Everyday Racism in Canada: Learning and Teaching Respect for Aboriginal People

By Lund, Darren E. | Multicultural Education, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview

Everyday Racism in Canada: Learning and Teaching Respect for Aboriginal People


Lund, Darren E., Multicultural Education


Humankind has not woven the web of life.

We are but one thread within it.

Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.

All things are bound together.

All things connect.

-Chief Seattle, 1854

All of Creation is related.

And the hurt of one is the hurt of all.

And the honour of one is the honour of all.

And whatever we do affects everything in the universe.

-White Buffalo Calf Woman

How smooth must be the language of the White people,

When they can make right look like wrong, and wrong like right."

-Black Hawk (Sauk)

Like many White people in Canada I grew up fairly oblivious to the harsh social conditions facing so many people who live within marginalized communities. I was not, however, ignorant of racism. I grew up in Calgary, a bustling city in the province of Alberta on the western fringe of the Canadian prairies, situated in the rolling foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Our booming city, with a rapidly growing population of just under a million people, considers itself the Houston of the north, with its strong oil sector and proud cowboy heritage.

My father was a police officer in those days, and would "entertain" my sister and me with horrifyingly insensitive stories about the "Indians"1 he would encounter during his shifts, as he walked his police beat in downtown Calgary's impoverished "East End." I remember laughing at his stereotypical impersonations, and I do not think he was an anomaly among the "old boys" network on the Calgary Police Service-or Calgary Police Force, as it was correctly called back then.

Planting a Seed: Unlearning Racism in Canada

I only developed my own more critical antiracist sensibilities much later in life, encouraged by a group of high school students back in my first year of teaching. They planted a seed for me, by inviting me to join them in a collective struggle against racism when they formed an innovative antiracist project in one of my classes almost exactly 20 years ago. The Students and Teachers Opposing Prejudice (STOP) program continues to attract dedicated teachers and students seeking to make their school and society more just and equitable (see Canadian Race Relations Foundation, 2001; Lund, 2005).

For the past two decades I have focused on unlearning my own racism, educating for social justice, and more recently, researching creative responses to racism and other forms of oppression in communities across Canada and beyond. Having this experience, I am likely somewhat more sensitive to diversity issues than is the average White Albertan. Even so, reflecting on a specific incident that happened while I was a high school teacher just a handful of years ago, I am struck by the depth of the insensitivity of well-meaning mainstream Canadians to the need for greater respect for First Nations people.

It is an irrefutable fact by even the most optimistic among us that people of Aboriginal background continue to face deep-seated racism and inequitable treatment within Canadian society. Indeed, since the earliest contact with Europeans the people of the First Nations have struggled with the many faces of racism, including systemic oppression, discriminatory policies, and hateful acts perpetrated against them (Boyko, 1995).

Despite federal multicultural policies, Royal Commission reports, and the contemporary liberal discourse of respect and acceptance, First Nations people are still targets of much racism in this country, and schools can be a site of resistance to the dominant ideologies that fuel this oppression (Graveline, 1998; Dion, 2005). Dion (2005) notes that not only politicians, but also students and teachers with whom she has worked, continue to

resist an understanding of history that positions Aboriginal people as human agents actively resisting oppression by dominant Canadian society. Calling on images of tipis, tomahawks, furs and feathers, teachers and students consistently revealed a dehumanized representation of Aboriginal people. …

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