The subject of racism has been in the news a lot lately. In the training video, “The Spirit Has No Colour”, that was made to help sensitize the Vancouver police department around Aboriginal issues, Leonard George from the Burrard band, pointed out that Indigenous people have always heard they were bad. This is how Indigenous people felt growing up. Many today still feel that they are no good.
The normalization of a ‘bad’ Indian was just a part of the language and behaviour toward our Indigenous people. We, as Indigenous people, accepted that image of ourselves. When you are constantly reminded that you are just an Indian and going nowhere, you start believing that is who you are as a person.
That kind of racism still persists to varying degrees and also in varying degrees in different places. It is not the blatant open racism that makes the news, but the kind that is part of every day life. In the early years of my life I was called ‘chief’, ‘injun’, and other words. No one, either non-native or native, thought to speak up about that. It was just the way people talked. When I was in high school, my principal said that I would never make anything of my life.
That residue of the way we spoke about Indigenous people in our day, remains in our lives. It is only recently that it has become the topic of conversation. Now our people finally feel that they have the power to speak up and change the way that we are seen. We are asking to be seen as equals, rather than as inferiors, or for example, as mascots when it comes to sports team names.
We are slowly freeing ourselves, and the next generations, from the negative ways that we had learned through repetition and outside actors of how we see ourselves. I have heard many Indigenous young people say that it is time to move on from talking about the injustices of the past, and to focus on creating a different future. They are finding their strengths.
The values held by Indigenous peoples are now being recognized and this will lead the way into the future. In my grandparents’ day, and in my early days, we could not protect our forests, our fishing, and our lands from being stripped for their commercial value. Today we can take the lead in protecting what is left rather than giving it over to the government and the business community. And people and churches are standing with us.
There is still a long way to go but there are many signs of progress. We saw the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, our National Indigenous Anglican Archbishop, our own Archbishop of the Ecclesiastical Province of BC and Yukon, and the Bishops of the Yukon and BC speak out against inequality.
Another hopeful sign is that the Chief of the Vancouver Police Department has put together a new committee of Indigenous people to learn how they can serve our people better.
We are grateful for all the new opportunities for communication so that our people can share who we really are. We hope that racism will become a thing of the past, and that instead of being seen as inferior we can be seen as people with cultural values that will help create a healthier world for us all.