"We used to consider the Italian and Polish communities diverse,
but frankly, it has changed to people of colour," Callaghan
plan is intended to address these needs and help those communities
the best we can."
the city's focus is on the aboriginal, multicultural and francophone
sectors, as well as new immigrants.
From now until
September, the working group will be organizing various events and
forums to hear the voices of the different sectors.
conversational cafes, native dialogue and youth leadership training.
hear about their concerns and experiences with racism and discrimination
and discuss civic policy," said project coordinator Nancy Beynon.
of the forums and discussions, a final report will be presented
to the Diversity Summit scheduled for October 19-30.
For more information
contact Nancy Beynon at 671-2489, ext. 4250.
racism still with us, speaker says
Sault Star, May 7, 2004
The abuse of
Canada's aboriginal people may have been more "genteel"
than it was south of the border, but racism against natives today
is "not fiction" says Maurice Switzer.
have horrible memories, and a lot of the social issues that impact
on native communities now, different kinds of abuse, were really
side effects, direct results of the residential school system, which
was an official government policy," he said.
of communications for the Union of Ontario Indians, was a facilitator
at the Aboriginal Awareness Summit Thursday evening and this morning
in the Algoma University College auditorium.
people don't know, that this building we are sitting in, Shingwauk
Residential School, there were students tortured here," he
the key, Switzer says, because it's a big part of why racism against
natives exists. It's based on a lack of knowledge, and he says Canada's
education systems don't do a very good job of dealing with it.
first page of most textbooks that I've seen refer to native people
in North America coming originally from Mongolia or some place on
the other side of the Bering Strait," he said.
not our history at all, we don't believe that happened. (Anishinabek)
history tells us we came from the other direction, we came form
the East Coast of Canada."
A nation history
that doesn't address the point of view of aboriginals and things
like sports logos showing "distorted caricatures of what native
people are supposed to look like," combine to marginalize and
dehumanize native people, he said.
are part of the Debwewin Three-City Anti-racism Initiative, which
focuses on the Sault, Timmins, and North Bay, and is run by North
Bay-based human rights group Communitas Canada with funding from
out last fall, asking about experiences with racism in the three
Northern Ontario cities. The results of those surveys, and of media
tracking done by AUC students this year, will be released in a report
some time in June.
and the Debwewin (which mean truth in Ojibwe) project focus on all
forms of racism, not just aboriginals, and will include language
issues, said Cecilia Fernandez.
She is the
project coordinator for Unity and Diversity Sault Ste. Marie, the
local volunteer group which administered the survey and has been
coordinating the media tracking.
to the Sault when she was six-years-old, when her family immigrated
from Malaysia, and said she has seen racism in this city.
most of it stems from misunderstanding of cultures," said Fernandez.
"I think (natives) are a very misunderstood group in the Sault."
newspapers monitored for racism
North Bay Nugget, November 26, 2003
LOCAL NEWS -
Racism in North Bay, Timmins and Sault Ste. Marie will be studied
over the next six months.
funded by the Department of Canadian Heritage through the Multiculturalism
and Human Rights Program, will wrap up with a report in June.
newspaper-monitoring program is a component of the overall study,
led by North Bay's International Day for the Elimination of Racial
Discrimination committee and the Union of Ontario Indians.
and facilitators in each city will help direct the project.
co-chairwoman of the North Bay Human Rights Hall of Fame committee,
chairs the local advisory committee.
anecdotal evidence about racism in North Bay, but no hard data,"
Church said in a news release.
project will help us determine if our efforts over the past 16 years
have had the desired effect, or if we have to do more."
will be distributed to groups, schools and agencies throughout the
city, and will be available in The Nugget for the general public
to complete and return.
