Saturday, August 05, 2017

What racism looks like

“A lot of talk about racism has been floating around lately. There were comments from FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron recently saying racism is a daily reality for indigenous people. It is for everyone.”

So begins the column appearing recently, then retracted, written by the regional managing editor of the Melfort Journal, Greg Wiseman. The column goes on to equate the racism Bobby Cameron decries with the ethnic joke; somehow the Newfie joke becomes the equivalent of the systemic discrimination that’s made it hard for indigenous Canadians to prosper in this country.

Wiseman is right when he says, in effect, that we are all potentially bigoted (including indigenous people) and all eligible to feel the sting of some kind of prejudice in our lives. But the racism that Cameron is talking about isn’t anything like the bite of an ethnic or personal slur. The “Ukrainians [] women, Newfies, athletes, gays, bikers and so on” Wiseman claims to be the recipients of “racism” similar to that of indigenous Canadians are all members of the settler portion of the population: they fall under no special set of laws like the Indian Act imposes on indigenous peoples.

Case in point: when my ancestors settled on Treaty 6 territory in 1893, they very soon had a school built nearby with qualified teachers so that every child could reasonably live at home with family and get an education. The residential school system that was the federal government’s provision of education to indigenous people saw their children picked up by force and hauled off to boarding schools run by church denominations. It was a patronizing, colonial mentality driving a system that ran over culture, community and family life with heavy boots.

That’s what racism looks like.

Case in point: decimated by the small pox for which they had no immunity and the disappearance of the bison on whom their economy depended historically, the indigenous people of Treaty 6 territory were forced into a bargain that basically said that in exchange for rights to over 90% of their land, the crown would provide for their food, health, and economic needs. The deplorable conditions under which the indigenous people thereafter lived for generations resulted from the failure on Canada’s part to honour both the spirit and the letter of the deal to which all the signers agreed in 1876. (To explore the content of Treaty 6, click HERE.)

That’s what racism looks like.

In 1932, Edward Yahyahkeekoot had to get permission from the Indian agent in order to tend his trap line and to "hunt for food." 

This is what racism feels like. 

I could go on and on with examples. Suffice it to say that in order to write such a column, Wiseman had either to be uninformed about the history and content of treaty making . . . and keeping, and/or was just being very sloppy with the English language. Although withdrawn and an apology published in its place, it echoed the sentiments of many Canadians, unfortunately, and the publicity around it reinforced views that indigenous people should just “get over it,” that we’re all just as hard done by as they.

I’ve pilfered a copy of Wiseman’s original column from CBC Saskatchewan.