Hill Times July 13, 2020
It’s been 49 days since George Floyd died. It has been forty-nine days of international rally and protest, demands for change, system outrage at demands for change, and general confusion. On that day a Black Canadian was also assaulted by police in Laval.
It’s been 49 exhausting days for many Indigenous peoples, black Canadians and people of colour. To question the lived experience of others as if it’s an academic debate ignores the painful fact that Indigenous peoples and people of colour live through experiences of racism with emotions and perhaps trauma too. When one says “I doubt systemic racism”, one is also saying, “I don’t believe all these Indigenous people who say they didn’t receive equitable service or treatment.” So it’s our fault we are 10 times more likely to be arrested for “driving while brown” or shot for “walking down street while brown”?
It has been exhausting because every instance of racism at stores, at the hands of police, on the street, all rightfully covered in media, is somebody’s daughter or son or cousin.
It has been exhausting because too many well-meaning leaders want to do research and investigate the allegations of racism. If instances of physical assault were documented in the hundreds in an organization or locale, one would not call for research, one would demand consequences now. So why do leaders want to do more research on systemic racism? Would you rather start doing something to fix it? Or not?
Shame. Shame on leaders who need more evidence before action. More research is an act of resistance to change, an act of resistance to enact equity for Indigenous peoples and people of colour.
This resistance to act against racism and systemic racism in Canada is astounding. The resistance to act here in our own backyard is stronger than the resistance to act in the U.S.A. Police officers have been disciplined and fired in the States due to their acts of police brutality. In Canada the crime seems to be to hold police officers and police leaders to account. It’s all too rare for people to face consequences for racism in this country.
Forty-nine years ago, the federal government withdrew “The White Paper,” a draft policy that attempted to address the “Indian problem.” Indigenous people were so marginalized in society they were considered to be “citizens minus,” according to UBC anthropologist Harry Hawthorn in his 1963 report titled A Survey of the Contemporary Indians of Canada: Economic, Political, Educational Needs and Policies.
The White Paper attempted to eliminate the “special” in the special relationship between Canada and Indians, and download all federal responsibility for Indians to provinces and territories. In 1971 the political weight of Indigenous peoples contributed to a reversal on The White Paper.
Indigenous peoples have learned the ways of political action. Indigenous peoples will not put up with this continued refusal to admit there is racism.
About 490 years ago, Cartier travelled and met with First Nations in what is now Canada’s east coast through to Montreal. First Nations communities could share stories of their first contact in the 1530s, and how the early tenuous relationship soured into the era of “the Indian problem” in the 1800s.
Indigenous peoples remember the long history of failed relationships and blatant and subtle acts of racism in an attempt to eliminate us.
Please consider that Indigenous peoples have been living with racism, some of us dying due to racism, for a long time. What is new is that people want to know more, and that’s a good thing. But Indigenous peoples should not be asked to prove their pain. It’s exhausting.
Want to help? Believe the stories of racism, and act to challenge racism when you see it.