Don Curry is the three-city project director and Maurice Switzer,
director of communications for the UOI, is leading the newspaper-monitoring
is not a 'gotcha exercise,' but an opportunity to let newspapers
know how they're doing and how they can do better," Switzer
education spreading, Switzer says
BayToday.ca, May 15, 2004
is spreading to beyond just single Native Studies courses, says
Maurice Switzer, director of communications for the Union of Ontario
was speaking Friday at an aboriginal awareness summit held at Canadore
College, says school boards are beginning to pick up the ball on
that the Rainbow District School Board is introducing a new curriculum
which has aboriginal components in all subjects," Switzer said.
hear of other initiatives out west like in Alberta, where native
populations are higher. So by having the native perspective taught
this way, we can really share information in a way that's going
to have a more substantive effect. Summits like today are wonderful,
but we can only reach so many people with these voluntary efforts."
Friday's summit is part of the Debwewin" (Ojibwe for 'truth')
Three-City Anti-racism initiative, that's being put on in North
Bay, Timmins and Sault Ste. Marie.
sessions on Anishinabek culture and history, aboriginal coverage
in the media, stereotypes, and treaty and treaty rights.
part of the summit, Switzer displayed a number of media and pop
culture images of natives and asked participants which of them reflect
what an Indian is.
Among the images
was one of native leader Ovid Mercredi wearing a traditional head
dress and the oft-printed photo from the Oka stand-off of a young
Armed Forces soldier staring nervously at a masked Mohawk warrior
wearing camouflage fatigues.
images like those bolstered stereotypical views of Indians.
At the same time, Switzer added, even natives are sometimes feeding
those stereotypes, "whether it's our young people showing up
for protests with masks and camouflage, or whether its native leaders
always wanting to wear the traditional Plains head dress."
feel we have to surrender our tradition or look or sound or act
like other people," Switzer said, "and I think those things
Portrayals of Aboriginal People
Media Awareness Network
For over a hundred
years, Westerns and documentaries have shaped the public's perception
of Native people. The wise elder (Little Big Man); the drunk
(Tom Sawyer); the Indian princess (Pocahontas); the
loyal sidekick (Tonto)-these images have become engrained
in the consciousness of every North American.
versions of "how the West was won" relied
totally on the presence of Native tribes, who were to be wiped out
or reined in. "And, for the longest time," says Canadian
Ojibway playwright Drew Hayden Taylor, "there wasn't a real
'Indian' to be seen on the movie sets: Native 'representation' was
taken care of by Italians or Spaniards-anyone with dark enough skin
to save on makeup."
As the portrayals
of Native characters-either as primitive, violent and deceptive
or else as passive and full of childlike obedience-extended to TV,
novels and comics, they became familiar, comfortable signposts for
much of Western civilization whenever it needed to acknowledge the
Aboriginal presence. Since few people, especially in larger urban
centres, actually came into contact with Indigenous populations,
these portrayals, however inaccurate, had all the more impact. Though
popular U.S. films rarely looked north of the border, these stereotypes
etched themselves just as deeply into the Canadian psyche.
well into the second half of the 20th century before it occurred
to filmmakers that Native people were still around, and even leading
interesting lives," says Taylor. "Groundbreaking films
like Pow Wow Highway, Dance Me Outside and Smoke Signals
provided fresh and contemporary-though still romanticized-portrayals
of the Native community."
Arthur Lamothe broke new ground in Québec from 1973 to 1983,
with his 13 part documentary series La chronique du Nord-Est
du Québec. The series, and Lamothe's subsequent work,
puts First Nations people centre-stage and provides them with a
venue to tell their own stories.
In the 1980s
and 1990s, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) made a real
effort to improve the portrayals of Aboriginal people in its television
dramas. Spirit Bay, The Beachcombers, North of
60 and The Rez used Native actors to portray their own
people, living real lives and earning believable livelihoods in
identifiable parts of the country. The Beachcombers and North
of 60 drew substantial audiences among Natives and non-Natives
in the United States has been slower to respond to criticism. Indigenous
faces are still almost entirely absent from the small screen, except
in the news or in documentaries. There have been a few efforts to
change the situation, however. In the late 1990s, the American Indian
Registry for the Performing Arts in Los Angeles published a directory
of Native American performing arts professionals. And in 2001, after
acknowledging that "Native Americans are virtually invisible
on TV," CBS and NBC held talent showcases in major cities across
North America to strengthen their databases of Aboriginal performers.
