I know you feel like you’re being persecuted. I know you feel like the danger of “special interest groups” is that they will take something away from you. Hey, I’m a little confused myself at how to rebuild a relationship that’s been hindered by a few hundred years of deeply ingrained, systematic racism. I don’t have the answers. I don’t know how to “fix” genocide. Frankly, I don’t think you can. But I do think it’s important to rebuild. And yes, to make reparations.
You’re a person of non-Indigenous descent. Your ancestors, like mine, came to this country to build a better life. To escape persecution or genocide in their native country. Our ancestors were *extremely* fortunate that they could get out. That there was a “new country” to flee to. Maybe this is the beginning of your advantage as a Canadian. Maybe it goes further back than that, maybe your family had an even greater advantage. Maybe your family had money, or influence, or prestige, or all three.
We were taught – or at least I was taught – that European settlers came to North America, taught the Indigenous peoples how to agriculture, and saved them from having to live a life of uncivilized tribalism. This was complete bunk, of course. The “history” we learned was written, most probably, by people who’d learned it form the official records provided by government agents. Not from the people who lived it.
The reason we are so distinctly uncomfortable or downright antagonistic when it comes to First Nations people is because we have an sense that something is wrong. Some of us have a knee-jerk reaction that starts out with “I’m not racist” (generally if you feel the need to say that, then the next words out of your mouth are pretty much always racist). Or “how can we preach equality when one group of people gets special treatment” (a sentiment that demonstrates how little we understand what needs to be done to ensure we actually are *starting from* an equal position). There is a fear that giving up our fear of, or our sense that Indigenous peoples are some kind of “other” will somehow reduce what *we* are.
That’s also a load of bunk. Letting go of historical, outdated, and damaging understanding of who Canada’s Indigenous people are, and listening instead to Indigenous people, learning about Indigenous cultures, religious practice, and politics and governance is probably a good place to start. But before we can do that, we have to acknowledge that we have a problem. We have to be willing to admit that we don’t know enough about the problems we have (at the very least), that we are products of an education that was based in ignorance and systematic racism. We have to be willing to say “I think I’m wrong about this”. We have to be willing to change our minds. We have to be willing to be uncomfortable while we learn how to go forward with a new relationship.
Canada is an incredibly young country, comparatively, to those of us whose ancestors immigrated here. But it’s not new country to the First Peoples. We feel entitled to the place our families have lived for four, five generations (or more, in Eastern Canada). Our ancestors bought land here or were given land here based on agreements the Crown signed with the First Peoples. But we grew up without proper knowledge of what those Treaties really are. We still don’t, most of us, know what those Treaties say.
Where am I going with all of this? I want to help. I want to rebuild this relationship. I want to change an historically biased, systematically racist Canada into the country I think it can be. And I don’t know how to do that. I read legislation and news articles and personal journals and blogs. I want to learn. I listen. I’m okay with being uncomfortable, because that usually means I’m learning something.
I don’t know how to do this, but it’s probably the most important thing we, as people, will do.