This week Inuvik-Twin Lakes MLA Lesa Semmler was kind enough to speak to me about her thoughts on what an action plan to combat the ongoing Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls crisis should look like.
Through experiences no one should have to go through, Semmler knows more about what Indigenous women and girls are dealing with than most people in government. And now, with Ottawa announcing the report has been delayed because of Covid-19, she’s rightfully upset.
Far too many Canadians are unaware that Canada is just as racist as the United States. In fact, I’ll venture to say we’re worse. At least the Americans know they have a racism problem – the question before them is if they’re going to do anything about it.
Canadian racism goes all the way back to our founding. The country’s first Prime Minister, John A. MacDonald, was known for referring to Indigenous peoples as “savages” and in 1879 he called for their children to be taken away from their parents and put in “
And so we had 150 years of genocide through residential schools and Indian hospitals – the psychological impacts of which now fuel the MMIWG crisis.
That was a long time ago, but let’s look at more recent legislation passed in this country. In Alberta, a law was just passed that allows the government to declare any protest near “essential infrastructure” illegal. The law is a response to Indigenous demonstrators blockading supply lines in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en people on the West Coast.
One year earlier, hundreds of white protesters blocked traffic for hours across the country wearing yellow vests and calling for more pipelines. No one batted an eye. White men’s money still takes priority over Indigenous life in Canada.
In Quebec, the Parti Quebecois drew international embarrassment for trying to ban religious symbols from government service employees. Two elections later, the Coalition Avenir Quebec passed the same law, warning it “could have gone further.”
Indigenous peoples across the land have had to fight for years to practice their traditional religious beliefs, be that smudging, sun dancing, throat singing or even practicing traditional medicine. Getting an inquiry into MMIWG literally took decades.
Our last two federal elections were both tainted by blatant racism, most recently Justin Trudeau’s blackface boondoggle, but also recall in 2015 when Stephen Harper pegged his re-election hopes on the niqab ban, which would have forced clothing restrictions on hundreds of thousands of Canadian women — and got 5,613,614 votes. That he could receive that kind of support for advancing such a divisive idea shows just how integrated racism is in our day-to-day lives.
Chinese head taxes. Starlight tours. Boil water advisories. Japanese internment camps. A 1911 Order in Council that banned “black immigration.” Sending a boatload of Jewish refugees back to Nazi Germany. The list goes on.
What makes racism such a lingering problem is it takes many different forms. We’re all capable of it, often without even realizing it. The key is how we react when confronted with our own prejudices.
If you or I say or do something racist and someone calls us out, we have a choice – either get defensive and insist we aren’t like that, which perpetuates the problem, or reflect on our behaviour and how it affects others and try to make amends.
Canada has spent far too long doing the former. It’s time we face our demons.