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Commentary: Dispute between government and hereditary leaders puts racism on display

The issue between hereditary leaders and the Canadian government unveiled what is known to most people of colour. Racism is alive and well in 21st century Canada.

The issue between hereditary leaders and the Canadian government unveiled what is known to most people of colour.

Racism is alive and well in 21st century Canada.

In response to blockades by some First Nations people, outgoing Conservative leader Andrew Scheer stated that “These protesters, these activists have the luxury of spending days at a time at a blockade, but they need to check their privilege.” 

His remarks were denounced by other party leaders.

For a leader of a federal party to invoke the age-old assumption that First Nations people are lazy was irresponsible. It emboldened people to make hateful remarks on social media.

Scheer also used the term privilege. The issue of privilege, and in particular, white privilege annoys certain people. Critics of the notion of white privilege tend to speak to equal opportunity rights, as privilege. They try to reverse the discrimination overlooking why such legislation was necessary in the first place.

As a First Nations person, I have experienced racism my entire life. However, instances of overt racism have declined over the years.

As a child, I’ve witnessed my parents being denied hotel rooms and treated badly by establishments for no other reason than their race. That has decreased in my lifetime.

However, First Nations remain the most vilified in North America. I believe in Canada, it is because we have Aboriginal rights, and treaty rights. People assume we are living tax free lives. I’ve stated before, people need to be better educated on First Nations issues.

When Scheer reinforces the racial stereotype that “Indians are lazy” and “unemployed” he is reinforcing misconceptions.

It is true that unemployment is high on reserves. This explains why so many youths are moving to urban centers. They are moving to seek training, careers, and employment. As they do, they will encounter racism. This is their reality. However, they will also meet good people.

The effects of racism are significant. For many First Nations youth struggling to find their way in life, racism can be the final straw. It can destroy one’s hope. Especially when seeking employment. You will notice that not too many First Nations are working for area businesses. Scheer’s opinion is not an isolated one.

However, what people don’t know is that most people in our community are living meaningful and productive lives. Many have careers or work on-reserve. Men hunt to provide for extended families. Women bead and make crafts to support their families. It is not a community of privilege.

My privilege as a First Nation man with a graduate degree and career is to be followed by security at local stores. As a highly respected Elder, it is my mother’s privilege to be followed by same security. It will be my granddaughter’s privilege and that of her children.

I told one manager that until he teaches his children to think better of First Nations people, his children will be following our children. That is our privilege.

By the way, not all First Nations supported Wet’suwet’un.


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 Canmore's Rocky Mountain Outlook.

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