Tuesday, September 10, 2013

In a Just Society

As you know this (Angels of the Road) blog site has shifted focus to anti-poverty and social justice issues. Nowhere in Canadian society is social injustice more prevalent then when it involves our Native citizens. Last night one of my Tweeties (Twitter People) posted the link to a very articulate article titled, First Nations won’t “get over” your ignorance by Chelsea Vowel a M├ętis woman from Alberta. The salient points for our discussion are held in the following excerpt. You can link to the full article through the title.
Canadians who do recognize historical injustice seem to understand it in this way:
1.    Bad things happened.
2.    Bad things stopped happening and equality was achieved. (Though I've yet to see someone identify exactly when this happened.)
3.    The low social and political status held by indigenous peoples is now wholly based on the choice to be corrupt, lazy, inefficient, and unsuited to the modern world.
In this view, there is no history of colonialism and systemic racism that informs the modern view of indigenous peoples, because that problem was solved at some point in the past. The real racism is in conflating legitimate dislike for indigenous peoples (based not on race or ethnicity but rather on the bad choices we make) with historic colonialism/racism which is over. In continuing to discuss colonialism and racism as a present-day concern, we are engaging in reverse-racism and oppressing blameless settlers.
Let me begin by saying racism is alive and flourishing in Canada. I visited my home town last year… and the racism was palpable. The Whites believing all Natives are lazy drunks and the Natives believing all Whites are arrogant bullies. I have encountered similar beliefs everywhere I have travelled but more so on an individual basis. In my experience racism (or any other ism for that matter) is far more likely to come from a place of ignorance than from a place of hate. Ignorance can only be eradicated with information / education. When someone makes a statement in front of me that is wrongheaded, I take the time to provide them with the truth related to that misperception. The usual response is, “I didn’t know that”, or “I never thought of it that way”. Maybe I have only influenced that one belief but it is possible that their mind is now a little more open to examining their other beliefs.

The best way to change this is by dialoguing, informally and formally with each other. When my nephew was in grade 4 or 5 his school partnered with the local band to have a Native Awareness program offered after school.  The biggest problem was the program was open only to First Nations students. We can’t legitimately blame people for being ignorant if we refuse to educate them.
The general public thinks equality has been achieved because Apples (fully assimilated Natives) do have equality. I mean no disrespect by that term. An Apple can play golf at any country club in the nation; skin colour is not an issue. If he parks his Lexus in front of the cop-shop to report his 15 year old daughter missing from private school, I am pretty sure the police will be all over that.  The prejudice has less to do with skin and more to do with ignorance about Native culture and the effect the Indian Act has on development for indigenous nations.
Ms Vowel is correct that media carries a large responsibility for the problem. I would suggest that they could be a large part of the solution. When I had television I watched 2 news broadcasts CTV and APTN seldom did significant stories running on APTN get so much as a mention on mainstream media.
Feminism did not make any real strides until we made patriarchy the enemy not men. And in the past 40 years (I know firsthand) much has changed for women. To make those kinds of strides for Native rights we need to stop making the rhetoric Us Against Them. We need to discuss how the Canadian establishments (courts, social agencies, business models etc) were designed from a European perspective and do not fit with Native cultural norms. Many successful, sustainable, environmentally sensitive businesses are built around Native cultural models. And we will be seeing more and more integration of that business model into the Canadian economy over the next generation.   
This blog has gone a little long and the discussion is far from over; so one last thought. Colonialism was bad (not just here, everywhere), we cannot waste our time feeling guilty or angry about a past over which we have no control… we must take responsibility and action to change the future. Learning from and respecting each other, is where we start.
Have a joyous day.