April 5, 1996 Halifax Herald

Eradicating racism must be a government priority

Well, my friends, the annual ritual has taken place; Max Yalden, Canadian Human Rights Commissioner, issued his report castigating the government for inaction on human rights issues, and identifies Native Peoples as the most racially persecuted people in Canada. Now, comes the next part of the yearly ritual: federal and provincial governments declining to take the steps needed to cure the problem of native persecution.

Why do governments sully the country's image by declining to address this racial problem aggressively? A well-educated guess on my part is that both levels of government find it difficult to admit that the official bigotry practised against natives by Canada over the decades created the problem in the first place. It takes principled people to make such admissions and then discover ways to atone for the wrongs committed by governing institutions. The fact that it isn't being done speaks for itself!

However, whether governments like it or not, they eventually will have to admit that the present racial oppression of natives is centuries old and government caused. They will also have to acknowledge publicly that genocide and other atrocities against natives by Europeans occurred in this country. The past is littered with examples of brutality that have been deliberately suppressed.

As history relates, it was only a few years after Cabot's arrival, in 1497, that Newfoundland's Beothuk became the first to suffer genocide at European hands. The assault against these unfortunate souls was so effective that, within a short period of time, they became extinct. The next in line for racial oppression were Atlantic Canada's Mi'kmaq and Maliseet, followed by every other First Nation across the country. In the process, overpowered by a pitiless invader, natives suffered every indignity humans can inflict upon another. A column of this sort is too short to be more explicit in this regard, so the before-mentioned will have to suffice. Back to the issue of modern-day racism.

One of the favourite ploys used by Governments to decline to deal effectively with Canada's festering racist problems is to hide behind a handy smoke screen called women's issues. Human rights commissions are just as bad; other than paying lip service, they rarely, if ever, use their considerable influence to try to level the playing field for racially oppressed peoples.

What is the sense of having these expensive institutions if they serve only the purpose of enabling governments to say, "we have set up the means for racially oppressed peoples to seek redress;" when, in fact, they do not involve themselves proactively in creating a racially tolerant society?

On the subject of women's issues, to hear governments making pronouncements on these issues, one would swear that women in this country are a small, under-privileged minority. The hard, cold fact is this: women are the country's majority and they have had, and have, representation in the highest levels of government and justice. Theoretically, if they so choose, as the majority, they could take over the governments of this land by simply voting in their own. However, I will state that there has been a notable absence of women of colour making these advances.

While women have made it to the top, native peoples and other peoples of colour, in comparison, have made only meagre advancements. To illustrate how bad it is, I'll use native peoples as an example. Natives make up about 4percent of the population, but we have not had any senior level representation in government or justice. And because of our small numbers, we don't have a prayer of ever being able to take over the government to fix our problems by voting in our own.

This places us squarely at the mercy of white governments for redress of racial issues. When these governments abrogate this responsibility in order to play with an issue that they deem to be more politically rewarding for them, then we, as a discriminated against people, are left abandoned. This, in effect, is what the situation is today.

If we are ever to see racial equality perceived for everyone in this country, governments will have to stop playing politics with intolerance issues and adopt a determined stance to eradicate racism. And eradication won't be realized by occasionally paying lip service to the ideal; there has to be a continuous and constructive effort to see it done.

As a result of government neglect of Native racial issues, this country has a blight on it that cries out to be cured. It is not conscionable for a country that calls itself civilized to have within its boundaries a situation where natives make up an extremely high proportion of the prison population in comparison to their numbers at large; it is not acceptable to have a situation where 70 - 80 percent of natives are unemployed; it is not acceptable to have a situation where native self-esteem has been so badly damaged by racism that, among them, rates of alcoholism, drug abuse, suicides, etc., are the highest in the country.

For those who might think otherwise, I'm not advocating that governments shouldn't try to eradicate intolerance wherever it exists; what I am saying is that they should put priority where it is badly needed - eradicating racism!

Daniel N. Paul


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