Action against Thunder Bay racism called for at Building Bridges event
Wikwemikong’s Donna Simon called for more dialogue between Thunder Bay residents during the Jan. 20 Building Bridges community gathering at Lakehead University.
“I’ve seen a lot of changes throughout my 30 years of coming here, but I still see quite a bit of racism,” said Simon. “I had a conversation the other day with a lady who I’ve known for my whole life. She’s non-native and it was a really uncomfortable conversation because she kept referring to ‘those people.’ When you start talking about all of us as people, you’re going to start thinking of us as just one people instead of ‘those people.’”
Simon said similar incidents have happened to her “so many times” over the years.
“What do you mean those people,” Simon said. “Who are these mysterious ‘they’ you are taking about.”
But Simon also said there are “pockets of light” in Thunder Bay.
“I think that we do have more of a door opened now,” Simon said. ”At least now it is being talked about whereas before it seemed like the city was in complete denial that there was an issue of racism. I feel there is some change and it is positive.”
The Building Bridges gathering featured a variety of panelists, including Fort William First Nations Chief Georjann Morriseau, Thunder Bay Councillor Rebecca Johnson, City of Thunder Bay Aboriginal liaison Ann Magiskan and Lakehead University Indigenous Learning student Stephanie MacLaurin, speaking on racism issues in Thunder Bay, including the racist comments posted on the Internet after the James Street bridge fire this past fall.
Morriseau said the photos of the burning James Street bridge reminded her of the film Mississippi Burning.
“And when the comments came out the day after, they could have been compared in the same context because of the racism that still exists today,” Morriseau said, noting she was out of town at a chiefs meeting when the fire occurred. “So I come home and I see these comments that are directed at our people. The first thing I thought of out of these comments was my children. I have three boys, eight, seven and three, and hearing the comments was essentially imposing harm on our first nation and blocking us off from the general society. It really hurt because I humanized the situation and I looked at my children as (though) those comments were directed at them. And I thought who would want to see innocent little children hurt.”
Morriseau wants to see action on the racism issue.
“That’s where I’m headed,” Morriseau said. “I want to start seeing and I want to start doing. But it’s going to take the help of everybody.”
MacLaurin, a Fort William band member, described how racism affected her from when she was seven years old until she was 24.
“Twenty years of racism, of being called a bogan, wagon burner, stupid Indian, not good for anything, that manifested into a deep hate for Indian people,” MacLaurin said. “I disliked everything about myself because of everything that had been fed to me over the years. In Grade 6, I was beat up by four Grade 8 boys for being an Indian. They beat me with devil sticks outside the school yard and nothing was ever done about it.”
MacLaurin wants to decolonize her being so she can be an example for youth.
“We need to step away from these ideas of who counts as a person and who doesn’t,” MacLaurin said. “We all are people. We all should be wanting the same thing. We should all be striving for equality, treating each other respectfully and being there for each other.”
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