What’s missing in the Maclean’s article on racism?
Last week Canadians were served a rude reminder. Maclean’s magazine named Winnipeg, home of the Metis resistance leader Louis Riel, Canada’s “most racist city.” While many media personalities, pundits, and politicians were shocked and offended by the title, Native people simply nodded their heads upon hearing the news and returned to their day.
I was born and raised in Saskatoon, the city famous for its starlight tours, to a nêhiyaw father and Norwegian mother. I went to schools that were predominantly non-Native and became accustomed to being the only nêhiyaw in the room. I also grew up with family who were deeply rooted in our culture, language, ceremonies, and worldviews.
Being so deeply immersed in both Native and non-Native communities I knew from a young age that these two worlds did not fit together. I remember some of my friends telling me that their parents didn’t want me over at their home for fear I might come back and rob it later. This prejudice was normal growing up nêhiyaw in Saskatoon. I don’t bring these issues up because they defined my childhood – they didn’t – and they certainly don’t define me today. But these are the types of stories that you will hear from Native people, if you take the time to listen.
If you asked a Native person, whether in Vancouver, Saskatoon, Caledonia, or Halifax, if there is a tension between Native and Canadian communities, few would hesitate to say yes. Our story, the story of Canada, is one of both mistreatment and indifference. That mistreatment and indifference have lead to Native peoples being on the negative side of almost every statistical category. No one relishes the fact that there’s still racism in our communities, but ignoring it as we like to do isn’t making anything better. Canadians’ famed politeness is our downfall, not allowing us to talk about the issue. This is the reality for all Native peoples and now, because of Maclean’s, Canada knows it.
But Maclean’s has done a disservice to Native peoples, and all people of colour in Canada, when they turned racism into a competition between cities. After awarding Winnipeg a place as the “most racist city” in Canada, other cities were made complacent about the race issues in their communities. When asked about the article, the long-time Mayor of Saskatoon, Don Atchison, said that we were “eons ahead of Winnipeg” – a statement that was quickly smacked down by local activists, researchers, and the editorial board of the StarPhoenix.
Maclean’s is right that Winnipeg has a race problem, but wrong to deflect the focus from the underlying, systemic issues that are almost always the cause of bad outcomes for Native peoples everywhere in Canada. The article reports that much of the violence we hear about is perpetrated by Native people against other Natives without further analysis into the systemic inequalities that affect Native peoples in every part of society. That’s what Canadians need to hear.
More than individual acts of prejudice or of violence, they need to hear about the systemic inequalities that they themselves never see. Individual acts of racism, violence, and intolerance are powerful, yes, but systemic racism is what maintains Canada’s ongoing settler colonialism (which depends on dispossessing Native people of their land and sovereignty).
In an article dealing almost exclusively with racism directed toward Native people, the only mention of colonialism was a quote from the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations that put colonialism in the past tense. There was only one sentence about treaties. Maclean’s understands that racism is taking place, and that it is destructive, but it has very little understanding of why.
Cities are treaty partners; schools are treaty partners; courts are treaty partners; police services and businesses are treaty partners. Yet they continue to negatively impact their Native populations. That should have been part of the story.
These two worlds, just as when I was a child, still don’t fit together. We have Native children growing up in poverty in the midst of plenty. Governments and the oppressive bureaucracy at Aboriginal Affairs know this, and that’s what makes it worse. We talk about racism, but only about individual intolerance and not systemic oppression and treaty relationships.
Winnipeg’s Mayor Bowman, the first Metis mayor of a major Canadian city, seems to be the only mayor now addressing the issue openly. Perhaps his response to the Maclean’s article can light a fire in the hearts of others and we can begin a conversation on race that is actually meaningful. If not, perhaps Maclean’s can follow up with every Canadian city and find that we are all tied for first when it comes to ignoring treaty relations.
Would just like to share some information…Actually Mayor Keith Hobbs in Thunder Bay Ontario spoke out against racism in 2014. [url=http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/thunder-bay/mayor-keith-hobbs-calls-tamara-johnson-s-statements-disgusting-1.2675017]http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/thunder-bay/mayor-keith-hobbs-calls-tamara-johnson-s-statements-disgusting-1.2675017[/url]
From Jen in thunder bay on Jan 29th, 2015 at 1:12pm
this was such a good read…i had said many times that we need to find out why, as hard as it may seem, to find the root causes of this racism. it would not only benefit the aboriginal folks such as me, but the human race. this will dissipate the intolerance we have for each other. we all bleed red…how many times have we heard that? yet no one goes deeper than that phrase. in movies we cling together when there is an outside oppressor, such as President Ronald Reagan said in one of his speeches… “Perhaps we need some outside universal threat to make us recognize this common bond. I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world.” (Ronald Reagan, United Nations, 1987)
From JAMES SMITH in Canada on Jan 29th, 2015 at 1:32pm
Thanks so much for this much needed article, Max.
Should be mandatory reading for all Canadians.
