Canada's racial stalemate

Calvin Helin author of Dances with DependencyThe other week – as virtually everybody is now aware – Obama gave his much celebrated speech on the racial stalemate in America.

Here in Canada we have a stalemate as well. It is discussed less frequently (if at all) then the American stalemate Obama spoke of, and it does not fall along clearly delineated racial lines. I am speaking of the stalemate between First Nations and the rest of Canada. On page 157 0f his book “Dances with Dependency: Indigenous Success through Self-Reliance” (if you don’t have a copy I highly recommend picking one up), aboriginal rights activist Calvin Helin writes a paragraph that parallels the sentiment of Obama’s speech.

When chronicling and discussing the very real problem of abuses of power, mismanagement, nepotism and corruption found on some First Nation band councils, Helin notes:

Aboriginal people are reluctant to speak publicly about these issues because they do not wish to provide grist for the political right in Canada who many feel are racist, and have no real interest in actually trying to make the situation better (though often there is a sizable, but silent contingent that supports the publication of such issues in what might be considered right-of-centre publications, because they are regarded as only telling the truth and trying to make things better for the ordinary Aboriginal folks). Generally, non-aboriginal observers have been reluctant to raise this issue as well because, in the current climate of political correctness, they might automatically be labelled as racists. Even the many Chiefs and Councils that are running honest governments in the best interests of their members feel compelled to defend against such reported abuses, because they fear their activities may become tarred with a brush that does not apply in their particular circumstances. Usually when this matter is raised publicly, there are entrenched positions on both sides of the debate and little communications as to how to solve these problems. (my own italics)

While this hardly captures the entire dynamic, it highlights an important dimension of Canada’s racial stalemate.  That anger and guilt in both communities – aboriginals and non-aboriginals – can sometime build narratives about the other that reinforce their mutual distrust and preventing us from reaching out and finding a way to address what is our country’s most important challenges.

I suspect this stalemate will not last. A new force could be about to completely alter this debate. A new generation – a demographic tsunami in fact – of smart, educated, and motivated young First Nation is about to crest over this country (While Calvin Helin is an excellent example, he is much older than the cohort I’m thinking of). I’m not sure that non-aboriginal leaders – and, to be frank, current aboriginal leaders – are even aware of what is about to hit them. Gauging from those I have met and befriended, this cohort is frustrated, but motivated, organized and very pragmatic. But perhaps, most importantly, they increasingly urban and, not as tied to the power structures of the reserves or chiefs. In this regard they transcend the discussion, living in, and comfortable in, both the aboriginal and non-aboriginal domain. One way or another they are will redefine this debate.

3 thoughts on “Canada's racial stalemate

  1. Ginger Gosnell-Myers

    Its hard after reading Calvin’s book not to talk about the current racial stalement between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians. This silence makes it seem like most people don’t feel that living in a country that denies its Indigenous people their rights, some justice, and a little dignity about the matter – is a problem worth talking about. For most it seems like the dead horse that has been beaten to death, why still talk about it? Or possibly, what is there to say?

    But a simple first step in resolving poverty, injustice, and discrimination is to TALK about it. Its a conversation amongst all of us that needs to take place. And just because the current generation of Aboriginal youth gets to vote, gain a university degree and retain their Indian status, didn’t go to residential schools, and gather in groups of more than 3 to talk about the issues without going to jail, doesn’t mean they are not affected by daily realities of the not so distant past on a regular basis.

    And what is going on in Canada? Who is an Aboriginal Canadian is the question I’m sure many non-natives ask, just as I, an Indigenous person often wonder what its like to just be Canadian. Most think Aboriginal issues are so big and controversial, but the conversation needs to start in a down to earth, uncomplicated manner. Let’s find out what we have in common rather than point the finger at one another. Maybe this is the discussion that will move us to the next level in this country.

    Reply
  2. Ginger Gosnell-Myers

    Its hard after reading Calvin’s book not to talk about the current racial stalement between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians. This silence makes it seem like most people don’t feel that living in a country that denies its Indigenous people their rights, some justice, and a little dignity about the matter – is a problem worth talking about. For most it seems like the dead horse that has been beaten to death, why still talk about it? Or possibly, what is there to say?But a simple first step in resolving poverty, injustice, and discrimination is to TALK about it. Its a conversation amongst all of us that needs to take place. And just because the current generation of Aboriginal youth gets to vote, gain a university degree and retain their Indian status, didn’t go to residential schools, and gather in groups of more than 3 to talk about the issues without going to jail, doesn’t mean they are not affected by daily realities of the not so distant past on a regular basis. And what is going on in Canada? Who is an Aboriginal Canadian is the question I’m sure many non-natives ask, just as I, an Indigenous person often wonder what its like to just be Canadian. Most think Aboriginal issues are so big and controversial, but the conversation needs to start in a down to earth, uncomplicated manner. Let’s find out what we have in common rather than point the finger at one another. Maybe this is the discussion that will move us to the next level in this country.

    Reply
  3. Daniel Seguin

    Hey Dave,You'll be happy to know that, serendipitously, Calvin joined us as Think Again this past weekend. We invited him to speak exactly on the issues you've highlighted above. A truly riveting and inspiring keynote… especially in thinking about how Calvin really is standing on the edge: unwelcome by many of his own people AND unwelcome by many aid angencies. He's from neither here nor there, but carries the burden of being the embassador for an important message. He's got a new book in the works, so keep your eyes peeled! Cheers,Dan—————————————Daniel SéguinThink Again Conference Consultant Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation

    Reply

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