After completing my Treaty Education workshop, I have learned even more about First Nations people and the Treaties. Although I feel I have grown a lot from this workshop, I still know I have so much to still learn. However, I feel I am a lot farther in my knowledge and understanding of the Treaties than others around me. Having come from a small town, I have been around people who haven’t received enough education and still remain stubborn in their viewpoints. Lack of education is the foundation of racism. As a white person, I don’t deal with racism as much as any other racial group in Canada- more specifically, Aboriginals- so it can be hard to really understand how it would alter my everyday life.
Racism is an interesting concept itself. How is is possible two people could be treated so differently based on the colour of their skin and cultural identity? I often wonder if both the British and First Nations people expected the outcome of the Treaties to be the way it is today- my guess is the First Nations people did not, but what about the British? As a future educator, racism is a topic I should be prepared to talk about in my classroom. How does racism even occur? Is it with you when your born, or is it taught? Since its very hard for me to believe a baby already carries prejudice against certain coloured people I have to believe the latter. Racism is something learned- this is great news! You may wonder why it would be great that children learn racism… my reasoning is because that means there is hope for change. Since it is not a trait one is born with, there is the opportunity that I can teach my students the real facts about Aboriginals and Treaties and not the ones they’ve learned elsewhere.
I have learned many things that I will bring into my classroom from these last 2 days in workshop. However, I can’t help to remember those people back at home who are stuck in their racial thinking. Therefore, in an attempt to get those people up to the level I am (which still isn’t as high as I’d like it, but baby steps in the right direction are always good) I am choosing to address some of the common misconceptions and statements associated with racism towards Aboriginal people. This is, of course, only from the best of my knowledge and further insight would be best learned from an Elder.
Common Racial Misconceptions (it should be noted these statements are not what I believe, but are more being used for proper education. I am choosing to tackle racism head-on in this post which may leave some feeling uncomfortable) :
1. All Aboriginals get free post-secondary schooling, and tax exemptions.
From my understanding, all of these hold some truth but are shadowed lies. Firstly, until the Indian Act, only First Nations people were included in the Treaties and Metis and Inuit people were left out- meaning they didn’t receive any of the Treaties’ promises. Let’s start with the first statement. Money is set aside for Aboriginal people to receive post-secondary education. However, only a limited amount is set to each band so if this amount of money doesn’t cover all the people interested, they must find another source of money (for example, student loans). The next statement about tax exemption is also only partially true. First Nations’ people only have tax exemption on products purchased within the reserves, houses that lie within the reserve, and employees who work inside the reserve.
2. It’s no use using Canada’s resources on Aboriginal people when they don’t even want to help themselves.
Firstly, it’s not Canada’s resources- they’re shared. When Britain and the First Nations people signed the Treaties they agreed to share the land and all of the resources that are on it. Secondly, there is numerous groups of support that are working to better the lives of Aboriginals, many of which, are created by Aboriginal people. By simply ‘googling’ Aboriginal support a list of many resources and programs are given. Statements made about Aboriginal people being useless or doomed for disaster are usually formed from looking at the statistics: in the 2006 Statistics Canada, one third of Aboriginal adults (aged 25-54) didn’t have their high school education. This is significantly lower than the non-Aboriginal population with only 13%. Likewise, there are very similar statistics for the comparison of Aboriginal adults in custody and community programs and non-Aboriginal adults. However, much research has been done and has proven that these numbers are so drastic due to the Aboriginal population living through residential schools. Until that traumatic memory has been worked through, Aboriginal will have their negative statistics. However, with the help of support programs and increase in education, these numbers can decrease and result in less racism.
3. It wasn’t the one who signed and agreed to the treaties, why do I have to follow them?
This is a phrase commonly stated by the misinformed. No, you were not the person holding the pen (or whatever they had used) and signed the Treaty. However, as a Canadian citizen that is a condition that applies. You may not have signed the Treaty; however, you sure don’t mind reaping the benefits and living on this beautiful land. So unless you choose to move from North America, you should feel happy those Treaties were signed.
4. The Treaties were signed such a long time ago… haven’t we paid enough? Aren’t the expired yet?
No. Firstly, the Treaties did not ‘buy’ the land- they were an agreement to share the land in harmony. And although they were created many years ago, they did not have an expiry date. They will exist for “as long as the sun shines, grass grows and river flows”- this means forever.
5. They’re all alcoholics and criminals. They’ll never be happy.
This is a very common racial statement and to truly understand it, we need to look back in history. As a way to assimilate Aboriginal people, the British had enforced residential schools (their idea of providing education). They would take Aboriginal children away from their families and attempt to replace their traditional knowledge with that of the British. This ended up being a place where both physical, psychological, and sexual abuse occurred ultimately resulting in these schools to close. Because of this, generation upon generation have been influenced by such abuse (even generations not physically in residential schools. The violence that had occurred in these schools had created hatred and bitterness. While not all residential school survivors had such negative experiences, this event has caused many Aboriginal people to experience feelings of lost identity, and the inability to understand family relationships. To deal with these historical events and outcomes, some people get sucked into alcohol as a way of coping. Based on my understanding of the 3 elders who talked at the workshop, Aboriginal people are only fighting for what was promised to them. Until then, they will continue fighting and bringing awareness to the social injustice that has occurred in both the past as well as presently.
Based on my experience, the best way of preventing racism is stopping it as it occurs. When racial comments are stated, I find it best to address them head on. While it is important not make the person defensive, you should address the validity of the statement and provide the accurate statements (or a place to find this information).
Change does not happen in a day. It is a long process that takes a lot of work. As long as steps are being taking in the right direction, we will get there eventually. It is important to educate all Canadians to think critically about what they hear about Aboriginal people. While there is lots of negative talk in the news or on TV, they often come from a Caucasian viewpoint. Statistics Canada also had a very interesting study finding that Aboriginal people are more likely to be the victim in a violent crime. It is important to teach that, until one has researched a topic without bias, it is unethical to make opinions and viewpoints about Aboriginal people.