Revised June 8, 2018
Former Prime Minister, the Right Honorable Paul Martin called me in response to an email I sent him in reply to his comments made in a May 12th CBC story headlined: “Canadians not racist but Aboriginal issue ‘invisible’ to many, says Paul Martin”. While I’d assumed he was calling in some effort of support, I was disheartened at the realization he actually wanted to correct me on what Canadian racism is, or rather, isn’t.
While Mr. Martin did strongly point out in that and subsequent stories, the various awful inequities thrown at the Indigenous that cause significant and terrible consequences, I could not let that one sentence go.
“Racism isn’t the culprit, but that doesn’t change the fact that the challenges faced by Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples have long remained out of sight and mind to many”, says former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin.
I was stunned. Not only because the very fact that we still have an active piece of legislation called the Indian Act, which is all about the business of managing the Indigenous, but every day we read stories of the examples of racism in action.
Every day I see other examples such as a recently posted widely-watched video put out by a very stridently racist Vancouver woman that compared AFN National Chief, Perry Bellegarde to Hitler, demanding that the AFN members be arrested for treason, and complaining that all “natives are obsessed with white people”.
This is all enough to question just the idea that Canada is not racist, a country built upon the lies of trade and/or conquering as most Canadians believe, but to have had that statement come from a high profile public servant widely seen as a friend to the Indigenous?
It was incredible to me.
So, I wrote Mr. Martin. I noted the points above, of others and attached the link to the despicable video. I wrote to say I was disheartened along with outraged because his background as friend to the Indigenous was precisely why it was especially important to not let stand yet another whitewash of history to make Canadians feel better, despite the fact they have all benefited from taking the lion’s share of Indigenous resources.
I admit I had no expectation of a response as I’d yet to get one from any of the fine members of Canada’s upper echelon in all my years of writing to them about Indigenous issues. However, 24 hours later I received an email asking if I would like to speak with Mr. Martin.
Stunned for a second time in 24 hours! Of course I said, yes, and within minutes my phone rang.
I was a little surprised by the opening of the conversation. I found Mr. Martin to initially be quite defensive, not quite ready to recognize why I could be upset. He said it was hard to accept that people wouldn’t be able to see his message’s point, especially given his personal record of working to undo the wrongs against the Indigenous over all these years of service. This ignores the point that it was he who implemented the annual 2% funding spending cap for INAC in 1996 that imposed harsh consequences on the ability of Indigenous communities to thrive since.
He asked if I watched the actual interview, and I admitted I did not, however there was no video linked to the story. He specifically mentioned crafting the Kelowna Accord with Indigenous leaders that former Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, crushed the minute he came into office.
Of course I am aware of Mr. Martin’s efforts; I absolutely acknowledge Mr. Martin’s role in that Accord and I would note I have used that Accord as an example in several conversations on the potential for moving forward (and it’s the third reason I came to despise Harper as PM). But, again, that’s precisely why I took especial exception to his words.
To get to his point, he said the Indigenous problem with Canadians is based in ignorance, a lack of history knowledge moreso than racism. I said I do understand that as in large part, I believe racism is ignorance, however we have to be careful of how we state things too. I sensed this thought wasn’t particularly appreciated.
It was at this point he had to go and his final comment was that he feels that calling Canadians racist will not help in the work to help the Indigenous.
After we hung up, I thought about all the people my friends, acquaintances, and anti-racism workers encounter on that daily basis. I thought about all of those who, like that racist video creator, remain fully and willfully ‘ignorant’ of facts, I wondered about the rest of the Canadians who actually are aware of the inequities, the injustices, the utter horrors of their country’s history.
I wonder what Mr. Martin would say about them, and how would he’d reply to questions such as:
What happens once the ignorance is dispelled, are these same Canadians then standing up for us? Do they protest the inequities? Do they even just move out of the way of progressing forward? How many of these same good people are still exercising their right to indifference?
How is inaction or indifference not complicit racism then? Isn’t that what Edmund Burke was speaking to when he said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”?
