I grew up in what many would call ‘white privilege’- on a quiet street in a new suburb created after WWII. To be honest all my friends were white until I hit high school when I met a new friend -a girl named Pauline who was black. I never thought of her other than my friend and also a great athlete so we were often side by side in competition; as a young adult I met a wonderful black couple from Pittsburgh who I still remain friends with 50years later. It never occurred to me to see them other than my friends – I seldom if ever even thought about the colour of their skin.
I had very early on realized how fascinating my family history was and I often daydreamed or played about being a settler travelling to Canada in the late 1700’s or early 1800’s. My ancestors were Quakers for the most part and didn’t believe in war or fighting – which eventually lead them to move to Canada. My 7th Great grandfather actually arrived in America in the mid 1600”s and started his family in North America a number of years later. He cleared the land and built his home amongst other Quakers and certainly Natives who lived around their area. He was a man of the cloth – a minister and teacher and I believe would have considered those living around him as neighbours regardless of the colour of their skin. My 4th great grandfather Enos Lundy travelled to Canada around the time of the American Revolution due to the persecution of the Americans against the Quakers. I want to believe he understood the pain it caused to be mistreated, to have your belongings taken and to be driven out of the country due to your beliefs.
I remember my grandma often talking about playing with ‘Indian kids’ when she was a little girl living in Carberry Manitoba and again in Newmarket Ontario when they moved back there after her father died. It didn’t seem like a big deal to her and I never gave it much thought at the time. But now I realized I missed much. I have always prided myself in being well-read and empathetic to other people’s plights; I have never had a racist bone in my body and was never afraid to speak up and speak out about injustices I saw. A prime example was the issues related to the civil rights issues in the States during the 60’s. In fact I was so mouthy about it my dad feared for my life when I went to Florida shortly after Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968.
But I am so ashamed and appalled that I knew nothing about what was happening all around me in my own country with Residential Schools and the treatment of our Indigenous families living in Canada. To be honest I don’t ever remember seeing Indigenous people in my community growing up and I have to admit that I don’t think I had even met anyone who was Native till I moved to Edmonton in 1978 -or maybe I just hadn’t noticed. I was an adult living in Edmonton in the early 90’s when I was invited to attend an Elders Conference and learned from Survivors some of the truths that had occurred over the past 100 ‘s of years in Canada – in my country who I always believed was fair. That is not an excuse for my lack of knowledge but in retrospect it’s embarrassing. Since that conference in 1990 I have tried to educate myself more and speak up and out about the horrible treatment of my Indigenous community members across Canada.
My hopes were raised with the announcement of the Truth and Reconciliation hearings across Canada – I took it to heart hearing these.heroic Survivors telling their stories and I made a promise to work as hard as I could to make a difference wherever and whenever I could. I believed Reconciliation was possible with education and understanding. While the past cannot be changed I began to believe that the future would be better for all of us as a result of more and more Canadians learning about the atrocities that had occurred in our country. I guess I believed most Canadians came from the same strong stock that I had come from – with the strength to forge forward, to fight against wrong and to support and stand beside all our neighbours regardless of the colour of our skin
I was wrong. Tonight I was shocked to hear the verdict in the shooting death of a young Indigenous man – Colten Bouchie in Saskatchewan. I am not condoning his actions that night although I doubt there are any of us who have not done something in our youth that we are now ashamed about and wonder how we escaped. I certainly have driven my car while drinking, I have gone places I had no business going, I’ve lied and cheated and have even been stopped by police a few times but always was able to either talk or smile my way out of it. But I am white. The Canadian justice system who continues to give us platitudes about ensuring everyone has a fair trial has let this young person and really all of Canada down. It was an all white jury – they will say they had invited prospective jurors from Reserves etc around Saskatchewan but do not tell us that these folks would need to come to Regina on their own without financial support to be grilled by the defence to see if they are qualified’ ; the end result was not even a slap on the wrist to this killer- he killed a young man and his future with one shot to his head and is now able to walk away unscathed
The result of this verdict will no doubt cause a huge division in Canada. There will be many who believe the shooter was ‘justified’ in killing Colten as he perceived he was a threat. But there are many others myself included who believe his vision was clouded by the colour of Colten’s skin. This is a sad indictment of the fear that has now engulfed Canada – that we only see that colour not the person at all. And we’ve become a society that believes “all”are the same – versus isolating those of any colour who have truly done something bad. I don’t believe my grandma saw kids of different colours but as kids she could play with and have fun I certainly know my friends are friends and it has nothing to do with the colour of their skin.
I am so fearful for my youngest son who is a member of Fort McMurray First Nations and is proud of his culture and heritage. I am fearful for other young persons like him who will be scrutinized more closely than his blonde blue eyed friends. This Court case simply makes it ok to make those kind of decisions.
I believed that the TRC had made a differences; that it was beginning to open up the eyes and hearts of Canadians to gain a better understanding of how the past has affected our lives and how it will continue to impact our future particularly if we don’t change. This court case has now made all of that fall away. Do we not believe that all people are created equal?. When did this change and how can we get back on track. Reconciliation is not possible if we don’t change our attitudes and beliefs.
I still believe in Reconciliation and I believe in Canada. I desperately want to believe that the majority of Canadians feel the same way
Till next time…..