I don’t know how quick this post is going to be but this has been bothering me for some time. It has especially been bothering me since the Attawapiskat issue was brought out into the mainstream media. All of a sudden, all these people, non-Indigenous and Indigenous people all cared and knew about Indigenous issues…or talked like they knew what it was all about.
I had a conversation *ahem* a correspondence of Facebook messages with a SNAG. No, not THAT kind of SNAG. He actually used it to describe himself (even though I never told him what I know a SNAG as), Sensitive New Age Guy. He didn’t understand how some groups could be considered inferior. I politely told him, “Well, that’s because he is a white guy.” To put it plainly.
He went on to say that he couldn’t lie that he doesn’t see color because he knows enough dumb white guys. “Tell me about,” is all I wanted to say. I didn’t. He simply stated that he “didn’t care.” I just wanted to emphasize THAT’S THE PROBLEM! People who live entire lives without being exposed to or subjected to subtle or blatant racism, and discriminatory or oppressive policies, will never have to care a single day in their life.
He also stated that he didn’t understand how he could be held accountable for his ancestors’ actions. Specifically he wrote,
I understand that people want me to be accountable for my ancestors’ behaviours, but I don’t think I can. After all, I don’t believe in what they did or how they acted. I act in a different way now, so where does the line between yesterday’s repsonsibilities and today’s actions get drawn? Which matters more?
I gave him a simple solution that was probably biased but not meant to harm: educate your children about TRUE Canadian history. Simple enough right? Well, young people nowadays are just used of being spoon-fed the information they are given in school and expected to spit it back out. THAT’S THE PROBLEM.
Okay, maybe I am not being very constructive here but really, I mean no harm.
So, why should non-Indigenous people care about Indigenous issues? Someone else on my Facebook, when I posted that I was going to write a post on THIS exact topic, simply said, “It would be only for economic reasons.” Maybe, but no.
Throughout my entire years of being in school, I have not learned about residential schools or what really happened when Europeans settled (see rape, forced sterilization, etc). I also didn’t learn about how racist the Indian Act was. The very same act that was enacted by our own government. Not my government or your government… OUR GOVERNMENT.
So how did I learn about the Indian Act and residential school legacy? My family taught me and I also read books on what really happened. The education system that all Canadians submit their children supposedly freely and without coercion doesn’t teach this. What educational institutes teach YOUR CHILDREN (non-indigenous and indigenous) is that the Europeans “saved” the Indians and that there was no such thing as rape or force removal of children from Indigenous homes or there was no such thing as force sterilization of Indigenous women. These are just to name a few of what really went on in true Canadian history. However this post isn’t meant to educate you on all Indigenous issues, past and present.
The current education system teaches students that Indigenous peoples were primitive, uncivilized, and unorganized. This is what I learned in high school, and this is not true. The current education system doesn’t teach those students to question the information that is given to them. In my own experiences, we, Indigenous people, are just stupid. In fact, one teacher even told the class that the residential schools were created to “educate” the native children. Correction: they were created to assimilate native children into white society. Every child, teen and young adult are all submitted to this same education. Year after year. The idea that Indigenous peoples are stupid and the “Other” shuns them. It creates the illusion that these stories are fact, and if they are fact, then they are not meant to be questioned. Judy Iseke-Barnes highlights, “Indigenous children can be hurt by misrepresentations. Non-Indigenous children are also hurt because they are misinformed and learn demeaning and disrespectful practices from texts.” (2005: 162). The schools that your children attend tell them that Indigenous people are stupid and that the reason they are the way they are today is their own fault. That is not true.
We all live in this country together. It’s like living in the same house, under one roof, and letting the red-headed step child to continued to be raped, abused, and forced to dress a certain way, look a certain way… but only in a way that further stigmatizes and re-victimizes that same red-headed step child. Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to meet Lee Maracle. She had the analogy of a dog in a cage that is continuously beaten, only fed alcohol and bones. When we ask what is wrong with the dog, nobody questions why we don’t give the dog real food and real care to help make it healthy again. However, in my analogy I switch the dog for a child.
We all live in this well-built, warm house together, except for this one child who lives in the basement. Sometimes we give the child clean water to drink, clean clothes to wear, and a warm blanket to sleep with. Heck, sometimes we even let the child sleep in our own bed, but not all the time. The child drinks water out of the subpump. The child sleeps with a blanket covered in mold. Sometimes the child gets a full meal, sometimes she/he doesn’t. When it gets really bad, however, you let the child sleep upstairs where it is warm and can eat at the table with you. The other children in the house are made to believe that the child is downstairs because that child is too bad and too stupid to be upstairs with everyone else. The other children don’t question it. They accept it as is.
Your children accept what they are taught as is.
What if a person didn’t have children? Where will they learn to care about Indigenous issues? The media? Most certainly not because the media works in the same way as the education system does. That is, it tells non-Indigenous people that Indigenous people are the way they are because of their own fault. There simply isn’t anything they can do about it.
We must begin, as a nation and not just individual persons, to include Indigenous knowledge and way of knowing in the classroom. Bringing in other type of knowledges and ways of knowing teaches children to question the otherwise white-dominant-western ideology. It teaches your child to be critical. Isn’t that what education and going to school is all about? You think so but no. Your children have been learning to stereotype, generalize and racialize Indigenous peoples: it’s all their fault and there is nothing that we can do about it.
But there is… we can change the way our children learn. Not for the sake of non-Indigenous peoples and Indigenous peoples but for our entire society as persons and human beings.
So why should non-Indigenous people care about Indigenous issues? Well, if you want to continue to unknowingly, coercively, and un-freely submit your children, teenagers, and young adults to learn these generalized and racialized way of applying the knowledge they receive, then continue not to care. However, if you want all children, teenagers, and young adults to be free, critical thinkers, then lets all work together to change that as a nation and not just as an us-versus-them situation.