March 3, 2000 Halifax Herald

Racism killing natives, and no one seems to care

For many years, on an annual basis, the Canadian Human Rights Commission has castigated Canada for not doing more to end the racism that plagues the aspirations of First Nations Peoples for a good life. The Government turns a deaf ear to the castigation. The deaf ear is also given when the United Nations steps in from time to time with rather nasty comments about the situation.

However, let a racist situation, even a possible one, break out anywhere else in the World and puritanical members of the Canadian government are first in line tut-tuting the offender or the possible offender. Thus, the federal government has got its nose stuck into intolerance squabbles from the former Yugoslavia to East Timor. It has even gone so far as to put Austria "on probation" because that country had the audacity to include the far-right Freedom Party in its government. One wonders why China isn't on probation for denying civil and human rights to Tibetans?

The government's proactive involvement in helping to resolve racial problems outside its own borders leaves the uninformed with the impression that it is saintly when combatting such uncivilized behaviour. This seems like a blatant attempt to obscure the fact that it acts like an ostrich when it comes to aggressively dealing with such matters within its borders.

The news media, following the government's lead, also loves to become outraged about horrific intolerance-related incidents happening elsewhere, particularly in the United States - i.e., extreme right-wingers leaving a gay man to die a slow death on a fence and an unarmed black man being shot 19 times by cops in New York.

Don't get me wrong. Itís right for the media to publicize and condemn diligently such horrific occurrences. But here in Canada, the same level of condemnation does not materialized when persons of First Nation ancestry are brutalized in a like manner. This leads one to conclude that systemic racism is so ingrained in white Canadian society that the brutalizing of a First Nations citizen is still sub-consciously viewed by many as a minor offense.

Of course, the retention of such views in the Nation's mentality probably has much to do with the country's racist history. Itís easy to forget that Canada and its colonial predecessors spent almost three centuries trying - first by outright genocide, then by cultural genocide - to exterminate its First Nations peoples. The fact that First Nations are still denied self-government makes a conclusion that the cultural genocide option is still alive and well and on the table.

Consequently, there is no way that this country can ever deny the fact that it has a major racial hang-up when it comes to "Indians." The latest incidents brought to light out west lend great weight to such an accusation. In this regard, why wasn't there wide spread outrage when it was revealed that perhaps hundreds of Natives have been brutalized by police in Saskatchewan in recent years? Where is the outrage when itís revealed that a few weeks ago two women of Native ancestry die in Winnipeg because police fail to respond to four 911 calls from them? Is it muted because they were Natives?

One can state with confidence that if the victims had been non-Native, the incidents would now be the subject of a major debate in the House of Commons and in many provincial legislatures. Front-page headlines would be demanding redress across the country. The coverage would not have been relegated to the back burner so quickly by most of the media. Except for the CBC, there has been very little follow-up.

This leads to a conclusion that neither the government or the media are willing to become proactive in helping Native Peoples overcome the persecution still suffered. Therefore, itís time that First Nations Peoples take off their gloves and begin to challenge Canada's hypocritical posture on the World stage. This seems to be the only option open to us to permanently put a stop to our peoples dying from the activities of Canadian racial bigots.

To get the effort off the ground, the Assembly of First Nations needs to begin to catalogue in minute detail the deaths of Native Peoples related to racism that have occurred in this country over the past three decades. The fact that there have been dozens, perhaps hundreds, of such occurrences might shock the country into action. If not, I'm sure that the media around the World will have a field day with it and provide the shock.

Also, publicizing the exclusion of First Nations Peoples will add to the embarrassment. Lip service is given to addressing the problem by the Canadian government in a proactive manner, but, to-date, hot air hasn't produced many results. None of the provinces have clean hands, either. In this regard, Nova Scotia cannot escape the fact that it contributes to the Nation's disgrace by not using affirmative action to end the exclusion of the Mi'kmaq in this province.

This question begs for an answer. How many more First Nations Peoples must die from racism-related causes before shame will finally take hold of the national conscience and cause it to devise proactive, responsible ways to end it?

Daniel N. Paul


Home   Column Index 2000   Web Site Map