Canadians are not racist? Indigenous Invisibility versus the Convenience of Racist Indifference - UPDATED
These comments that Mr. Martin said upset me. I've had to think about why they upset me so much, because it's not like I haven't heard them made many times from many different people. I don't react to the vast majority of these comments. I know these comments originate from people who are in different places and in different contexts. I believe most people are good people at heart. Most of us love our families and communities and we want to see a brighter future for everyone. So, in fairness to Mr. Martin, perhaps in making those comments, he meant to show faith in Canadian citizens that once they know about Indigenous struggles they will act. His recent interviews seem to suggest that since leaving office, he wants to advocate on their behalf. He recently denounced former Prime Minister Chretien's comments who suggested that First Nations should leave reserves; he has advocated for improved First Nation education and set up a foundation for that purpose; and he consistently called the chronic underfunding of First Nations social programs discriminatory. My blog was less about him - as a person - and more about the comments in general.
I also know that we are in the business of social justice to gain support for our cause. I have been advised by lots of people who have heard me speak that I should tone down my words, be careful not to come on too strong, and to focus on encouraging allies and not make enemies. As a Mi'kmaw person, I am honour-bound to live up to the treaty commitments of my ancestors who promised to live in peace with the settlers. My Dad fought in WWII alongside Canadians to ensure our treaty commitments were kept. He did his despite everything that has been done to us. So, I understand the importance of maintaining allies. I have strong opinions and I share them not to hurt anyone, but to advocate as strenuously as possible for our people, because our lives depend on it. I feel a grave sense of urgency to not lose another generation of babies. I don't want to see our languages die. I don't want our lands to become so contaminated we can't use them for our ceremonies. I have to be honest and say the truth as I see it. I've been in ceremonies where elders told me I have no choice but to speak the truth - regardless of the backlash. I have to be honest. Sugar-coating the situation only makes it worse. Sometimes the truth is uncomfortable and sometimes its painful - but its from the truth that we can come up with solutions. Reconciliation requires we go through this painful part to finally heal and make amends.
It's 2016 - there is no good reason to hold onto racist ideologies that allow the discrimination, violence, dispossession and oppression of our people to continue. It's very frustrating to see our kids be forced into foster care, imprisoned, beaten by police, commit suicide or go murdered and missing every day. Every single day while governments ponder their budgets, edit speaking points and delay justice, another Indigenous man, woman or child suffers. what that politicians meet in wood-paneled offices with expensive meals while they talk about measured justice, first steps and plans for the future, our people still die. People I love still die. This is why I speak and write the way I do. To us, the issues are urgent. We can't ever get our people back once we have lost them. We have to act now.
While the easy answer might be to blame a rogue cop, a psycho serial killer or the KKK, the reality is that there are large segments of Canadian society in positions of power that hold extremely racist views about Indigenous peoples. Harper's last decade of power is a prime example of how rampant racism is and the impacts it has on First Nations. Racism is not an anomaly. Its not an exception. It's not about one bad apple - its widespread and it's killing my people. Most of my friends and colleagues that work, study or volunteer in social justice causes hate answering the phone late at night. We know that it means another Indigenous person has committed suicide, died, been arrested or had their children taken from them. We all dread these calls. Because even though the government may have shifted a priority or the media has left, we are always left with the lived realities of not just inter-generational trauma, but modern-day racist laws, policies and decisions which affect our lives.
I think this is why I reacted so strongly to Mr. Martin's comments. Not because I think he is a racist or that all Canadians are racist. Mr. Martin has helped many individual First Nation people access education funds, he has supported them find employment, he has advocated strenuously in recent years for government to step up and act. On a personal level, he was supportive of my work at Ryerson University and even the work of many of us in the Idle No More movement. I think more people in positions of power should stand up and demand justice alongside our grassroots Canadians and Indigenous Nations.
I truly believe we cannot have reconciliation until we can be brave enough to hear the dark truth, challenge one another on our opinions and be critical of what isn't working. This shouldn't be taken personally, but social conflict is a necessary part of growth, change and improvement.
I apologize to anyone who thought I was saying that ALL Canadians are racist. I know that we have many good allies. In fact, Idle No More helped bring us all together. There has never been so much good will and cooperation between non-government organizations and community groups with Indigenous peoples. We have united to work jointly on child-welfare, anti-poverty, housing and homelessness, climate change and the environment, and human rights. The United Nations Human Rights Committee said last year that they never saw such a united force. I would like to believe that our collective efforts at social justice will make the changes we want to see in Canada.
I am sorry that this process won't be easy, it won't be speedy, and we won't always feel like we are on the same side. I hope in the end, you understand why it's necessary.