Trump is not to blame for Canada’s systemic racism towards Indigenous communities and communities of people of colour.
I’ll be the first to tell you that it’s too simple to blame one man for a cultural legacy of racism against Indigenous communities that runs on both sides of the border.
And we have had this racism problem well before Trump announced that he would attempt to become America’s 45th president.
In fact, Canadian society has had 500 years to practice our more refined approach to racism.
Instead of a brash racism, we prefer ours to be more refined, more secretive; in whispers, not shouts, around the water cooler, the hiring and recruitment office or the family dinner table.
Five hundred years of refinement is a long time to perfect a weapon like racism.
The government itself doesn’t have to work very hard to deny that racism exists when you have the majority of the population either too ignorant or too embarrassed to admit we have a problem in the first place.
Again and again over the years I have heard variations on the same theme of acknowledging our racism. Usually, it will begin with condolences but then the tone of the voice turns hard. A: “I’m sorry that is happening to you, but…”
You see, most Canadians by now have some understanding that what First Nations, Metis and Inuit individuals, families and communities have had to endure historically — through such institutions as the residential school system and the day-school system, through the 60s scoop, and the Indian Act, etc.
Then it stops. Because while most Canadians can concede that historically perhaps their Canadian ancestors were a part of, and benefited from, the systemic racism that targeted Indigenous communities, that broke Indigenous families and tried to kill the Indian in the child.
But certainly they in the present have not harmed and have not benefited from said racism.
It’s almost as if you hit a cognitive wall and people can very defensive and angry as they patrol its borders. If you were even to mention that some Canadians living in Vancouver or Halifax in the present could still be benefitting from that systemic racism, the mere suggestion falls into the pit of cognitive dissonance.
History itself becomes like a shield that protects their gentle Canadian ego.
I’ve pretty much heard every excuse, every dodge, every word in reverse — anything to keep them from admitting that what was historical fact is indeed current fact.
Statements like: “I wasn’t alive back then”; “my relatives had yet to arrive in Canada”; “I can’t be held personally responsible for what my ancestors did!”
People become fixated on trying to avoid any connection-thus-responsibility for their behaviour and outlook, and their very effort to avoid any blame that keeps any healing from taking root.
All these missed opportunities simply because the sheer magnitude of the racism means saying sorry is just not enough anymore.
It’s at this realization where communication really breaks down – under the assumption that monetary reparations would be demanded from every Canadian citizen; the assumption that land titles and home mortgages would all become forfeit and any and all property would be snatched from the hands of hard-working families and handed over to any Indigenous claimant.
So yes, we have even had a prime minister publicly apologize for the treatment of Indigenous children, families and communities suffered under the residential school system, and yet food prices in the High North — the traditional territories of many different Indigenous nations — are so high that it’s very difficult to afford fresh fruits and vegetables to live a healthy life and raise healthy children.
And yes, Canada finally fully signed on under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 2016, but this was almost a whole decade after it was adopted by the General Assembly.
Right now, the current political climate in the United States makes it very easy for smug Canadians to look down their noses at the racism in America and start puching downwards, but we have to be careful. And honest with ourselves as a society.
If the same number — 1,800 murdered and or missing Indigenous women and girls — of white women and girls were missing, there would be much more attention paid by politicians, universities think-tanks and law enforcement.
For example, no longer could a local police force get away with insinuating that “native girls like to wander, they hitch-hike, they pass through town after town, you know how they are,” as one general stereotype goes.
It’s as if you could assume these women didn’t belong anywhere and wouldn’t have a family who would miss them, who would be praying that they are safe.
The fear that many Americans from marginalized communities feel is felt here in Canada, too. And don’t be fooled that just because Stephen Harper is no longer in office, Justin Trudeau will not suddenly be able to expel every racist to south of our border.
Vancouver has been hosting the annual February 14 march for missing and murdered women for the past 27 years. That’s 27 too many.
Toronto has been hosting this event for the past 12. Again, 12 years too many.
Photo: Gage Skidmore/flickr
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