The new climate
of "political correctness" has combined with genuine effort
to counter some of the more overt forms of racism in films and television-but
subtle vestiges of Native stereotyping still remain. Some of the
most common stereotyping traps are various forms of romanticization;
historical inaccuracies; stereotyping by omission; and simplistic
Some images of Natives that have captured the imagination of the
non-Aboriginal world for nearly a century are the Indian Princess,
the Native Warrior and the Noble Savage.
The Indian Princess is the Native beauty who is sympathetic enough
to the white man's quest to be lured away from her tribe to marry
into his culture, and further his mission to civilize her people.
"The Indian princess is strictly a European concept,"
writes Native American Joseph Riverwind. "The nations of this
country never had a concept of royalty. We do not have kings, queens
Valaskakis, director of research for Canada's Aboriginal Healing
Foundation, agrees. In a 2000 exhibit called Indian Princesses and
Cowgirls-Stereotypes from the Frontier, Valaskakis and Marilyn
Burgess traced the use of the Indian Princess, from romanticized
paintings intended to represent an "exotic, beautiful and dangerous
New World" to gratuitous brand labels on fruit cans and cigar
boxes. None of these women, says Valaskakis, remotely resemble the
"powerful, competent, articulate" women she grew up with
on her reserve in Wisconsin.
Surely one of the most widely used stereotypes in cinematographic
history, the Native Warrior is fierce and formidable and a threat
to civilized society. Bare-chested and brandishing a war lance,
this warrior is the epitome of the savagery that must be courageously
overcome by "progressive elements" pushing West. A more
recent incarnation is the romanticized (and eroticized) figure of
the strong silent brave flashing, as journalist Paul Gessell notes,
"a lot of skin, [and] looking for some White woman to ravish."
appear in many forms and in surprising places. In his photo exhibit
Scouting/For Indians, 1992-2000, Jeff Thomas, from the Six
Nations Reserve in Ontario, captured images of the Warrior in forms
ranging from historical statuary, and coats of arms carved on the
walls of Ottawa banks and office buildings, to contemporary book
covers. Thomas says he took these photographs to raise awareness
of the often unconscious "demonization and eroticization"
In an effort to redress past wrongs, there has been an increase
in another time-honoured romantic stereotype -- the mythic Noble
Savage. Elevated to a sphere of goodness unreachable by those in
contaminated white society and usually possessing some spiritual
connection to the land, the Noble Savage (who American academic
Rennard Strickland calls "the first ecologist") communes
in a cloud of mysticism and places no value on material possessions.
Not even the popular Thunderheart avoids the romantic brush.
"That movie says that every time you get half a dozen Native
people in a room, you can get a prophecy or a vision," says
Canadian Cayuga actor Gary Farmer.
Farmer cites the successful Canadian film Black Robe,
about a Jesuit missionary's quest to save the Huron's souls, as
typical of the one-sided historical accounts that upset Aboriginal
people. "Black Robe misses a key element," says
Farmer. "Nobody explains the Iroquois Confederacy's five centuries
of peace between the six nations. The Hurons saw the devastation
from the alcohol brought by the newcomers as a decay that had to
be rooted out. The Iroquois told the Hurons that everyone not affected
should leave, and they would go in and clean the area out."
Farmer contends that there's never been an understanding of why
that was done-and so the story of a classic conflict between Indigenous
and non-Indigenous peoples has never been told.
of truth-and thereby of intercultural understanding-give way here
before the onslaught of movieland's mythic creation.(Source: Ward
Churchill, "Fantasies of the Master Race" in From A Native
Son: Selected Essays in Indigenism, 1985-1995, 1996)
Film and TV
producers have never let details get in the way of a good story.