From Marc Spooner in Regina on Jan 29th, 2015 at 2:09pm
Excellent and wise words from our young leader at the U of S. Thank you Max. The truth will set us free.
From edie in Saskatoon on Jan 29th, 2015 at 2:17pm
Thank you for a great article.
From Kelly Megyesi in Vernon BC on Jan 29th, 2015 at 2:42pm
As long as we cherry pick away at overt intolerance and not address the systemic & ongoing colonial attitudes today we will circle this forever….so many of my people have bought the government stories—so many of us don’t know the truth….so many of us are afraid of the truth & the subsequent actions that will make this better…can’t imagine after reading & educating myself more & more how it could be any worse than what FN have endured for a long time…
From Betty Pittman in Chatham Ont on Jan 29th, 2015 at 2:59pm
Great article. Sheds light on something many Canadians think they’re not. If you’ve ever made a comment or ever differentiated somebody for being a different color, you are definitely not helping the cause. In Canada, I feel like we have hit a very interesting crossroad. People who are not of a visible minority feel like it’s okay to make comments because they don’t feel hatred towards that particular race, therefore feel like they are allowed to make snide stereotypical comments towards a race since it’s not hate driven. As a Chinese guy living in Calgary, I go through it on a regular basis and have heard it it all growing up here. Just because it isn’t driven by hate, you’ve still singled somebody out and probably made them feel uncomfortable. Perhaps we just need to reflect a bit more before saying something.
From Anon in Calgary on Jan 29th, 2015 at 9:03pm
Thank you! I hope our fellow Canadians realize that because of the colour of ones skin, does not mean he or she has a bad soul or bad intensions .. Look at Hitler he’s a white man.. And sadistic.. Stalin?? Like come on people all you gotta do is look at our history and it shows exactly how “white man” brainwashed and sucked you into believing different coloured people are bad… But seriously think about it.. We’re all HUMAN BEINGS. So stop killing over religion and race.. And let’s remember that the fact that we are all brothers and sisters and we should work together.
From Caleigh Farkas in Saskatoon on Jan 29th, 2015 at 11:43pm
So glad for this to be acknowledged . I will add that colonisation is a disease that spread all other the world for thousands of years and that we are all victims and perpetrators of it. it is a disease of repeated historical traumas perpetuated from generation to generation. it has to do with the pruning of our connective system, this wounding being so intolerable somebody has to be blamed. recognising this grief is the open door to start to heal and resume the reestablishment of our connections to self, each other and more fundamentally to Nature because fundamentally we are but we still have to experience it on this earth.
From jean-claude Catry in saltspring island on Jan 30th, 2015 at 1:28am
I agree with you on the whole, but disagree with you on one specific point. As person of Metis descent, but do not show my aboriginal heritage (blonde hair & blue eyes) I have looked from the outside on most of these issues and see the problem as systemic. It is the fact that aboriginals are distinctively separated that has caused the schism in our society.
When two groups are stood side by side and told they are different and are treated differently, resentment and alienation will occur, no matter whether there is inequality or not, it will be perceived as such. So when the discussion involves treaty relations, the non-aboriginal community perceives the discussion as futile and they do not perceive a treaty as a partnership, but as a list of demands, in most cases they have been required to take part and have not come on their own.
In the same forum, the aboriginal community (not the aboriginal people) perceive treaties as a right and not a negotiated agreement, this perceived right turns into actual demands which further alienates both sided. This is further aggravated by inequality within some bands in Canada, having the chiefs and councils living in lavish housing while the band members live in poverty.
The only real solution to the schism is a country that is founded on the equality of all people and a society that doesn’t differentiate between race, creed or heritage, then and only then will an end to racism even be possible.
From David McMillan in Calgary, AB on Jan 30th, 2015 at 9:50am
Well written and insightful points.
From KD in Saskatoon, SK on Jan 30th, 2015 at 10:06am
Thanks for a great article. I was intrigued to see nêhiyaw written with a lowercase “n”; I’d have certainly been more than hesitant to write out the name of someone’s culture or ethnicity without capitalizing it.
I threw a few terms into Google and found this master’s thesis: [url=http://dspace.library.uvic.ca:8080/bitstream/handle/1828/5820/Napoleon_Arthur_MA_2014.pdf]http://dspace.library.uvic.ca:8080/bitstream/handle/1828/5820/Napoleon_Arthur_MA_2014.pdf[/url]
From the thesis (ellipsis mine):
“Using standardized roman orthography (SRO), Plains Cree proper is spelled nêhiyawîwin but it is spelled as nîhiyawîwin in the northern sub-dialect . . . the other thing to remember about nîhiyawîwin writing using SRO is that we do not use capital letters. For the sake of aesthetics and formatting I am compromising and allowing the use of capital letters on nîhiyawîwin words when:
• They are at the start of a sentence
• They are used in a heading or subheading “
From Sean MacGillivray in Canada on Jan 30th, 2015 at 1:51pm
Why do you identify just as nêhiyaw? You are Métis. Like me. Embrace both sides of your culture because you wouldn’t be you otherwise. I grow tired of seeing other Métis pushing one half of their identity to the side. We already know we will never be fully accepted into either side, so we need to come into our own.
