mohawk in this case. Canadians are more likely to see us as terrorists than the First Peoples of this country. If there was any doubt, just ask Christy Blatchford and TVO, who portrayed Mohawks in Six Nations as lawless and out of control: https://pampalmater.com/2011/01/update-tvo-agenda-botches-show-on.html
Yet, despite the military’s indication in 2010 that they would be offering a very carefully worded apology, one remains to be given. Many months later and not a single word has been issued. It makes me wonder what kind of priority they made of the apology. Instead, there seems to be a universal default that these comments will be allowed to be said, defended, repeated, and given time to sink in before any superficial apology is offered. We deserve more than this anti-First Nation propaganda on our own homelands. http://www.montrealgazette.com/news/Military+apologize+Mohawk+Warriors/4015748/story.html
Add to this the list of right-wing academics who promote the assimilation of Aboriginal peoples in various forms like Tom Flanagan, Dale Gibson, Frances Widdowson, and Alan Cairns, etc. This is reinforced by some teachers in schools which either don’t teach their students about Aboriginal peoples, do so in a minimal way or teach some of these same stereotypes. This is further reinforced by the various media outlets who make millions off portraying First Nations as lazy, crooked, criminals and movies or TV shows which promote an archetype of Indians that few today can live up to – the “good” version or the “bad” version.
This is an old battle, one that we have been fighting since contact. While many in society would like to believe that old colonial ideologies about Indigenous peoples have long waned, the opposite is true. Just take a peek at some of the vile comments posted on online media stories about Indigenous peoples and you’ll see what I mean. Not only do Indigenous peoples face this battle on multiple fronts and on a daily basis, but they must also face the battle within themselves, Every day we face the battle to prove we are worthy as human beings. Too often this battle is lost and we lose our young people to suicide, violent deaths, and early deaths from diseases, malnutrition, and lack of housing caused by extreme poverty.
I’d like to point out that the Criminal Code of Canada specifically prohibits hate crimes (section 319) which provides that public statements made against an identifiable group that incites violence against that group is a CRIME. Similarly, section 318 specifically probihits GENOCIDE – which is the killing of an identifiable group, or creating lufe conditions would bring about that group’s physical destruction. Sounds like an option, but the tricky part is you have to get the Attorney General to agree to bring these charges. So, back to the drawing board…while assimilation, racism, theft of our lands, resources and souls continues…
Those of us who manage to wake up every day and win this internal battle (at least enough to keep trudging along), must then engage in the political and legal battle for our basic human rights and freedoms, to protect our cultures and identities for future generations, as well as the key issues like sovereignty, Aboriginal and treaty rights, land rights and so on. We have to know more than anyone else about our issues, we have to work harder than anyone else, and we have to find ways to do so politely and with smiles on our faces lest we be characterized as “agressively contrary” or “terrorists”. So the next time you hear someone say how easy First Nations have it; how they get everything for free; or how lazy they all are, why don’t you suggest they live with Indigenous peoples for a while and see what the “free & easy” life is really like? Or perhaps they’d like to discuss the subject with those of us who fight in this battle 24-7? It is time Canada accepted the fact that we will not be assimilated. Whether you call it “agressively contrary”, “insurgency” or “criminal” – we will continue to protect our cultures and identites for future generations. If only Canadians could leave their minds open long enough to see the incredible strength of our diverse peoples, the beauty of our rich cultures and traditions, the unique ties we have to our territories, or the incredible pride we have in our identities – then they would see why we refuse to give it up.