I grew up really white, in a white community, and there were two or three people of colour in my high school. Racism is so normalized and never challenged and never flagged. So, being a person of colour, such a minority, how do you relay your experience and try to get people when it is so daunting and so overwhelming and so ingrained in white Canadian identity. It is othering, and it is easy to other when there is one person of colour. You literally are an “other.” I’ve been in Victoria for a few years, but I grew up in Nanaimo, which is another beast.
I don’t experience it (racism) because I am white, but because I am white, I hear it times one hundred, because white people are more inclined to share those feelings with another white person. And that’s the thing with Canadians, they are polite, and they’re nice, but they hold these deep seated fears of Black people, of Indigenous people, and people of colour. So, I’ve grown up my whole life being Native and having this big, beautiful family that lives on the reserve, and I’ve also grown up white, in a sea of white people who are super racist. People try to question you, and ask, “Is it really that bad? Are people really that racist?” when I have heard the most horrific things my whole life. I know that white people are racist as hell in Victoria, and in Nanaimo, it is just all under the surface. So, that is my experience with racism. I haven’t been discriminated against, because of my colour, but I know that it there so strong. They call it the unconscious bias, which is a nice way of saying you’re inherently racist, or inherently sexist. And they are trying to address this in government. We kind of know now that every white Canadian is raised and conditioned to be that way: fear of black and brown people, fear of women. So, they are trying to address it, but that’s what upholds the state. It seems like the generation below me, or younger than me, they seem pretty woke. At least some of them are way beyond even where I am now with unlearning toxic ideas. It is easy to say, “just wait until all of the old, conservative, white people die off,” and that’s the thing with what’s happening now in North America. Canadians, so far, have been polite and racism is under the surface and sometimes it slips out, but now with this fear culture, Trump culture, and all this shit, it’s like white people are afraid of losing what they have, and this is where it is all coming out. They are not afraid to show their true colours. I remember in my undergrad talking about this, and we used to talk about how it would be easier if Canada would just show, overtly, their racism, their tax on Indigenous people, and then we could address it. Because they have always been subtle and sneaky, so now it is really happening, we are really seeing white supremacists, and people showing their faces, but, I don’t know, it doesn’t feel like it is easier to tackle it. I really believe it is taught from such a young age, it is passed down from generations. Canada’s not that old, and everyone who came here was white, and these ideas aren’t old or archaic, they are in us, and passed down, and it’s inherent. I truly believe that every Canadian has it in them, and some know that and are addressing it, it’s education.
The most dangerous thing is a really well educated, well-respected person who holds those views. I feel like the generation ahead of me, Indigenous people, Black scholars, and people of colour who are scholars, are trying to beat them at their own game. I love that, and that used to be the battle, it used to be the goal: be able to beat them at their own game, be more educated than them, be more articulate than them, be able to shut them down. It has merit, but you also run the risk of getting so tied up in that game. When I talk to other Indigenous people who are in the university, I’m in the university a lot doing my thesis, having to interact with profs, my supervisor has been difficult, he has shown we don’t agree on some things. And it is almost like, you have to be the expert on everything all of the time, as an Indigenous person. If someone says something racist, you can’t just say, “oh, that is racist, and that’s wrong.” They’ll say, “show me the statistics.” You can’t just say it you have to be ready. I am hearing racist shit all of the time, and I wasn’t able to articulate why it was wrong, because you have to be able to cite this and have a fucking PowerPoint open. That’s whiteness, always valid, and always validated. That’s the thing about your project, people of colour and Indigenous peoples experience is never validated, and you are always being gaslighted, and always made to feel like you are crazy and you’re wrong.
Part of what I want to do with my thesis, because I am doing a study of Indian residential schools, is reframe the whole concept of it as systemic and intentional genocide, attempts of genocide. The way that residential schools have been framed is as this bad thing that happened, and there were a few bad people, and it was a shitty experience, but it was, more or less, a mistake, that the government wasn’t on top of what was happening. But, there is a lot of scholarship that supports the theory that it was an intentional genocide. I’ve done all the research; there are all of these primary documents where it is so clear that John A. Macdonald and Duncan Campbell Scott, the creators and masterminds behind the Indian residential school, were trying to eradicate Indigenous people. It’s ethnic cleansing, and the United Nations’ Convention of Genocide definition of genocide is removal of children from one group to another group, intentional harm, bodily or mentally, caused to a group, and so, all the colonial legislation, like the Indian Act and Indian residential schools, fit that. So, I am using that as the foundation of my thesis to say, the intention was genocide behind Indian residential schools, and then we can have a conversation about what bad things happened, and what things weren’t so negative, because right now there’s, “Indian residential schools are bad victim narratives.” It’s like trauma porn. And then on the other side, there are people who are like, “it wasn’t all that bad.” But, I feel like you can’t have a conversation without laying the foundation of the purpose of this was to eradicate our people. So, that is why I am using the term genocide.
So, I was using the word genocide in my thesis, and when I submitted it to my supervisor he emailed me and said, “I want to meet to discuss these things, and you using the term genocide.” So, I came to the meeting prepared with my arguments, and I was excited to be able to have this conversation with him. I feel like as an Indigenous person, you always have to be prepared, and the dream is to always be able to articulate yourself whenever anything like this comes up. So, I was excited, I felt confident to be able to have this conversation with someone who has power over me, who is a white man, who is my supervisor; I felt good about it. And so, when I got there, it was clear that he was upset over it, but he wouldn’t say he was upset. He was saying, “You can’t use that term because it weakens your arguments, because genocide is not what happened in BC, and you can’t use that word because you can’t compare what happened to Native peoples with the Holocaust.” And he was going on and on and on as to silence me, and I was there ready to have a conversation, and to explain why I am using it, and cite all my sources, and it was basically shut down by him. He was saying if I couldn’t prove it in court if it was genocide, then I shouldn’t be using it in my scholarship, which is the opposite of what scholarship is, as it is usually at odds with the court and the state. So, I felt good and I felt confident, even though he was shutting me down and he was really emotional about it, I still felt confident that my argument is sound. So, I wrote everything down that he said, and he didn’t give me any space to respond, other than I had a few words of, “Well, this is the UN declaration, and they say this is genocide, and it is so clear.” And he was like, “Oh no, that doesn’t relate to Indigenous people.” He said the most ridiculous things because he was emotional about it, and I think he was mad that I was arguing with him about it. So, I wrote everything down, and I sent him a big email saying, “I understand where you are coming from, but here is all of the scholarship I’m citing, here’s all the newest work on genocide in genocide studies that backs up my argument. I am open to talking to you about this if you want to talk, but I am not changing my views,” and then he never answered me. I am fine with it, and I don’t care, I am going to put it in my thesis and present it at this conference that is coming up. I am fine, but it is so weird that he never answered my email, and I have seen him a bunch of times since and we have met and talked about my thesis. It’s like it never happened. He won’t put it in writing. It was fucked up. He is known as being liberal, but he really showed his true colours. It is interesting because I just assumed he was an ally, but this is just his job. He’s a historian, and he writes about it, but he doesn’t give a fuck about the lives of Indigenous people. The reason I am doing what I am doing is because in the back of my mind I am always thinking about my community and my family, and all Indigenous people and people of colour who are experiencing violence from the state everyday in Canada. So, when I go in and do research or am writing, that is what I’m thinking. For him, he comes from his comfy, white home with his white family, and goes to the archives and has some fun and writes about it. That is just what it’s like going to school here. There is no safe space; it is all contentious, unless you are going to betray your Indigeneity.