From Keewatin on Jan 30th, 2015 at 8:20pm
Thank you so much for writing this Max. Here’s to continuing dedicated efforts toward systemic changes in policy, programs and actions. We can do better, we must!
From Lenore Swystun in saskatoon on Jan 31st, 2015 at 9:44am
One of the main problems is that everyone hears racism and assumes its against only people with a colour to their skin tone. No, I’m 19 years old and white , growing up in Winnipeg I’ve seen more cultures hating me, ‘for being white’, ‘for stealing your land’, I mean I’ve been a minority growing up in school in some parts of Winnipeg. I’ve seen people get called racist and proceed to be called a few other things that are definitely racist, when they’ve done nothing but be white . We get so much hate for things that our ancestors did that we have NOTHING to do with, thats the problem ! All the blame is being placed on us. It doesn’t feel great to have a large population of native people in Winnipeg automatically hate you for being born. And it does go both ways but this is creating more and more prejudice.
From rayne in winnipeg, mb on Jan 31st, 2015 at 12:10pm
Great piece! It really connects everything together in a way that makes sense. This topic needs to be discussed at great length and information like this is a good way to open up the conversation.
From Kayla in Saskatoon on Jan 31st, 2015 at 2:17pm
Max is obviously an intelligent young man who unfortunately has lived through experiences that many average Caucasians (myself included) will never encounter nor truly understand. I have to admit I have not read the McLean’s article, but I agree with the assertion that scoring one city the worst will afford the opportunity to let other cities feel unjustifiably good about themselves to some extent, and possibly miss the opportunity to recognize that further improvement is still required. On the other hand, I think that when we attribute racism simply to colonialism we also tend to miss that this has been a human condition for the entire history of human kind. One person, tribe, race, nation, religion etc. sees someone or some other group with something they desire and they have the means to take it, they tend to do so using whatever justification suits them. Sometimes the group at disadvantage is simply pushed aside, sometimes enslaved, and sometimes simply annihilated. None of these things are fair or just, nor are they unique to one culture. I don’t pretend to have the answers to the problem but I think the question is bigger than we seem to most often ask. We do need to understand our history, but we also need to find a way to move forward together. The world will continue to move forward and change and will no go backward, affording an opportunity to erase past wrongs. I hope that someday we can all just be people, treat each other fairly, with respect, understand and celebrate our differences together.
From Bill Bennett in Saskatchewan on Jan 31st, 2015 at 11:28pm
Bang on brother. The only question I have, and it is a real question….I’m curious….how much of Metis culture did Mayor Bowman actually live? If and when the treaties really are examined perhaps we will begin to see our part in the abuse of First Nations people.
From Bob Webster in Wiinnipeg on Feb 1st, 2015 at 9:15am
The cunning of systemic racism is that it makes itself nearly invisible to dominant social groups. It is far easier to blame some deficiency of character or community than it is to stand up and ask: how do we address these issues, for they run deep? Convincing people that these systems of inequality are real and are hard at work is, in and of itself, a daunting task, so thank you Mr FineDay for taking the time to try.
From Denton in Sydney on Feb 1st, 2015 at 3:39pm
The generic approach to solving this problem is not a viable solution. The issues differ as greatly as the populations of the regions in our great country do. My father’s family moved to northern Alberta (homestead east of Edmonton) in 1898 – he was 2 years old at the time. All of the children he grew up with learned the languages of the many European nations the came from and most of them spoke unaccented English. However, there were few, if any, Natives among them and their familiarity with that culture was limited. One of my dad’s older brothers spent a couple years living among and trading with the Cree people north-east of his farm home around Fort Saskatchewan and was fluent in the language. I grew up with metis school chums but no treaty natives as there were no reserves in the area of our home. I recall that my father did not discriminate on account of race and I was raised in that tradition as well. I did not get introduced to the ‘Indian Problem’ until I moved to South-east Sask. in the 1950’s to work in the oil patch. I had very little contact with natives but was introduced to the rhetoric common to people who have a limited choice of groups of humans to look down on – I was not impressed. I am now in my late 70’s and have fairly broad experience with the situation you refer to – most of the negatives I see are the result of poor parenting and inappropriate indoctrination from the society at large. Unfortunately, the native people living in proximity to larger cities give those people a rich source of reference from which to develop negative stereotypes. The problem is not of a single dimension and that seems often to be the major blockage to an approach to some sort of solution. First Nations need very badly to bring civilized structure to their people, not European civilization but the civilization of their forefathers. The way things stand now it is most likely that no real progress can be made. The structure of our tribal peoples worlds no longer has credibility with them or with people outside their communities. I have no solutions to offer, I d not have the experience or knowledge to work from, but I would very much like to see an honest description of the fundamental problem developed as a starting point for the development of a better life for our native people.
From Carl Manz in Edmonton, AB on Feb 2nd, 2015 at 2:17pm