Nowhere is this more true than in depictions of Aboriginal life,
where artistic license is liberally taken in portraying dress, customs,
livelihoods and spiritual beliefs and ceremonies. This reduction
of cultural heritage and diversity (which most audiences do not
even notice) is seen by critics as both a symptom of the problem
(not taking Aboriginal people seriously) and an unconscious yet
systematic way of perpetuating erroneous stereotypes. What occurs
in many films, says social critic Ward Churchill, "is roughly
parallel to having a Catholic priest wear a Rabbi's headgear and
Protestant cleric's garb while conducting High Mass before a Satanist
pentagram, simply because each of these disparate physical manifestations
of spiritual culture is visually interesting in its own right."
Most film depictions of Native people are set in a 50-year period
in the mid-19th century. Where were Native North Americans before
the coming of the white man, and where are they now? Apparently
"Indians" did not survive the transition to modern society.
"Stereotyping Indians by Omission" notes that Indians
are "the only population to be portrayed far more often in
historical context than as contemporary people." Considering
the size of Chicago's Native population, for instance, the article
asks, "why has not one Indian ever received emergency care
on ER? And where are the nurses, a primary career choice for many
The most flagrant
omission in movies and television is the Aboriginal woman. When
she is included, it is most often as a "sexual savage"
(who cannot be tamed and must therefore be degraded and eventually
conquered). In Canada, the National Film Board of Canada tried to
counter this cultural amnesia in 1986 with a four-part drama series
entitled Daughters of the Country -- produced to "re-open
the history books" and document the evolution of the Métis
people through the lives of four strong women.
Perhaps most destructive to the image of Aboriginal people is the
lack of character and personality accorded them by the media. Aboriginal
people are almost always cast in supporting roles or relegated to
the background, and are rarely allowed to speak or display a real
personality. And what character they do have tends to reveal itself
only in terms of their interactions with white people. Rarely is
an Aboriginal portrayed as having personal strengths and weaknesses,
or shown acting on his or her own values and judgements.
Nor is the Native
ever allowed to tell his or her own story. Most stories are conveyed
through the lens of the European experience. A common device used
by Hollywood to attach familiar values to Native acts has been to
script a white character as narrator (Dances with Wolves, Thunderheart).
While this purports to treat the American Indian sympathetically,
the reality is that the Aboriginal is robbed of voice.
A number of academics contend Hollywood's depictions of Aboriginal
people are based on much broader motives than simply winning audiences.
In American Indians: Goodbye to Tonto, J.R. Howard says that
in the American psyche, Native people have fulfilled their purpose:
"Indian resistance having served to fuel the myths of conquest
and glory, and the American divine right to conquest."
a whole school of thought that believes that the stereotypes of
Native people and the "Wild West" must still be maintained
in today's society. "Somebody is benefiting by having Americans
ignorant [about] what European Americans have done to them,"
writes Wendy Rose in her New Yorker article, "Who Gets
to Tell Their Stories?"
argues that the myths and stereotypes built up around the Native
American were no accident. He maintains that they served to explain
in positive terms the decimation of Native tribes and their ways
of life by "advanced" cultures in the name of progress,
thereby making it necessary to erase the achievements and very humanity
of the conquered people. "Dehumanization, obliteration or appropriation
of identity, political subordination and material colonization are
all elements of a common process of imperialism," he says.
"The meaning of Hollywood's stereotyping of American Indians
can be truly comprehended only against this backdrop."
Names and Imagery in Sports
Media Awareness Network
a group of mental health providers, we are in agreement that using
images of American Indians as mascots, symbols, caricatures, and
namesakes for non-Indian sports teams, businesses, and other organizations
is damaging to the self-identity, self-concept, and self-esteem
of our people."
