I have so much to thank my parents for. One important thing has come to my mind lately. I owe them much gratitude for being good and decent people who never put the poison of hate into my thinking. It never really occurred to me in the past that I was so fortunate to have been raised to accept others and to be open-minded.
First Nation people in general are very tolerant and I am not sure but I think it has something to do with having to depend on everybody around you for survival in remote areas. We never learned to dislike people for stupid reasons and I recall many times noticing that community members I grew up with found ways to accept others who were different in some way. Humour always played a part in relationships up the James Bay coast. Even if you did not like someone you could always find something in common around a good laugh.
Happily, I never understood why someone could be racist, bigoted, homophobic or just not like someone for the way they were born. It never made sense to me. When I first left my remote First Nation of Attawapiskat and went to school in North Bay and Timmins I discovered that racism and bigotry was alive and well. Many times I was the brunt of racist jokes and I felt small next to non-Natives in school. For this reason we Native kids from up the coast hung out together. We felt more comfortable and safer in our own little groups.
At this point in my life I have travelled much of the world and experienced many cultures and ways of life. I learned so much from meeting people from all colours, tastes and walks of life. It occurs to me that much of that happened because I was open to others.
Sometimes I find life in small northern towns challenging in that people still hold on to those old hatreds. Much of the time when I run into people who have racist attitudes I understand that they are ignorant in terms of knowledge and also they are fearful. Their fear, I think, comes out of not knowing or understanding how another culture thinks and lives.
As a writer I have learned over the years that one of my jobs is to question. I learned that from many writers and artists I can call friends. Recently, I notice in the media reports from the U.S. about instances of hate and racism rearing its ugly
head. Much of this is being driven by a very well-financed right-wing movement. This has created an environment where I hear people saying hateful, racist, bigoted and homophobic things on national television, radio and in newspapers. It seems weird to me that after all the years of dealing with this kind of crap it looks like it is all starting over again.
I have some good friends who have had experience with political systems and they tell me that much of this new wave of hate and violence is being pushed by some wealthy and influential people, who have a political agenda. I have learned that when politicians start trying to scare or intimidate people, this causes fear. It has often been said that fear is a great motivator and in politics it can get people elected.
It seems that in the U.S. and here in Canada a lot of money and effort is being put into discrediting good ways of thinking, organizations and people. Somehow we have allowed far-right politic views to convince many of us that liberals, socialists, environmentalists, conservationists and humanists are the bad guys. In conversations over the past year I have been called a communist for suggesting that the wealth of the land is not spread more equally. Hey, I come from a remote First Nation and I can tell you that most Native reserves in this country are very much Third World realities. It never has and it never will make sense to me that a few people in a country should have almost all the wealth while a large percentage of the population has very little.
We are so fortunate that we live in Canada where life is not as hard as it is in many other places in the world. However, we also should be aware that things seem to be changing around us and much of what we take for granted like a peaceful world without war, the opportunity for employment and a people-based healthcare program could change.
When politicians start trying to scare or intimidate us we should remember all the lessons in history where this happened before and stand up to that kind of bullying. Don’t let anybody tell us that sharing is a bad idea, caring for the land is an outdated concept, war can be justified and minorities or people who are different can be oppressed.