I mulled the conversation around with my aunt, Elder Maureen Kennedy. She said, “Yes, we have our own hard work to do to get over and through everything, but they have their own hard work to do too”. I agree with my aunt, except I’d say I don’t agree that they should be expecting our comfort for them on top of it all.
Mr. Martin also sits as board member for the *Canadians For a A New Partnership (CFNP) – a group of prominent leaders from both sides of the equation to “build a new partnership between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada”. I envision the Indigenous partners having to dance around the elephant in the room while seeking justice.
…And do Canadians really need to ‘feel better about themselves’ before they do the right thing?
*In early January 2018, Paul Martin quietly closed the doors of the CFNP, the only announcement appearing to be an email to their website subscribers. Shortly after that, he created his own private charity foundation, ostensibly in support of Indigenous education. He requested funding from the Canadian government. They responded with a $30 million cheque for him.
June 8, 2016 – 87% of Canadians believe aboriginal people experience discrimination: survey
An Indigenous perspective on the realities of racism:
Wab Kinew On Canadian Racism, Relocating Attawapiskat, And The ‘Criminal’ State Of Aboriginal Education
Martin email exchange
Very interesting Robyn I too am surprised that Martin chose to respond to your email. The only thing I can imagine that would so motivate him is if there was a new initiative by the Liberal gov’t to demarginalize First Nations by virtue of denying racism. There is no doubt that racism is defined as the negative treatment of a race or skin color, and as you so aptly pointed out your life is rife with such examples and many current examples exist. For Martin to say that Canadians are not racist is to wear blinders. The thing is that it is not politically correct to call voters racist – they get defensive.He can’t do that, so he should keep his mouth shut. Once he chooses to comment he can either anger First Nations or non- First Nations and non-First Nations is a larger voting block.
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I can’t add anything to your comment, Paul. You’ve called every point quite astutely in my view.
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You explained your case well.
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An amazing story! I wonder whether he can make the distinction between the simple truth that racism is a profound issue throughout North America, and another simple truth, that ignorance contributes to that racism. I’m concerned, although not surprised, that he seems to be asserting that both statements cannot be true. Anyway, good for you for speaking truth to him.
Thank you, Michael. It was quite an experience to get the call, but then to realize the point of it was really disheartening. Just another example of the double-edged sword when it comes to trusting whose who…
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WOW! I knew you were awesome, sister, but this is super awesome squared, plus ten! I mean, you may not have gotten him to agree with you 100%, but you got his attention, and that’s a foot in the door to correcting the problem. I’m embarrassed to admit, that I guess I, too, am guilty of a type of racism (or perhaps more accurately stereotyping?)…because until you posted about this problem, I just always thought of Canadians as being a peaceful, easy to get along with, loving people. At least that’s been my experience in the few areas of Canada I’ve spent lots of time in. Or perhaps I’m just comparing them to my native Americans, and see that since we are so much more racist and hateful and self-righteous as a whole, Canada just seems peaceful to me. And I don’t this to come out badly (because I mean no offense to anyone, but I’m not quite sure how to word this), but IF someone chooses to be racist, I’d think they concentrate more on a race or religion or nationality that directly threatens them and their well being rather than pick on everyone. What (imaginary) “offenses” have the Indigenous People supposedly done to make them so hostile? I don’t understand all this hate and anger in the world. There’s so much to be thankful for, and if other people are different than us, so what? Unless their being alive takes food out of my kids’ mouths and threatens their survival, what should it matter to me if they are a different race, creed, color, religion, gender, etc.?
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I agree. I know why he chose those words. Politicians will be politicians. Perhaps his call to you was an unspoken assent to your accusation without saying the words. I would never choose politics. I used to believe someone would eventually be elected to do the right thing, but after the political circus that has been this election year here in the US, I totally give up. Racism abounds in every country that humans live in, but I see no true representation on an official level for indigenous peoples. I find it appalling on so many levels. Just continue to speak your truth. You may not make a difference in political representation, but if you can change one heart, one person’s view, that will be one less racist in the world.
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