Association of Minnesota, 1992
Long a contentious
issue, the use of Native names, mascots and imagery by major league
sports teams still attracts national attention. The Atlanta Braves
and their famous tomahawk chop; the Cleveland Indians with their
smiling Chief Wahoo; and the Edmonton Eskimos-all demonstrate the
tendency to objectify Native people. And of course, this tendency
is imitated by hundreds, if not thousands, of high-school and college
teams across the continent. The last decade has brought improvements,
but the use of Native symbols is still widespread.
teams name themselves after inanimate
objects (Maple Leafs, Red Sox, Flames), animals (Grizzlies, Blue
Jays, Tiger Cats) or historically well-known groups of people (Canucks,
Argonauts, Pirates). Native people are singled out as the only visible
minority to be depicted in this way.
any major league team decide to name their professional team, regardless
of the sport, after another ethnic group or culture, there would
be a public outcry," notes Canadian Ojibway playwright Drew
Hayden Taylor. "Teams with names like the Montreal Haitians,
Toronto Jews, Vancouver Sikhs or the Winnipeg WASPs would be rightly
rejected out of hand. But Aboriginal people seem to be exempt from
and imagery associated with highly visible and successful sports
teams are not "harmless," as some would say. They objectify
Native people and render them unreal, like cartoon characters. Cornel
Pewewardy, a professor of education at the University of Kansas,
believes that the widespread use of Native paraphernalia such as
tomahawks, feathers, war paint and drums mocks and trivializes their
true spiritual and religious significance.
It would be
the same as a crowd of fans using real saints as mascots or having
fans... doing the "crucifix chop" to the musical accompaniment
of Gregorian chants while wearing colorful religious attire in the
stands.(Source: Cornel D. Pewewardy, The Deculturalization of Indigenous
Mascots in U.S. Sports Culture, 1999)
notes, "Indigenous peoples would never have associated the
sacred practices of becoming a warrior with the hoopla of a pep
rally, half-time entertainment, or being a sidekick to cheerleaders."
Common as it may be, the use of Native imagery is insensitive because
it reflects no knowledge of, or interest in, Aboriginal traditions,
culture or history.
It's easy to
make light of these symbols. Like the air we breathe, they have
become invisible to most people. But such symbols are a part of
a socially constructed reality that is underpinned by an unconscious
assumption of superiority on the part of the dominant culture. Pewewardy
calls this "dysconscious racism"-racism that unconsciously
accepts dominant white norms and privileges.
James Ryan and Erin Kelly
Research in Ontario Secondary Schools
One of the unfortunate
realities of our contemporary school systems is that not all children
perform equally well within them. In fact, it has become almost
accepted that some students will excel in their studies, that others
will get by without necessarily distinguishing themselves, and that
yet others will perpetually struggle. In their attempts to understand
this phenomenon, both educators and academics have advanced various
explanations. For example, some scholars maintain that schools are
organized in ways that may penalize students who are not of White-Anglo
backgrounds. Racism may play a part in this. While racism may involve
calculated and malicious acts of prejudice, and though such acts
probably occur more often in schools than we would like to believe,
racism also works in more subtle ways. In fact, it often works through
the taken-for-granted and well-intentioned acts of educators as
they attempt to do what they believe is the best for all students.
Stereotypes, for example, are one common way that subtle forms of
racism show up in educational institutions.
What is a stereotype?
Generally, scholars have viewed stereotypes as popular, unfounded
images of groups or situations. While this view acknowledges that
all of us use generalizations to make sense of things, it also maintains
that some of these generalizations are not only wrong but are, in
fact, harmful to particular individuals and groups. In schools,
for example, teachers may act upon mistaken beliefs and assumptions
about groups, and in doing so, deprive students who belong to these
groups of opportunities that other students may routinely experience.
Proponents of this view argue that the way to deal with these stereotypes
is to replace, through education and other means, these erroneous
beliefs and images with more accurate and hence more positive perspectives.
While this view of stereotypes has contributed much to our understanding
of how racism works in schools and elsewhere, it does have its shortcomings.
