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Hoping our children can have a racism-free future

Thursday May 3, 2012

You know that the Anishinaabe population was once a victim of attempted-assimilation here in Canada, right? I won’t blame you if you didn’t know that. I didn’t know it for a very long time myself.

The history of Anishinaabe peoples of Canada was generally left out of the lessons I learned in school when I was a young student. I had a vague and negative idea of what residential schools were thanks to the movie Where the Spirit Lives, but I was never taught or even told about the truly dark times that Anishinaabe people had lived through. The dark times were swept under the rug and repressed.

During my short time as a student of Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School (a private, all-native high school in Thunder Bay, ON), I was introduced to a different kind of education; I was educated on myself as an Ojicree woman.

I was educated on who I was, where I came from, what my family and their friends went through, what was lost, what was stolen, who was stolen, and why I grew up an empty shell of a person because I really had no cultural identity other than “hi, my name is Stephanie and Nirvana rocks!”

For all I knew, I was my Chuck Taylor sneakers.

But I was so much more than that, as all Anishinaabe people are.

We have a rich culture, we are very spiritual, we have a few languages still alive today (and they are written down now so they cannot be wiped out like so many other Anishinaabe languages have been). Woodland art is often used as a symbol of what Canada encompasses to the outside world (even if sometimes only for public relations purposes), and we Anishinaabe people are big in Russia – thanks Buffy Sainte-Marie.

But why are we still treated like second-class citizens in our home land?

Why after years of anti-racism speeches and workshops in grade school on up to university, years of recently re-educating students on who Anishinaabe people are and what has happened regarding things like residential school and segregation, are bigotries still alive and well?
Has no one learned anything? Or is all that time spent in sensitivity-training lost the moment a person sees someone of a different race drunk in public? It seems attitudes about Anishinaabe people don’t ever change; the racist undertones still exist.

I recall a time that a woman wrote a very short letter to the editor of her local newspaper in which she spoke of how three male First Nations youth were on her doorstep Halloween night. They told her they were dressed as convenience store robbers. She referred to it as
“very disturbing.” That was the end of the letter.

So when a First Nations Elder wrote a response to the letter (where she said that the letter was inflammatory), the writer of the letter claimed she was simply spreading awareness of crime and it wasn’t intended to be racist. It was like she was backtracking and made it seem as if the Elder was playing the “racism card.”

This is something people will do to defend their prejudicial actions instead of just owning up to them; instead of admitting they have problems with a specific entity, they will accuse the members of the entity of “playing a card” when they are questioned about their obvious discriminatory and insensitive actions.

I question where the “racism card” will be ten years from now when my own child is growing up. Will he have to endure the same prejudices that my grandmother, my mother, and myself had to?

Will we Anishinaabe people have to keep holding onto that tiresome old card because prejudice won’t ever stop? Believe me; I am sick to death of that card.

After reading depressing, derogatory comments through social-media online each day regarding Anishinaabe people, I am starting to believe that we will have to keep fighting these stereotypes.

I think that if Canada did succeed in assimilating Anishinaabe people all those years ago, that we would still be treated as second- class citizens today. No matter how many of us are working, going to school, obeying the law, living in town, and paying various taxes – we are still lumped into the same silly stereotypes.

I believe that we would all be white-washed and hollow inside had the cultural-genocide gone through.

But thank the good creator above, the assimilation failed.

Today we are not white-washed; we are a lovely tan colour (a colour that some people pay a lot of money to achieve through tanning beds).

We are not hollow inside; we have our hearts, children, souls and cultural-identity to keep us full.

And we are still here. Our population is booming. No matter how many insensitive letters are written, or how many nasty comments are spewed from the mouths of ignorant people, we should continue to push forward. We will shatter those stereotypes and keep on proving them wrong.
Our Anishinaabe ancestors suffered through so much for us, and we owe it to them and to our children to flourish regardless of what anyone says, thinks, or writes.

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