I read with great interest a Environics Institute survey report which found about 25 per cent of non-Aboriginal people in Thunder Bay had a worsening view of Aboriginals.
I wouldn’t disagree with the findings, although I find them quite disturbing.
A full one quarter of all the non-Aboriginal people in the city I call home have what I consider a negative opinion of First Nations people.
By that token, likely one of the people I stood behind when I stopped for supper at a fast-food establishment would have the negative opinion.
But, as I think more and more about it, I can remember dozens of incidents that I have witnessed over my five years in Thunder Bay which have led me to tell everyone I know that this is by far, the most racist city or town or community I have ever lived in.
I heard all the comments about Aboriginals with status cards holding up the shopping line. I’ve watched as customer service reps have plain ignored young Native women who require help choosing a new very expensive shampoo and condition at the salon. I’ve seen racism on the softball diamond and written about abuses of power involving racism.
I’ve overheard the snide comments people make when they think they’re being quiet and I’ve read the letters, the great letters in the local newspapers proclaiming easy ways to fix the First Nations.
So many people are willing to share their thoughts, or at least stir the pot.
Apparently the solution to most First Nations problems, according to letter writers, is really simple. If you treat everyone the same, regardless of where they live, all the problems will disappear.
I think not.
There needs to be special accommodations, just like there is supposed to be a special relationship between the province, Canada and the First Nations.
I didn’t read about that in Grade 9, 10, 11 or 12 history class textbooks though. It’s something I’ve learned from my coworkers, friends, people I’ve interviewed and through a genuine interest in learning more about First Nations and the history of the people.
Racism is really the only negative thing I have to say about Thunder Bay and its people.
But, it’s a biggie.
I want my children to grow up in a community where tolerance is preached and I don’t think that will or can happen in Thunder Bay.
Racism is bred, it’s taught and in two or three more years when I’m married and looking to start a family, the kids of those 25 per cent of people will be older, maybe adults themselves.
The quarter could easily move up to a third.
That’s frightening to even think about. As it is, Thunder Bay’s rate of people who said their view of Aboriginal people had worsened was the highest across the country. Regina and Winnipeg, both of which have a high rate of urban Aboriginals, had percentages of 20 and 18 respectively.
I recently spent a weekend in Winnipeg and I didn’t get that same feeling of Aboriginals not being welcome. Maybe I wasn’t there long enough.
I wish I had a solution to encourage everyone to have improving views of one another.
Something is going to have to give because the urban Aboriginal population seems to be rising astronomically, especially those under 25.
I don’t suppose asking people nicely to forget their differences is going to work, not when it seems engrained.
I don’t remember much racism when I grew up in Naughton, Ont. Maybe I was too young to notice but growing up next to the Whitefish River First Nation, we had a few dozen Aboriginal youth attending my elementary school.
I always thought the Native kids were cool. They spoke Ojibway and took more lessons in their language while I studied French.
I don’t remember any issues or parents yelling at the coaches when I played soccer that the white kids were on the field more than the Aboriginals, or vice versa.
The best player in my soccer league growing up was Native. I always hoped I’d be on his team.
Maybe I just remember the good memories of growing up. I hope I wasn’t naive and blind to the bad stuff.
UNDER THE NORTHERN SKY
The World Is Waiting For Them