Some questionable assumptions underlie this perspective: it suggests
that people have essences, that these essences are naturally positive,
and that images of these essences can be accurately represented.
of looking at stereotypes is in terms of discourses; that is, in
terms of the various available patterns of words, symbols and images
we have at our disposal to help us make sense of the world around
us. Thus, in order to make sense of what happens in the classroom,
teachers must attempt to fit their perceptions into these already
existing repertoires of words and understandings. If they want to
discern what the actions of certain groups of students mean, for
example, they must necessarily appeal to these sense-making frameworks
and adjust their actions accordingly. It goes without saying, however,
that certain ways of making sense do not favour everyone equally.
As a result, men, women and children perpetually struggle over which
framework will prevail, and of course, this struggle is rarely equal
because those who have more power will inevitably be able to make
their sense of groups and situations dominate the sense of those
others with less power. This struggle surfaces regularly within
schools that cater to racially/ethnically diverse populations. It
was evident, for example, in one large secondary suburban school
in southern Ontario.
teachers and administrators in this school community had many, often
different ways of making sense of the many groups of students that
attended the school. One of the more prominent of these included
the idea that students of African heritage, particularly males,
had natural physical abilities. Many in this educational community
interpreted the words and actions of these young men as indicators
of their inherently violent natures. This belief, in turn, prompted
teachers to react to these students in one of two ways. Some would
respond in an overly aggressive manner, while others would go out
of their way to avoid them. In addition to this belief, was the
accompanying idea that students of African heritage were academically
less gifted than others, particularly when compared to students
of Asian heritage who were believed to be the most gifted in this
respect. In turn, teachers reacted to these respective groups in
ways consistent with these beliefs. Students of African heritage
tell of low teacher expectations and describe having to work "twice
as hard as any other kid to do well." Asian students, on the
other hand, contend that it is sometimes stressful to live up to
the high expectations that teachers set for them.
that these ways of making sense prevail is not because they represent
the way things really are, but because they predominate over other
ways of making sense. While these perspectives prevailed, not everyone
subscribed to these ideas about the students in question. In particular,
the very students to whom these characterizations applied saw themselves
in very different ways. Students of African heritage, for example,
did not believe that they were inherently physical or violent. One
student claimed that teachers and others simply did not understand
him or his friends. He maintained that the reason for these perceptions
was that these others "did not know how Black people act."
These perceptions, shared by students, were not influential, however,
in affecting how many teachers treated these students. The bottom
line here is that educators' views counted more than the perceptions
of members of this group. This is not to suggest that these perceptions
were more accurate; rather, it reveals that those in positions of
power within the educational system are able to use their power
to make their sense making frameworks count more than those of less
are genuinely concerned about improving opportunities for all groups
of students in schools, then they need to find the means to allow
all ways of making sense to circulate freely. More specifically,
they need to examine their own taken-for-granted understandings,
help others do the same, and work with them to resist and replace
oppressive ways of making sense that are embedded in harmful stereotypes.
Further, such strategies must address the reality that sense-making
frameworks exist within the larger context beyond schools. Therefore,
educators' efforts must target not only what happens in schools
but also what happens in the wider society beyond schools. This
means selecting materials and topics that are rich in opportunity
for examining sense-making frameworks. Exploration of the mass media,
for example, can assist students in understanding how they and others
play a role in the circulation of mediated sense-making frameworks,
why these frameworks predominate, how they can resist them and how
they might work with others to ensure that alternative voices have
a chance to compete in mainstream culture. Educators might also
target existing curriculum materials. While it might be valuable
to remove texts that promote stereotypical discourses, the critical
interrogation of these texts might prove more purposeful and educative.
