Fighting Racism Through History
Racism is everywhere no matter how hard we try to erase it. The sad facts and truth are:
- that even in Canada
- in your own neighborhood
- maybe in your own family
However, it does not need to be this way. There are active steps you can do to try and erase the racism in your own heart. When you can conquer it within yourself, you will be able to help someone else overcome their inner fight with racism.
Misunderstanding Of History
Fear of the unknown can have each of us doing a variety of conspiracy theories in our minds. Most of the time this is just unfounded fear. Plain and simple. Yes, horrible things have happened in the past and continue today. But let’s step back and see if history has been accurately retold in the first place.
Remember, there are 3 sides to every story:
- your side
- the other side
- and the truth
Unfortunately, many times when we are taught things like history in school it is taught from just one perspective, one side of the story. It doesn’t make what you’ve been told, the whole story.
For instance, as I was growing up, I really did not like reading in history books and writing on exams (in order to get my marks) that my 1st cousin 5x removed, Louis David Riel, Leader of the Métis people of Canada was insane and a traitor. That would just make me bristle inside. It made me angry because I knew this wasn’t the truth! Or even our family’s side of the history.
Our family knew him as a man trying to bring peace and resolution between the opposing groups. Those who had been here in Canada for centuries and the newcomers. Unfortunately, not all went well in trying to achieve peace. But peace had been the goal—and even Louis said it might take 200 years.
Well, some strides for peace have been made, but there is still much to do.
Interpretation Of Customs
Look at this passage descibing “Indians” now called Indigenous people. I found it in a 1914 edition of the Ontario Public School History of Canada textbook.
“In summer and autumn the men were busy hunting, fishing, or waging war. During the remainder of the season, once their houses were built and their weapons and canoes made, they were idle.”
My immediate interpretation of this was the inference that the Indigenous men were lazy. Really? Lazy? I quickly dug out my dictionary, also from that era, to confirm my interpretation of what I had read. After all, different times have words meaning different things. So, let’s see if my bristling reaction was right. I won’t even get into it about the reference to “waging war”.
Well, if you look at the word “idle” from a 1911 edition of the Oxford Dictionary you find the following definition:
“idle—1. (of action, thought, word) ineffective, worthless, vain; groundless; useless; unoccupied; lazy, indolent”
here is a further definition of the word “indolent”.
And finally, here is the 1911 definition of the word “lazy”
“lazy—1.averse to labor, indolent, slothful”
Yes, my interpretation of what I read was correct. Children attending school in 1914 were being taught that Indigenous men were:
- and averse to labor
Yes, no wonder why there is hostility between groups. Already, Indigenous men were being depicted as “ineffective”.
The Cultural Interpretation
Think about it—their families had been able to survive in the vast landscape of what is now called Canada for thousands of years. How could that happen if they were a bunch of lazy, slothful, worthless, ineffective, and averse to labor, bunch of men?
See—there has to be another interpretation from the Indigenous perspective.
Another perspective might have shown an interpretation of:
“Summer and autumn were busy times for the men. A time to hunt and fish in order to gather food and other supplies for the next winter. Occasionally there were times of disputes between tribes, and men may have to go and defend their families and hunting grounds. However, once their homes were built, and their hunting tools and canoes were made, they could relax. Knowing they had earned their rest. The men provided:
- clothing material
- and provided for the needs of their families.
They knew they and their families were ready for the coming winter. This down time was a great time to focus on their families and friends. A time to build community spirit.”
You see, instead of just assuming the men having leisure time must make them lazy—it is better to look at why they were able to have the leisure time. Simply, because they had got their work done!
Now, I acknowledge that the education system is trying to correct previous teachings and allow more Indigenous perspective about the other side of the story. However, parents and grandparents still have been taught the older versions, and it does get passed onto their children. This is going to take time to reverse the racism passed down for the past couple of hundred years.
Differences Don’t Make It Wrong
You see, the settler who slaved over clearing land and planting a crop, had his own interpretation of what labor, work, and providing for his family meant. The Indigenous people also had an interpretation of what labor, work, and providing for their families meant.
Two different systems, but it doesn’t mean only one is right and the other is wrong.
Actually, when you think about it, the lifestyle of working with the land of hunting and gathering is a more peaceful existence with our natural resources. Rather than fighting the land, trying to beat it and tame it.
But again, both systems have their purpose. Differences don’t make one right and the other right. They are just differences.
So why does one culture even in this day and age, try to ethnically wipe out the other? Based just on differences? Remember, both have purpose, they are just different. One is not better than the other, just different.
Racism In Your Own Home
I, being Métis, still have to contend with the racism from my own mother. Perhaps it is rooted in her anger over my dad’s early and untimely death at age 31 from a heart attack. It could also be from the fact that my ancestral bloodlines are linked with Red River Rebellion and the Riel family. Because for generations, those from the Riel line especially hid on fear of hanging. Whether a justifiable fear or not, the fear was there.
But racism starts at home. Even as I grew up, after my dad’s death, I was continually told, (and remember, different words mean different things at different times in history)
“The only good Indian, is a dead Indian”.
Yes, these were words spoken to me numerous times over the years by my own mother. Words addressed specifically to me! As I am Métis, like my dad, there were times after his death that I would ask and try to seek out that heritage.
But when you get those words hurled at you time and time again, eventually, you stop asking. You don’t stop yearning and seeking—you just stop asking.
Time Of Healing
There comes a time though for healing. And I believe that a time of healing is coming upon Canada. Look at the strides being made to recognize the right of Indigenous people of Canada. Which by the way now includes the 3 groups—First Nations, Inuit, and the Métis.
Now is the time to fight down the racism you may have about any of these groups. Instead, take the time and find out their side of the history. It just may surprise you what you discover.
- To discover more about the residential school system and the impact it did on pulling families apart.
- The relocation of the Inuit up further north to areas where it is dark almost 6 months of the year 24 hours a day.
- Or why, the Métis are coming out in huge numbers in recent years. Remember, many of us were hiding to keep from being hung. Not that we had been assimilated into the colonial lifestyle—rather, we just tried to not bring attention to ourselves. But our hearts were still Métis.
However, now is the time for healing and restoration. There must be a way to bring healing and a better way of life and respect towards the Indigenous people. There are many myths about the Indigenous people that need to be reversed.
It is time for the truth.
After all, even Jesus said, “And you will know the Truth , and the Truth will set you free.” – John 8:32 (Amplified)
Now is the time for healing and for people to be set free from the chains of oppression that have been on families for generations.
What can you do to learn the other side of history?
There are now many resources in the library. Many Indigenous people have been writing about the other side of history. Some are able to tie it in with society issues of today. One such book that I’ve found useful is by Chelsea Vowel (Métis) who has written “Indigenous Writes: A Guide To First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Issues in Canada.”
There is something also as simple as “asking”. However, as some of the issues are very personal, be prepared for some anger in voices. Be kind, and be attentive. Hear past the pain and hear the truth. Be respectful also. Not everyone is ready to tell you of the hidden horrors of history.
Horrors that yes, still continue today. Issues such as the still huge number of Indigenous children in the care of Family Services. Adults, once raised by Family Services themselves, only to have their own children snatched at birth.
It is time to ask why? Time to learn the other side of history. Finally, it is a time to heal and move forward. A time to forgive– “Mom, I forgive you. I do not believe that I deserve to be dead.”