Archives for posts with tag: First Nations

No doubt about it, we humin beans done been here a long time now. So long, that it feels like racism should have passed its “best before date”. Since there’s still so much racism everywhere, there are obviously a lot of racists out there. So, what’s it like being racist? Like, if someone is basing their discrimination on a stereotype, how many people outside that stereotype would it take to prove the stereotype wrong? It’s not one or two, so how many? What if 70% of the First Nations one passed on any given day weren’t “drunk and lazy”, would that be enough to put that stereotype to rest? And if one passed ten First Nations’ people and two of them were drunk and one was lazy, is that all it takes to make a stereotype and get some hatred going?

It can’t be easy to be a racist… to be afraid of people simply because of the colour of their skin… to feel threatened and scared because someone in their vicinity is different from them… to always feel angry, to always feel a burning hatred in the belly of their brain… to basically feel like who they are and what they are is based on the colour of their skin. That’s gotta suck.

There was that one time I was on the cusp of being racist. And it did suck. It happened during second year of university when I was researching First Nations’ education and came across the Residential School System. At the time I was still learning about all things native after finding out I had official “Indian” status and could carry a card to prove it. Being adopted (**) by a non-native family at the age of 8mths, I grew up in “white” middle-class suburbia with three older brothers and spent my formative years pretending I was a little boy like them. Anyhow, learning about the residential schools was shocking, and the more I read about how the students were treated the angrier I became. I became angry with my parents as I associated them with the white ruling class who were responsible for what happened to my native ancestors. And before long I started feeling angry in general, towards every white person.

As luck would have it though, I ran into my high school history teacher one night while I was out. He was that one teacher who made school bearable, who made learning Canadian history fun and interesting at a time when I didn’t care to learn anything. We were ‘friends’, as much as a student and teacher could be ‘friends’. He knew my brothers, he had met my parents somehow, and he was funny. So when I saw him that night, I laid into him without so much as a hello. “You never taught us about the residential school system! You never taught us about what really happened to the First Nations! What kind of teacher are you?” I railed at him. I dunno what else I ranted but he finally put his hand up and said “Eh, oh. Lemme tell you a story.” And he proceeded to tell me about how he had been up for a Rhodes Scholarship back in the day. Only the most prestigious award one could get as a student. He was actually offered the scholarship by the Rhodes selection committee, “if”, they said, he would take out all the references of what really happened to the First Nations in the paper he had submitted with his application. He said no, so they threw his paper in the trashcan and he didn’t get the scholarship.

When he finished telling the story, he looked at me with sad droopy eyes and said that he had wanted to teach me the truth, but he had to teach the curriculum. And just like that, all the anger I had been projecting at a group of people based soley on the colour of their skin, dissipated. I was flooded with memories of how my family had shown again and again that they were not racist, and I knew they didn’t even know about the residential school system, and then I remembered Dr Bryce, and of course, the Underground Railroad. Dr Peter Bryce was a non-native guy, hired by the Department of Indian Affairs in 1907 to report on the health conditions of the Residential School System in western Canada. He was the first to report that First Nations’ children were dying at alarming rates from tuberculosis, amongst other things. He suggested a few easy and cheap ways to prevent the deaths but his report was not only ignored, it was suppressed. The government didn’t want anything to change as the First Nations children were dying off fast and this would help solve the ‘Indian problem’. As a civil servant of the Government, he was legally prevented from doing or saying anything publicly, thus Dr Bryce waited until his contract was over in 1922 and then published his report as a book, condemning the treatment of the First Nations by the government. So, yeah, I know that not every white person is racist and I knew it back then, but still I found myself confused by the overwhelming emotions that had me looking at everybody with scorn and anger and disdain.

Maybe it’s easy to ask “how can someone be racist?” with an incredulous tone, but the seeds are everywhere. I was lucky that in my vulnerable state I had a chance meeting with someone I respected who was able to understand and respect my anger. But not everyone is that lucky. I could easily have crossed paths with someone who could have fueled the feelings of discontent and might have ended up in a very different place. So, the problem is not just that there is racism, the problem is how do we get rid of it in a way that doesn’t cause chaos? And how do we live with what Nina Simone angrily lamented in Mississippi Goddam, that it’s going to be “too slow”?