Students might come to understand the stereotypical sense within
them allowing an alternative sense to emerge while fostering a need
to circulate this alternative sense in the larger community through
such means as student or community run newspapers and organized
protest campaigns. Also, students might begin to examine their own
education and the practices within schools as frameworks that make
sense of their world. Whatever the material, whatever the text,
the critical interrogation of stereotyping and the sense-making
frameworks underlying them will be invaluable for students as they
move toward becoming strong critical thinkers and understanding,
anti-racism project update - June 18, 2004-06-18
By Maurice Switzer
Imagine trying to gather
public support for a campaign to combat poverty, or homelessness,
or diabetes, and constantly running up against people who refuse
to admit that these problems exist, or worse, that if they do, dealing
with them should not be a priority.
That's what fighting
racism is like.
It took the fire-bombing
of a Jewish school in Montreal to prompt Paul Martin to promise
a national anti-racism strategy for Canada, a pledge apparently
forgotten in the hubbub of an election campaign. But it doesn't
take an explosion for ethnic minorities or aboriginal peoples to
understand that racism is a daily fact of their lives, as much a
reality as being the brunt of off-colour jokes, or seeing one's
ancestors referred to as savages in school textbooks.
For the most part, the
responsibility for fighting racism is left to stubborn individuals
or slimly-funded non-government organizations fortunate enough to
tap into the occasional grant to support a local or regional initiative.
One such NGO is Communitas Canada, a dedicated little group of socially-conscious
citizens who stage an annual Evening of Applause in North Bay to
This year Communitas
staffer Don Curry managed to attract the interest and financial
support of the Multicultural Program of the Department of Canadian
Heritage to conduct an anti-racism audit of three Northern Ontario
communities - North Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, and Timmins. Looking
for a label that would accurately describe the project's work, organizers
agreed on using the eastern Ojibway word Debwewin , which is usually
translated into English as "truth", but which literally
means "to speak from the heart."
Debwewin involves a number
of related components, including the distribution of a survey in
the project's three centres to solicit examples of racist conduct,
behaviour, or attitudes. Thousands of copies of the questionnaire
were distributed, hundreds were completed and returned, and a number
of them have been followed up by personal interviews before the
results are compiled into a final report for release in July.
Some 89 Timmins residents
took the time to complete the 12-page survey, and while statistics
never tell a complete story, it is significant that 58% of them
said they had observed discrimination based on race against someone
in Timmins in the past year. One in four survey participants said
they had been the victims of racism, and that figure jumped to 60
per cent for the survey's 35 aboriginal participants. Both "black'
respondents also said they had personally experienced racism.
Responses indicate that
the most likely place to encounter racial discrimination in Timmins
are stores and restaurants and, astonishingly, schools.
"My kids got detentions
for speaking Cree in school," a Moose Cree First Nation man
told a project interviewer. "They were told Cree wasn't allowed
in school. That happened twice. They phoned my girlfriend and told
her it's French and English only in Canada. They said they were
worried about security of the other kids. If people are speaking
Cree they might be planning something. Maybe they were going to
gang up on another kid
. stuff like that."
There were numerous observations
about Native shoppers receiving rude treatment at the hands of store
clerks when they presented status cards identifying their treaty
right to tax exemption. "My girlfriend was insulted while paying
for merchandise and using her status card," one respondent
said. "The cashier told her in front of non-native shoppers
that she should pay taxes like everyone else."
Survey results indicate
that minorities and aboriginal people are also less likely to feel
they are treated fairly in dealing with health care practitioners,
social workers, and police officers.
"When I was younger,
the police used to stop me almost every day
sometimes two or
three times a day," recalled a Native man. "Sometimes
they would say 'How's it going Pocahontas', or 'Chief'. When I didn't
look them in the eye they would get suspicious and intimidate me.
I used to feel so humiliated and ashamed. I have never gotten over
Not everyone agrees that
racism is a problem."I have lived in this community for 38
years," said one woman. "We have all nationalities - Polish,
Germans, Italians, Finlanders, Croatians, French - and I have never
witnessed any racial problems." Or the retired police officer
who said; "The city of Timmins has demonstrated time and time
again that it's multicultural. We don't have anyone coming out painting
swastikas. In the city of Timmins I think people get along quite
well together. I'd say racial incidents in Timmins are quite rare.
