Three important events have transpired in recent months that have underscored the presence of racism in Canada.
First, hereditary leaders of the We’tsu’we’tun people asserted Indigenous title to unceded lands. The peaceful protests that transpired in support of the hereditary leaders drew attention to the racism that permeates Canadian society.
First Nations people in Canada were the subject of hate speech and racist epithets on media and social media outlets. The situation is such that most media outlets closed commentary on issues related to Indigenous people.
Second, the COVID-19 crisis and subsequent shutdown of the economy. This strain of the coronavirus was first identified in Wuhan, China. Consequently, Asian people have been subject to various racist attacks.
The impact COVID-19 has had on the global economy is remarkable. Many have lost employment and are struggling to pay bills. As economic tensions rise some are using this situation to advance racist views.
Third, the murder of George Floyd, an African American at the hands of police in Minneapolis, Minnesota. As millions around the world watched a man’s life being taken, something important seems to have happened.
Society is starting to realize and appreciate that racism is absolutely real and it is taking human lives still today.
Indigenous people in Canada have long sought to bring attention to the issue of systemic racism and police brutality. Floyd’s death has underscored this problem and Indigenous people in both the U.S. and Canada are telling their stories.
Why not? The American Indian Movement was founded in 1968 two years after the Black Panther Party was established. They were organizations that worked to address social injustices and indeed police brutality. Black people and Indigenous people have been fighting the same battle for centuries – racism.
Saulteaux teenager and wrestler Neil Stonechild’s death in 1990 drew attention to what was known as the Star Light tours in Saskatoon. Stonechild had been seen in police custody before being found frozen to death. The Saskatoon Police found no foul play was involved in his death
Neil Stonechild’s untimely death was finally investigated in 2000 after Darrel Night, another Indigenous man survived his own tour. However, in 2003 the RCMP concluded they could not determine what the circumstances were surrounding his death. As a result, his family will not see justice.
Floyd’s death has shone light onto a dark part of American and Canadian societies – racism. Racism exists and it is not just a white affliction.
As an Indigenous person I deal with racism at the hands of different races in Cochrane. I am followed by security guards and secret shoppers of all races as I shop. I am not afforded the right to shop in dignity. It is something I am accustomed to as an Indigenous person. To react is to appear suspicious so you soldier on.
Floyd’s death has seemed to awaken society in Canada and the U.S. Many have stood up to say this is not right. Hopefully this applies to Indigenous people.
Happy Canada Day …
Tatâga Thkan Wagichi is a member of the Wesley First Nation, Stoney Nakoda Nation. A doctoral student in education at the University of Calgary, his focus is on the history of the Stoney Nakoda people and development of the Iyethka language. Author of the book Nakota Community, he is also a regular columnist for the Cochrane Eagle and the Rocky Mountain Outlook.