Racism is like an illness that won’t disappear overnight. Realistically, it’s going to take years, like reconciliation with the First Nations. Buuut, we can help it along. We can keep looking to the arts and the artists, who have been breaking barriers and challenging stereotypes for years. We seem to be strongly influenced by our media and our arts, which is why movies like “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner”, “Do The Right Thing” and “Straight Outta Compton” are so powerful and important. Along with television shows like Degrassi, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Dear White People, they make us uncomfortable; they push boundaries, create new status quos and force people to look at themselves introspectively. We need to see the so-called minorities in the mainstream media rather than just in the news, to see them on television shows, just doing what they do rather than being a designated stereotype. We need to stop the whitewashing.

We don’t have to reinvent the wheel either. I think most racists have been denied the truth and that’s caused a lot of negative feelings that they didn’t have to be carrying around. It’s not their fault and they deserve a chance to know and see the truth, and if after that they still wanna be racist, well… But holy crap if there’s actually going to be a race war! Cuz there’s a whole lotta people out there who wouldn’t know which side to be on, like me. I’m Ojibwa, Cree, Norwegian and French. Plus I don’t wanna ‘fight’ anyone because of the colour of their skin or mine. I don’t want to fight, pointe finale… Reminds me of that saying, what if they held a war and nobody came?

** PS: my apologies as it is not clear… I am what some call a Native Adoptee – not one of the sixties/seventies scoop babies. Both my biological parents were of First Nations ancestry – one Ojibewa and one Cree, going back (many) generations there is French on one side and Norwegian on the other, and there is some Scottish in there as well but I’m not sure where… I was given up at the age of 6mths, and adopted by my parents at 8 mths. They were told I was either Cherokee or Blackfoot so I referred to myself as a Cherryfoot. It was only at the age of 18 yrs that I learned which nation I was and that I had ‘official’ Native Status.  – August 17

When Donald Trump first aired in my orbit in the 90’s, there was no connection so I distanced myself from all things Trump. Then he got into politics and was everywhere on my radar, I couldn’t escape him. Every. Day. In the news, it was something even more wild and absurd and crazy that Trump was purported to have said, and every day it got my eyes bulging and my fighters’ cap on. And as everyday it’s the same thing and it’s creating a world of chaos, and there is no way to escape it, what does one do? How does one like myself, like yourself, like anyone, live in the same world as Trump, in a world where everything that we are, believe and represent is the epitome of everything that he fears, simply because we are not like him?
At first I was leaning more toward the haters’ bandwagon. But I had a moment like Pacha, with the llama in Emperor’s New Groove, I said to myself that no one could be as heartless and disrespectful and horrible as he was being made out to be. So I suggested, as Trumps’ daily tweets made it seem that he was becoming so absurd as to be bordering humour, he had to be PUNKED-ing us, punking the world. It’s like, The biggest punk or practical joke. Ever. Because no one could be as bad as the media makes him out to be, and that’s all I have to go on, as I have never met him before and only heard of him and his locker room talk. Buuuuut, if you can’t believe half of what you hear and less of what you see, then the news could possibly be biased. There are fake tweets purportedly from Trump that made him out to be showing disrespect to veterans, but they weren’t actually made by him. And even if a lot of the bad stuff is true as reported, his behaviour is all for show, he’s hiding something. That is the purpose of the red-herring. And he is the king of red-herrings. He didn’t invent fake news but it seems to follow him like stink on a skunk.