The vast majority of
respondents, including those identifying themselves as" white",
thought otherwise, including the man who observed: "Open discrimination
is not tolerated in Timmins' society, but the persistence of racial
jokes and stereotypes indicates that discriminatory attitudes continue
to exist and influence behaviour."
Many feel that classrooms
are the place to start combating racist tendencies. "At school
we could have an aboriginal day that would teach the staff and students
something that shows how Native people contributed to Canadian society,"
one man suggested. "We need to educate the educators so they
will help students to fight racism and learn how to cope when it
happens to them," added a Native woman. "You can't teach
the adults - it's the youth who will lead."
Survey participants offered
a variety of racism antidotes - establishment by city council of
a race relations department, setting up aboriginal school committees,
getting churches more involved in multicultural issues and activities,organizing
a diversity coalition to plan community events, and a centre to
promote friendship between races and ethnic education.
There was praise for
community efforts like the annual multi-cultural festival and outreach
activities by the downtown Native Friendship Centre, but more needed
to be done more often.
A role for media organizations
was also seen as vital - participants wanted to see more media stories
about what one woman called "the wonderful diverse nationalities
in Timmins." The Daily Press was one of a dozen Northern Ontario
newspapers involved in a second Debwewin project component - evaluating
the coverage of aboriginal issues to present a unique snapshot of
media accuracy and fairness. The final report will show that regional
media usually demonstrate more balance in coverage of Native issues,
while national newspapers tend to focus on negative stories and
use them to stereotype aboriginal peoples.
was also recommended as an anti-racism tool. One woman said leaders
needed to be "sensitized" to diversity issues in order
for those values to filter down to employees and staff. This was
also a component of the Debwewin project .
On May 21 over 50 people
- including 12 police officers and 11 Child and Family Services
employees -- attended an aboriginal-issues workshop at Northern
College to learn more than they likely already knew about Anishinabek
culture, historic reasons of mistrust between Natives and non-Natives,
treaty issues, and contributions made by indigenous peoples around
Madeline Chokomolin and
her Timmins committee helped make the workshops a worthwhile experience
for those who attended. Unfortunately, those who participate in
such events aren't usually part of the racism problem. The people
who most need this information are the ones who don't show up.
So the Debwewin sessions
in Timmins were not attended by the business owner who told a black
woman over the phone he had a job opening, but that it was filled
when he met her in person, or by the emergency room doctor who told
a patient to go to a clinic that treated Native people, or by the
hotel manager who asked for cash in advance from Native guests.
Perhaps the most instructive
part of these workshops was the revelation of how little even the
best-educated Canadians know about aboriginal history, culture,
and contemporary issues. We met college graduates who had never
heard of residential schools, and only encountered one person who
was familiar with the federal government's 1998 Statement of Reconciliation,
a cabinet-approved public apology for this country's history of
state-sanctioned racism against aboriginal peoples.
A good way for Canada
to observe National Aboriginal Solidarity Day this June 21st would
have been to re-issue the Statement of Reconciliation, to avoid
it from becoming just another nicely-framed broken promise hanging
on an Indian Affairs office wall. It should be an annual event,
an excellent launching pad for the prime minister's promised national
The contributions of
First Peoples to Canada's history should be compulsory learning
for every teacher and student in this country, every new immigrant,
every beat cop and game warden, every journalist, store clerk and
The recognition of human rights - and treaty rights are human rights
- is not an option in a democratic society. Initiatives like the
Debwewin anti-racism project are, at best, patchwork attempts to
make up for major shortcomings in Canada's classrooms and workplaces.
We don't need more patches
- we need new tires.
Maurice Switzer is a
citizen of the Mississaugas of Alderville First Nation. He serves
as director of communications for the Union of Ontario Indians and
editor of the Anishinabek News.