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Racism tarnishes Canada

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By Doug Cuthand, Special to The StarPheonix

The past several months have revealed the dark underbelly of racism in Canada. The reaction by some media organizations to peaceful protest has been over the top.

I was appalled at the reaction that sprang up all across Canada to the peaceful protests. Flash mobs in shopping centres and information blockades were peaceful and put aboriginal issues in front of the public.

Chief Theresa Spence, who went on a 44-day fast to raise awareness of issues, was demonized with personal attacks, and the audit of her band administration was “leaked” to the media. Media jumped on it like dogs on a bone, forgetting the facts and the obvious timing of the leak.

This disgraceful reporting led to 20 First Nations presenting their concerns in Geneva last Friday to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The event was either unreported or under-reported by media, possibly because it was such an embarrassment.

I’m in favour of free speech, but this isn’t about free expression.

It’s about fostering racial hatred and spreading wrong information. I could say it’s about “telling deliberate lies,” but that upsets people.

Besides media coverage, there is the accompanying issue of the silence of the federal government. The minister of Indian Affairs and his officials know the facts and should have spoken up. The timely leaking of the Attawapiskat audit likely was done either by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs or at the request of the Prime Minister’s Office.

The presentation in Switzerland outlined the concerns of the First Nations and stated: “Canadian news media outlets … fuelled acts of racial discrimination that perpetuate and reinforce negative stereotypes that belittle and depersonalize First Nations.”

Further, said the presentation, “It also creates an environment of discrimination that allows for the largely uninformed public to commit acts of racial discrimination against First Nations.”

The brief called on the UN committee to find that certain Canadian news organizations have reinforced racial and negative stereotypes, that this behaviour contributes to an escalating pattern of racial violence against First Nations people, and that Canada has failed to act to alleviate the persistent pattern of racial discrimination within certain media outlets.

The committee has no power to force change, but it can recommend changes and sanctions. In the process, it can give Canada a black eye on the international stage. This could pose a challenge for Canadians who consider themselves as international Boy Scouts, whose country is squeaky clean.

This image is being tarnished as our people speak out, and rightly so.

A recent book, Seeing Red, a history of natives in Canadian newspapers, states: “There has been a long-term consistent policy of degrading and marginalizing First Nations. Our people have been portrayed in terms of moral depravity, innate inferiority and a stubborn resistance to what others see as progress.”

These ascribed characteristics have been important to justify the imposition of a foreign cultural world view on our people. The actions of the media are a continuation, albeit a clumsy one, of this long standing attitude.

The brief singled out Sun Media and The National Post as bad examples.

Sun Media was especially negative, with commentators such as Ezra Levant and his outrageous statements that the protesters were “terrorists” committing crimes against Canada. He painted the protesters as criminals or terrorists with comments such as, “It’s dangerous enforcing the law, especially against Mohawk Warriors who dress in camouflage, carry an assault rifle, some of whom have served in the Canadian or U.S. military.”

This is a totally specious comment. These were peaceful protests, and no weapons were allowed. This type of comment only reinforces the public’s perception of savage Indians who are unable to control their impulses.

Levant’s comments were so far over the top that it would be comedy if he didn’t believe his own concoctions.

Lorne Gunter, another Sun Media commentator, went out of his way to belittle and condemn First Nations treaties and relationships with the Crown. The Two Row Wampum is a sacred covenant the Mohawk Nation made, first with the Dutch and later with the British. The wampum symbolizes the independent and respectful nature of the relationship that the Mohawk Nation has with the newcomers.

Gunter called the Two Row Wampum “rubbish” and commented, “If aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians are like two canoes, how come non-aboriginals largely paid for both canoes and do most of the paddling in each too?”

No other group in Canada would be subject to such a comment, but now it appears that making racist comments against the country’s first peoples is sanctioned.

Christie Blatchford, a columnist for The StarPhoenix and National Post, belittled our culture and pontificated that we are doomed. She wrote: “So while Chief Spence and others may long for nation-to-nations discussions, I think there’s a genuine question as to whether there’s enough of aboriginal culture that has survived to even dream of that lofty status, or if the culture isn’t irreparably damaged already. Smudging and drumming do not a nation make.”

I have no idea what qualifies her to make that observation, and I think that many pundits don’t know what they are talking about. It was a case of jumping on a bandwagon and hurling insults at a group of people that had the temerity to stand up and be counted.

The case has been presented to the United Nations and we await the UN’s reply. Let’s hope that Canadian media and the federal government will sit up and take notice.


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