The mind rot of racism
I have no idea what it would be like to be a visible minority and be the subject of a racial slur.
Being part of the settler-colonizer class who lived in southern Canada most of my life, I’ve likely been part of the problem, rather than the solution. Until I moved to Yellowknife, I was largely ignorant of the effects my ancestors had on the Indigenous people in Canada.
But I’ve been learning about it. And my eyes have been opened.
Covering courts each week for Cabin Radio, I get first-hand lessons on the lasting legacy of residential schools. The broken families, violence and substance abuse has resulted in large numbers of Indigenous people who grew up in dysfunctional situations — alcohol and drug abuse, physical and sexual abuse and little or no secondary schooling — and they land in front of a judge.
Then there are the incidents of racism. There was one in the news last week about a young Indigenous athlete from Aklavik — a community of 600 on the west side of the Mackenzie Delta — is speaking out after racist language was hurled at her at a hockey game.
CBC North reported that Davina McLeod, who plays hockey with the Trojans at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, says on Feb. 8, her team played the Red Deer Queens and she got into a skirmish on the ice with a rookie player from the other team.
During a skirmish she said an opposing player called her a “dirty fucking Indian.” (CBC didn’t spell out the profanity.)
Said McLeod: “It just reiterates that we’re not really welcomed as a part of Canada. We’re not respected,” said McLeod. “The way she said it to me was supposed to make me feel inferior to her, which I really didn’t like because I’m so proud of where I come from.”
McLeod’s family belongs to both the Inuvialuit and Gwich’in Nations of the western Arctic.
The other player later apologized, which is the right thing to do.
However, the correct thing would have been never to have said it in the first place.
The incident was brought up in the NWT Legislative Assembly on Friday.
The words spoken by Kam Lake MLA Caitlin Cleveland really moved me. She not only situated the matter effectively, but offered methods to combat racism.
As soon as Cleveland was finished, I decided I would reprint her statement in my blog, with the hope more people would take into their hearts what she said.
So, from Hansard, here is Cleveland’s member’s statement (she also referred to an incident in a local school last week, which I hadn’t heard about):
“Mr. Speaker, as I climbed into bed late last night I had a much different statement planned for today. One last check of social media led me a story of racism that occurred in one of our schools yesterday.
“Earlier this week, we heard of racial slurs directed at an NWT student during a SAlT hockey game in Calgary. In both instances, young Indigenous women courageously took stand against the racism.
“Mr. Speaker, it is 2020 and this is not okay. First, it is time for racism to be a thing of the past. Every time we hear of racial tensions in the United States, we sit back, north of the border and judge in dismay; but, when it comes to our treatment of Canada’s Indigenous people, we do not seem to draw the same comparison.
“Second, Mr. Speaker, it is not the responsibility of our Indigenous children to stand up to racism. Indigenous people have been fighting for land, language, culture, and life for hundreds of years. It is our responsibility as colonizers to stand up for our neighbours, friends, and family; to teach our children history and compassion, to build children who grow into adults who can take part in the change we are all fighting for and demanding here today.
“Mr. Speaker, 90 per cent of homeless people on Yellowknife streets are Indigenous, upwards of 90 per cent of our corrections populations are Indigenous, and 99 per cent of our foster care system is Indigenous. Our system is rooted in colonial, systemic racism, and we are working hard to change that here together, but what becomes of all our hard work when we are not doing the same work at home?
“As much as it is our responsibility to stand up outside the home, it is our responsibility to have deep conversations in our homes.
“The transgenerational trauma of what was done to Indigenous people so that my ancestors could live in this country is raw, and it is my job to teach my children about history, racism, privilege, and responsibility.
“While we use the word reconciliation like a cool noun, it means nothing unless we are willing to stand up for change, to stand up for healing, and, as colonizers, let go. It means not fooling ourselves into thinking we have our finger on the pulse of our territory when we actually have our thumb on progress.
“As a parent, and as a politician, to be effective we have to be prepared to play the long game. The choices we make in this house, in our homes and in social settings, all play into our success as Northerners.
“This change does not require more money to our education system, or more money to our healthcare network. This is a grassroots change that requires doing what is right, and what is required, for a better, stronger North.
“Thank you, Mr. Speaker.”