Getting Fed Up with Ignorance and Racism

I was scribbling in my notebook on the LRT this afternoon.  Here’s what came out:

Whatever your response to the Idle No More movement, I would suggest that it has uncovered an often ignored stream of racism in Canadian society.  So many of the comments can be summarized as “Get over it! I didn’t have anything to do with the Residential Schools! Indians are parasites! There shouldn’t be any ‘special’ Canadians! Just get over it!”

I have repeatedly heard aboriginal Canadians referred to as savages. I’ve been told that there is nothing in aboriginal culture worth saving, that it would be better for everyone if it just disappeared. I’ve read columns in newspapers which imply that native Canadians are congenital child-abusers and murderers.  I’ve heard the claim that natives are all untrustworthy and criminal because “Once I saw one . . .”

I have been saddened and horrified over the last year to see so many of my fellow non-aboriginal Canadians reveal themselves to be the moral and intellectual equivalent of the most rabid White South African defenders of Apartheid.  Echoing in my mind from conversations before de Klerk came to his senses are the words “What you have to understand, John, is that those people will never be able to govern themselves”.

Well, I’d like to say a few things about “those people”.

Individual Action and Individual Responsibility — a non-definitive list and its implications

Some European Canadians, Asian Canadians, African Canadians, Aboriginal Canadians, Canadian Men, and Canadian Women . . .

Drive badly
Get drunk
Attack people in broad daylight with a hammer
Are homeless
Deal Drugs
Rape little boys
Rape little girls
Rape women
Rape men
Rape farm animals
Use porn
Make porn
Embezzle from their employer
Embezzle from the public purse
Avoid fares on public transit
Murder people they know
Murder strangers
Commit arson
Commit suicide
Cheat on their income tax
Cheat on their spouse
Preach homophobia
Are anti-science
Are anti-religion
Are ignorant
Are uneducated
Are foolish
Have a tin ear
Have no rhythm
Can’t jump
Eat too much
Are lazy
Are self-pitying

But . . . You know what?

Just because some people in every group do these things doesn’t mean that . . . .

Asian cultures know nothing of Justice
European cultures have nothing of Beauty
There is no Good in African cultures
or that Aboriginal Canadian cultures have no Truth.

Any particular individual may have no interest in this, but every culture has something of value, justice, goodness, beauty and truth, no matter the ugliness and evil of individual or group action.  Responsibility for ugliness, however, often must be shared.  The sins of the father are indeed visited upon the sons — and the daughters — to the seventh generation and beyond.  And often it is the seventh generation which must take responsibility, collectively, for the sins of the fathers and for the pain and damage still felt by the sons and daughters.

Group Action and Group Responsibility

The German state committed the Holocaust, and the World Community was so horrified that there are Holocaust museums and memorials all over the world.  And the German state continues to work out reparations and restorations for the crimes of a previous generation.   Stalin’s Soviet Union committed the Holodomor.  There’s a monument at City Hall in Edmonton, by the way.  The genocides are seemingly endless, but they are remembered and humanity as a group has come to feel a responsibility to remember, commemorate, and where possible, make reparations and restitution even when the our state has not committed the genocidal acts.  This sense of collective responsibility is one of the great moral achievements of the 20th Century.

Political Equality vs. Political Homogeneity

I’ve been hearing offended responses to Idle No More of “Canadians should all be equal, no one should have special rights!”  It’s a great marketing slogan and perhaps a wonderful, utopian vision.  But it’s also a loud proclamation of ignorance of the nature of the Canadian Confederation.  Never has this country been based on any idea of equality meaning identity of rights and privileges.  Ours country is a pragmatic balancing of regional, individual and collective rights.  Representation in Parliament is not equal between regions.  Citizens do not have access to or protection by identical law from province to province. The maritime provinces had conditions for entering Confederation — special rights for their governments and people. British Columbia demanded and got a trans-continental railroad.  Alberta and Saskatchewan, carved out of the North West Territories by the Dominion Government, originally had limited power compared to the original Provinces.  But accommodations were made for the demands of Alberta’s and Saskatchewan’s Legislatures. Nunavut is something else again, as are Yukon and the remaining rump of the North West Territories.

We are policed differently depending on where we live, our children are educated differently, minimum wages are different, divorce law, driving regulations, municipal mandates . . . and so on and so on.  Canadians have never been and I hope never will be “equal” in the cookie-cutter fashion the ignorant cry for when confronted by Native demands that Governments fulfil their legal and constitutional obligations.  The Dominion Government gave B.C. it’s railroad and P.E.I., Nova Scotia and New Brunswick got the Senate representation they demanded.  Quebec, like every province, has its own advantageous guarantees in the Confederation.  And now, the new generation of educated and energetic Aboriginal Canadians is simply demanding that the Government live up to the obligations and benefits of the Treaties, the Constitution, and the Government’s own legislation.

Prime Minister Harper’s own government drafted and passed the law constituting the Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  Canada was instrumental in creating the International Criminal Court, whose founding document, the Statute of Rome, restates the Geneva Convention’s definition of Genocide, and, the Canadian Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act  writes that definition into Canadian law.  The outcry about the century long genocidal progams of the Canadian Government is nothing other than a call for recognition of the Truth as required by Canadian law, and Reconciliation as is implied, if impolitely, by those shrill cries of “Get over it!”

History and Getting Over It

The State of Israel exists in part because the world wanted to “Get over” the Holocaust.  Have Jewish people gotten over the Holocaust? Can we imagine someone shouting to Elie Wiesel “Get over it!”?  Should Rwandans get over their genocide? Congolese? Armenians? Ukrainians? How does one get over Srebrenica? What does “Get over it!” even mean?

Should victims of child abuse just get over it? Here, perhaps, is the heart of it. Yes, child abuse victims ideally should get over it, but not “just” get over it.  They are going to need help and time and even then, not all of them, maybe not any, will ever really get over it.  Why would we expect a people to just get over a generation of genocide, let alone a century?

Remember, many residential school survivors are younger than I am.  They haven’t had the help I’ve had from society, and I never suffered anything in the grand scheme of things.  Most of us have not.  The sooner we, the privileged, stop shouting “Get over it!”, the sooner the healing can begin — for all of us.

The policies of Canada concerning native peoples are not yet history — they continue to be real, daily life.  The residential schools are closed, but they are not yet history.  Culloden is history. The Battle of the Boyne is history (one hopes).  But, even after centuries, neither the Scots nor the Irish have really, completely gotten over those single, one day events.  Please don’t obscenely ask a man who was raped at the age of twelve by a priest to “Get over it.”

The sins of our fathers remain green in living memory.  Yes, let’s start to get over it.  Let’s learn the Truth and begin the Reconciliation. But we must never minimize, dismiss, or forget the crime.

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