From one side of Canada to the other, that happy band of brothers, the editorial writers, are joined in condemning the anti-racism conference in Durban as “absurd”, “phony”, or “hypocritical”. A typical comment is from the Colonist in Victoria, B.C.:
“Talk about a nightmare: a conference of racists and xenophobes set up to condemn racism and xenophobia.”
That exemplar of progressive thinking, The Ottawa Citizen has joined the crowd. A year or two ago they published an editorial recommending, in effect, that of all the laws in Canada, those pertaining to Aboriginal rights should be ignored.
Nothing racist about that, of course! The Citizen editorial board is crowded with extreme right-wing writers, one of whom, John Robson, embarrassed even his employers with a horrendous, racist attack against Russians, which evoked such a torrent of reader protest that (not having the fortitude to resign) he eventually had to write a grovelling apology that was almost as despicable as his original diatribe. Could one take this Ottawa Citizen pooh-hoohing of the global conference against racism with a pinch of salt? Not much wonder, of course, that such a group should have joined so enthusiastically in this singularly distasteful example of pack journalism.
Matthew Coon Come, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, has been universally condemned by the editorial writers for telling the conference, truly, that his people have been, and are, the subject of racism in Canada. The Minister of Indian Affairs, Robert Nault, has even demanded that Coon Come should apologise: that’s a switch, for sure, the victim of racism is now expected to apologize to those who have victimized him.
I have been following Aboriginal affairs in Canada for more than 30 years, and I have no hesitation in saying that racism is at the heart of most of the problems confronting Aboriginal people. The laws under which Aboriginals are governed were framed by people who had racist attitudes towards the Aboriginals they met when they arrived from Europe, and the laws themselves — consolidated in 1876 into the Indian Act, which still exists — were and are dripping with these attitudes and the assumptions that flow from them.
Everywhere in the country I have gone to investigate the affairs of Aboriginals I have found that racism against them is virulent in some places, and subtle just about everywhere. One has only to read the inquiries into the way Aboriginals are treated by the Canadian justice system to know that they can expect to suffer more police surveillance than other Canadians, more arrests, more convictions, longer sentences, and fewer paroles. In other words, police, lawyers, judges and probation officers are united in giving them a hard time. No racism there, of course!
I defy anyone to investigate the way in which the province of Quebec and the government of Canada have fulfilled their roles in the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, signed with the Eeyou (Crees) of northern Quebec in 1975, without concluding that anti-Indian racism has animated both governments. To get the governments to implement the laws they themselves set up set up to defend the Cree way of life has been like pulling teeth, a constant struggle for the Crees, who have had to go to court dozens, perhaps hundreds of times, to have the laws enforced.
For example: the Crees were guaranteed in the 1975 Agreement that no development projects could take place within the specified area without an environmental assessment, in which the Crees would have some say. Yet, without any environmental assessment of any kind, Quebec passed a new forest management law that divided up the southern part of the Cree lands between logging companies, who have ever since been merrily cutting the heart out of Cree traplines, and destroying the viability of the Cree way of life and culture. Mr. Justice Croteau of the Quebec Superior Court held that the Quebec laws were unconstitutional, because they had ignored the legal rights of the Crees, under the JBNQA, and gave Quebec six months to revise them. So what happened? The Quebec government applied to have the judge removed from the case; he was duly removed. A more accommodating judge found in favour of the government and the companies. The hacking to death of the Cree way of life has been continuing apace.
Is this not an act by an arrogant authority that considers itself superior to these impoverished, dark-skinned people of the north? Could such a measure be taken against a group of white Canadians? Not at all likely.
A few years ago Quebec carried out a land use plan covering the whole southern area of the Cree lands, which completely ignored that the whole area was covered with Cree traplines. The plan was blithely sent to the Mistassini band council, who immediately, and with high indignation, sent it back. How could this have happened? I think there can be only one explanation: the arrogance towards and ignorance of Aboriginals that has been the mark of white Canadian authorities ever since our arrival here from Europe, still exists. If this isn’t racism, I don’t know how one would define the word.
In spite of elaborate agreements giving the Crees priority over the moose, which they depend on for food, such priority has not been accorded to them. Is it possible to believe that there was no racism in this behaviour?
Elsewhere in north-western Ontario I have discovered similar behaviour. For example, one legal researcher there has concluded that Aboriginal attitudes towards wildlife management, and the attitudes enshrined in the Canadian laws, are so inimical that it is hardly worth the while of Aboriginals to bother challenging these laws in court, so little chance do they have of winning. This is racism enshrined in the law, a fact that is so obvious it hardly needs to be stated.