Stereotypes Don’t Trump What is Right, Legal, and Good

I should be working on Christmas baking and my paintings but I got thinking this morning as both The Current and Q on CBC Radio got around to #IdleNoMore and I felt like getting some of those thoughts down. Please forgive the impressionistic disorder.


Remember South Africa under apartheid? I do. Well, I don’t remember it in the sense of “I was there”. What I mean is that I was an adult when Nelson Mandela was released, and the events were a bit close to me because a dear old friend from my University days lived and worked and fought apartheid and spent time in jail in South Africa for her activism. Christina Scott was a journalist who, after the end of apartheid worked tirelessly for the education, particularly science education of girls in Africa until her untimely and absurdly tragic death in a traffic accident a little over a year ago, shortly before a new edition of her biography of Mandela came out.

My family’s business accountant in those days was a South African ex-pat who once told us the story of what spurred his families departure from his birthplace.  As a young man, our accountant said to his family’s Black house boy “If the revolution comes, would you kill me?”

The servant looked shocked and answered “Oh, no, Sir!” and paused before finishing “I would ask my best friend to kill you.”

At the same time that Chris was marching against White Rule, a number of years after our accountant’s house boy’s honesty,  I had a customer who happened to be a South African ex-pat, a very polite, gentle-voiced white fellow. The one thing that sticks in my mind about that gentleman is the one time we discussed the situation in South Africa. “The thing you have to realize, John,” he said, “Is that those people will never be able to govern themselves . . .”  I didn’t know what to say.

But I do now.

It doesn’t matter whether you think they can or can’t govern themselves. They have the legal and moral right and duty to be a part of the government of their nation, for better or worse.  Apartheid was an abomination, whatever came after it.  When Nelson Mandela walked down that road from prison, historical wrongs began to be corrected, whatever the pain and turbulence the people — all the people — of South Africa faced and still face in their new adventurous experiment.

I know White people who routinely refer to First Nations people as “savages” and tell stories of the drunken Indians he’s encountered, who think the Government “gives stuff” to the First Nations and then it all gets pissed away in corruption and booze. When I hear these people, I hear “The thing you have to realize, John . . .” nervously calling from the wrong side of history.

There are street people in my neighbourhood. Some are native, many are White. When I think of White people, I don’t think of the bottle picker we affectionately call “The Old White Guy”. I think of Leonard Cohen, or Stephen Lewis, or my sadly missed friend Chris. When I think of Metis, First Nation or Inuit people, I don’t think first of the native bottle pickers in my back alley, I think of artists Aaron Paquette and Alex Janvier, of actor Lorne Cardinal and his political activist brother Lewis, of musician Lucy Idlout. I think of the thousands, the millions of aboriginal Canadians who are just as successful or as unsuccessful, as hard-working or as lazy, as happy or as desperate as their non-aboriginal neighbours.

And, when I think of Canadians of all ethnic backgrounds,  I think of #IdleNoMore.


#IdleNoMore is a call for all Canadians to move forward together into a truly shared future, a future founded not on bigoted stereotypes but on the very clearly laid out shared responsibilities and rights protected for us all by our shared country’s Constitutional documents.  When I stand with the others at a rally, I’m not calling for the release of some Canadian Mandela. I’m calling for the release of so many ordinary Canadians from the bondage of stereotypes they’ve been taught, stereotypes which isolate us from each other. I’m calling for people to educate themselves. And I’m hoping they can imagine the future we could have in the Canada envisioned by the Treaties.

And I call back through time to that gentle-voiced man saying “Yes they can govern themselves! And no one has the right to say they can’t!  It is their fundamental right!”

And I say to all Canadians, we all have obligations and rights under our Constitution and as members of the human family.  And the Governments are bound to certain obligations by our Constitutional documents.  It is time for respect, time for Governments to respect our rights, time for Governments to respect their obligations and responsibilities And it is time for us to respect each other and the sharing agreements, the Treaties on which Canada is founded.

Let’s move forward together, idle no more, with the sadly interrupted experiment that is the Treaty Nation of Canada. It’s our fundamental right, and no one can say we can’t do it.


5 comments on “Stereotypes Don’t Trump What is Right, Legal, and Good

  1. Valerie M.; Tootoosis Bull says:

    Thank you for your friendship. I wish all non-native Canadians had had a broad & deep education in the history & cultures of Canada prior to colonization – which is very recent. If one were to take some Native Studies Courses – if everyone had in public school – we would have less bigotry growing out of ignorance.

    Thank you for your friendship. There are some First Nations who are racist too. That is because they have had ongoing negative experiences with non-Native people or Institutions including the schools that should educate & affirm & liberate us all.

    I remind everyone I can that we need to work together – that there are many non-Native People who support First Nations – that the red necks are not in the majority – except, perhaps, in Ottawa.

    • Well, you know, we’re all in this together. I can’t go “home” to Europe. The only homeland my family has known for about eight generations is this one. I’m not interested in perpetuating past injustices and I think the Treaties and other constitutional documents going back to the 18th century offer us the way forward together, despite the way they have been misused to abuse the aboriginal peoples for the vast majority of the history of the documents.

      I’m not a lawyer, so certainly my understandings and interpretations may be a house of cards built on sand — I’ll leave it to lawyers and judges to set me straight. But at this point, after years of research and thought, I feel the best path to reconciliation and to a peaceful, productive, healthy future for Canada goes through the founding documents of relations between our various peoples, whatever purposes those documents have been pressed to in the past.

  2. aywastin says:

    Thank you for the peaceful messages and reminders. I wish more people would learn, listen and share with one another.
    As a youngster in elementary through high school, I learned a lot about American and Canadian history with First Nations barely mentioned. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-20s when I realized I better learn about my peoples’ history and it was challenging hunt for our Stories, our myths, our truths, our facts. When I found out why I didn’t learn my nehiyawe (cree language), it was like an ember was lit and so much of the shame and guilt melted away, replaced with compassion and pride. Our First Peoples are still here. We have a strong history of resilience and courage.
    I encourage others, like you John, to keep asking questions, listen, learn and share.
    I promise I will do the same.

    • Thanks, Aywastin.
      I was very fortunate in my parents, who were very conscious of the aboriginal side of Canadian History (unusual for those born in the 1920s), for some teachers in junior high school in two Provinces, who for what ever reason gave me a grounding in the history and constitutional issues concerning First Nations/Crown relations, for the time and place into which I was born and raised, in which First Nations were a constant presence, although often not acknowledged openly.

      I am proud and glad that I have a certain degree of proficiency in French. My slight proficiency in other European languages is a convenience and a pleasure. I wish I had learned Cree, as is now possible for children in the Edmonton Public School System. I am so proud of this city’s Public School System’s Aboriginal Education program (open to all students, by the way) I wish such a thing had been available in my youth.

      Keep learning, Aywastin! And keep teaching!

  3. […] have myself alluded to Apartheid in South Africa. I’ve suggested that the argument that “those people can’t govern […]

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