We Are All Treaty People

Opinion Piece – We All Must Speak Out Against Racism

  • Published - 25/08/2016
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  • Posted By - Tom Weegar
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The shooting of Colten Boushie, a member of the Red Pheasant First Nation, in Biggar, Saskatchewan by farmer Gerald Stanley has again raised the ugly head of racism within this great country.  While we need to let the investigation by the RCMP unfold of what took place on this farmer’s property, certainly as a society we condemn the shooting and killing of an unarmed young man who has sought assistance with his friends on someone’s personal property.  Is there more to this story?  Perhaps.  But we need to let the police complete their investigation and bring the facts to court.

While this killing of a young man is tragic in-and-by-itself, what is also troubling about this incident are the racist and negative comments which have been posted on social media.  I don’t need to repeat these postings here, but to most Canadians who value diversity and respect, the postings are vile and disgusting.

I was inspired to write this article when a colleague of mine – an Indigenous woman – spoke to me about her young son who had seen some of these postings on social media, and began to ask, “Why do people hate us so much based on the colour of our skin and who we are?”  As is so often the case, it is the young and innocent who are most affected by such hateful exchanges.

These racist social media postings support a small proportion of the population of Saskatchewan who have what I now refer to as a “settler mentality” – that settler mentality exhibits a superiority complex which suggests people who are from a European ancestry are superior and all other cultures should emulate or follow that European standard.  This perspective demonstrates a form of social Darwinism (first put forward by Herbert Spencer in 1857) which suggest cultures compete and only the strongest and most adaptable survive (a survival of the fittest belief).  Of course, these perspectives were picked up by Nazi Germany in the late 1930s and continue in many parts of the world to this day.  Fortunately, the notion of cultural superiority embodied within social Darwinism has been soundly discounted and discredited over the years.

But I’d like to emphasize, although there are people in Saskatchewan who have this settler mentality, these people are, I believe, a minority of Saskatchewanians.  The hateful, racist social media posts are coming from this particular minority of Saskatchewanians.  There is – in this province and across the country – a much larger proportion of Canadians who value the contributions of Indigenous peoples to make this country what it is today.  For example, over the past couple of years, Cumberland College has embarked on an Indigenizing the College initiative which is designed to build bridges between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples and to value the contributions of Indigenous peoples to Canadian society.  We have now been undertaking this initiative for almost three years and already we are seeing positive results.

As well, a national organization has sprung up called Canadians for a New Partnership.  The organization has a very influential Board of Directors including former Prime Ministers Paul Martin and Joe Clark, former Assembly of First Nations Grand Chief Ovide Mercredi, and a number of other prominent Canadians.  The mission of this organization is to “establish and support a broad-based, inclusive, leadership initiative to engage Canadians in dialogue and relationship building aimed at building a new partnership between First Peoples and other Canadians.  This initiative holds the promise of better living conditions, education, and economic opportunities for First Peoples, which must be the tangible results of that new partnership.”

Canadians for a New Partnership has put forward a declaration that encourages all Canadians – Indigenous and non-Indigenous –  to come together and support one another.  Thousands of Canadians across the country have signed onto this declaration.  Cumberland College is the first post-secondary institution in Canada to specifically sign the declaration as an educational institution.  Hopefully, others will follow.

As Canadians, we all have an obligation to speak up about the racist social media posts which are occurring as a result of this shooting.  I have always valued Pastor Martin Niemöller’s poem, “First they came…”  This poem is about the cowardice of German leaders and intellectuals who did not speak out at the rise of Nazi racist policies:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.

As a community college – and particularly as a community college which is engaged in an Indigenizing the College initiative – Cumberland College has an obligation to speak up in support of a new relationship based on reconciliation for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians.  We particularly have an obligation to speak up when that small minority of Canadians – those who exhibit a settler mentality – begin to voice their hateful, uneducated perspectives.

I would suggest all Canadians – and particularly leaders of educational institutions, religious leaders, and political leaders – have an obligation to speak up and talk amongst their circles and within their families about these racist views and perspectives.  To not do so, and to remain silent in the face of these perspectives, renders one complicit in their continued use.

Let’s talk to one another.  Let’s forge new relationships and new conversations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians.  Let’s build a new understanding of one another, let’s support one another’s community issues, and let’s speak out against these vile perspectives based on hate and intolerance.  Regrettably, they won’t go away by themselves!

Tom Weegar
President, Cumberland College