There are many differences between life in First Nation communities as compared to living in the non-Native world. One thing I notice is how badly the non-Native world treats those people who are different or who may have mental problems in a negative way. I notice in the cities and even small towns that people who stand out and are not part of the norm are either set aside and ignored or discriminated against.

In big cities like Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal I have seen so many people standing on the street corners begging for money, living under bridges and rummaging through garbage. In the non-Native world there is no place for those who do not fit in. We are very hard on people with addictions, mental problems and dysfunctions. As part of a visible minority I get treated differently than my Caucasian friends. It is sad but true. When I am traveling and checking into a hotel or motel the first reaction from the people at reception is always cool but if one of my white Caucasian friends is booking the room, everyone is all smiles.

In Native communities people who are different are accepted for who they are. I know that when I was growing up in Attawapiskat, it was normal to see people who were different more or less fit into the community. Granted these people usually got nicknames, but that was mainly done in good humour. People in my community did not totally ignore or push aside those who were different or less fortunate. I grew up being comfortable in accepting those who were different from the norm. I learned that everyone has a gift and also a place in the community. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that life was perfect back home. There was a lot of chaos as a result of addictions and dysfunctions, but there was also a lot of humanity.

Perhaps my experience as a visible minority has taught me what it is like to be discriminated against. In turn this has made me more sensitive to those who are not part of the norm. I have discovered that there is a very fine line between what is normal and what is not normal. As a visible minority I have often been discriminated against because of the colour of my skin. One thing I really don’t understand and find quite hilarious is the fact that thousands of Caucasian people spend a great deal of money .and travel great distances to get nice brown tans. How is it that the fact that I was born with a tan rates me a little lower on the social totem pole? If you really think about it, most of the prejudices that we have are based on ignorance, fear and insecurity.

I know many good people who still somehow think that they are better than others. These are intelligent people who should know better but the fact is they have never had the experience or education to provide them with a different view. More and more I see cultural awareness and sensitivity being taught in school and I think this is great. Perhaps this should be expanded to cover all forms of discrimination. We don’t just need smart people, we need smart, kind people to make this world a better place.