Let’s be honest, the press has not been nice to him. Whenever there is the opportunity to put a photo of him, it is never a flattering one, it usually makes Trump look uncomfortable, or is otherwise unflattering, and not like the angelic photos they would post when Obama was in office. I reason that it just cannot be as painful as it looks, that he is not as bad and horrible as he is made out to be. Like, all the books, comics, stories and otherwise sacred texts I’ve ever read, whenever something looks that bad, it’s a ruse.
So I reason that Trump, and his new verb, being Trumponian, in not reading what yer commenting about but insulting it after admitting to have not researched it, I think that what he’s done, and continues to do, is throw out so many red-herrings that it’s forced people to examine what is the Truth and look into the foundations of what is being said.  What this activity could be doing is keeping people busy on so many fronts that we don’t have the resources to look into what his true goals will be or where it will be or what it is. It could all a part of his plan to get people to come together and realize how we all want the same things and how it’s better if we work together and how we can work together. But, like how sometimes people use negative reinforcement to teach,  he’s using absurdity.

IF that’s his plan, it’s inGENious. Like THE best play from Barney’s Playbook. Because what Trump has done and continues to do with every tweet, is uniting the world. Plus, when the ruse hits the fan, he’s ultimately going to come off as some sort of Willy Wonka kind of character.  Peruse Instagram for half an hour and you’ll see people from all over the world talking about and supporting each other in their truths and the struggles they have had to endure simply for being. It may appear to be only a bunch of photos and emojis, but they are challenging the truths we have been spoon-fed since birth, and sharing it with the world. They are dialoguing on politics, religion, sex and music and books and ideas. Trumponian politics has opened a lot of people’s eyes to what truth is and what it means. He’s made people actively question what is best for us and the answers are causing revolutionary activity in people coming together, in person, in large groups, for good.
There’s a character in some First Nations stories called Coyote, he’s known as the Trickster. He’s a shape-shifter and likes to laugh and have fun. He can be cool but you can’t win against the Trickster; you don’t end up getting what you want when you think he’ll give you what you want, you get something worse. I think Trump is like the Coyote. The Coyote’s nature is to trick, to have fun, to make one believe something that isn’t based on truth. He pretends to be someone he’s not. And the others watching either do or do not know he’s the trickster. His purpose is to reveal cracks in one’s character to help better that person. The Trickster is ultimately not evil or bad, just bored, who doesn’t take into consideration the results of his actions, doesn’t care about them. So, I reason that if Trump is the Coyote, he isn’t a bad guy. He’s trying to trick us into thinking he’s this sexist, racist, narcissistic tyrant by what he’s doing, but he’s ultimately not that, and so those who support him are being tricked into believing he’s being honest and speaking the truth. It’s going to be difficult for those who really believe what he has been tweeting and refuse to see the humour in the punk… there are always those who can’t handle the meme… If he’s punking us, at some point, something’s going to happen like in the Wizard Of Oz, a screen will be pulled back and he’ll be like “Oooooh. Hi!”. And then all the craziness will stop. There will no doubt be an awakening/adjustment period, because it’s going to be the punk of the lifetime. On the world.
Slowly, he’ll start pulling back in each one of the red-herrings he flung out and we will no longer be adrift in this harbour of fog caused by real or fake news.

Short digression – Trump reminds me of the guy from the movie Robots, of the big ol’round CEO robot, the old guy who had started the company then got lost and then lost hope on making a difference and was found playing with dominos to pass the time when the younger Robot came along and woke him up.
All this to say that while Trump seems to be a head scratcher or face-palmer, and the only plausible explanation to be able to live in the same world is to think of him as the Trickster, it could be a warning, like the ‘end-is-nigh’ à la Whoville in Horton Hears A Who.  One of the good side-effects of Trumponian politics though, is that it’s also causing a lot of self-examination. People are being forced to look at their own biases and shortcomings, and are seeing how we are each imperfectly perfect. Which, is creating a whole new world order of sorts, based on reality and respect and equality. People are standing up for what they believe in, and the joy ride while surfing Instagram that he’s caused is bringing people together.

And if it turns out that he’s not the Trickster, maybe some of his freinds could chill and watch The Meaning of Life with him by Monty Python. I’ll keep watching it play out on social media. And twitter…. And will hafta come up with another way to make sense of it all. Cuz it’s Trumponian.

Next Week: Religion