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Respect costs nothing

This is a guest Northwest Notes blog written by Nikki Skuce, Senior Energy Campaigner for Forest Ethics.

Every time I read the comments section related to a story on First Nations activism, I am saddened by the depth and popularity of racism in Canada. This has been evident from the First Nations activism against Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline and tanker project, and from the current Idle No More national movement demanding the government respect this country’s original peoples.

From some of my fellow Canadians, you would think that First Nations are free-loading, tax exempt Indians who can be bought as long as the money’s right, and should just pick up and move if the housing ain’t right. If they’re too Indian, they should join us in the 21st century; if they ride pick-ups and snowmobiles, they shouldn’t be allowed to voice any opposition to fossil fuel projects.

This mostly comes from those with avatars who leave nasty comments at the bottom of articles (an ignorance built upon gross inadequacies in our education system). When 130 First Nations came out in solidarity against the Enbridge pipeline a year ago, 10 out of 20 of the high scoring comments on the Globe and Mail article were all withheld having "violated our Terms and Conditions." Others that remained included: "[Natives] are high class wh*ores, like in this case"(killjoy1); and “a bunch of money in front of them and eventually opposition will disappear! not that difficult!” (G.E.T.).

The Idle No More coverage on mainstream media is getting equally as candid comments. The anonymity of identity seems to give some people freedom to let morals go and say what they want.

Unfortunately most of this overt racism is mirrored in many covert minds. I would hazard a guess that many agreeing with these discriminatory statements are from people with power, ignorant of our own nation’s history. Trying to get rid of the differences of First Nations by making them “more like us” only perpetuates racism.

As a Canadian mother, I’ve never had to worry that my daughter is going to be taken away from me and rid of her Spanish language and Latina roots, as many First Nations have through residential school policies. I’ve never had to endure generations of racism and abuse because I’m thought of as inferior to the dominant class. I am attributed stereotypes, but none that weigh heavily on my self-esteem. While maybe I should count myself fortunate, more of us should listen to our neighbours who have suffered this discrimination and hear their stories. If we are to be a truly multicultural country that supports equality, we need to both listen and speak up when others are not so generous.

One of the gifts of working to try to stop the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipelines has been the coming together of First Nations and non-First Nations communities, and allies across all backgrounds and political stripes. We have found commonalities and built bridges when it comes to our watersheds, wild salmon, coastline and the livelihoods they all support. Even though 80 per cent of British Columbians oppose the introduction of oil tankers to the North Coast resulting from this project, and over 130 First Nations oppose transporting tar sands across BC watersheds, there will always remain a percentage who support exporting another raw resource overseas.

And these people have a right to support this project, whatever their logic. But that logic need not be racist or demeaning.

Many First Nations communities, in particular those in British Columbia with unceded territories, are regularly treated as an annoying hurdle to have to jump over. After having their rights and title repeatedly recognized, rarely have governments and corporations sat down to ensure adequate and respectful consultation and accommodation, and free, prior and informed consent.

Before due process, the Harper government had already come out as a cheerleader for Enbridge’s project. Trying to ignore Aboriginal rights and title and bulldoze projects through is a colonial attitude that embeds racism in our institutions. Genuine consultation takes time, and there will be times when no is the result.

While the Idle No More movement maintains momentum across Canada, it’s the perfect opportunity for those not involved to listen, inquire and engage in dialogue. Take the time to learn something about this country, its first peoples, what’s being said and why. Dig deeper than the mainstream news headlines.

Canada is a country that has embraced multiculturalism. While we’re far from perfect on that front, why can’t our multicultural society embrace our First Nations too (who are many cultures within)? Like with all of our neighbours, this doesn’t mean we always have to agree. But the very least we can do is be respectful. Racism carries high costs. Respect costs nothing. And it pays back generously.

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