Armchair Mayor column for Saturday, Feb. 6, 2010
When you’ve been at this as long as I have, you get called a lot of things — racist, woman hater, redneck, even New Democrat.
I’ve been called all of the above, and deny them all — and am quite confident my record in life proves it.
A prominent local doctor, apparently unable to think of anything better, or worse, to call me, once labeled me “stupid” in writing. (Having personal knowledge of this man’s atrocious bedside manner, I simply considered the source.)
‘Racist’ is just about the worst thing anyone can call you, though. I was once accused of being a racist by a band chief at a public gathering at UBC called to debate the facts and myths of the Chilcotin War, an event in our province’s history that occurred in 1864. The basis of the insult was that I disagreed with his characterization of what had happened. Ergo, I must be racist.
That’s what people do. If you disagree with them, they look for ways to discredit you. Being called a racist if you challenge the way things are being done by First Nations is common enough that a lot of people are afraid to speak up.
On the other hand, the true racists don’t give a damn. Like the gutless wonders who hide behind anonymity and fill the Internet with their bigotry. Like the disgusting nut bar who accused Aboriginal Cogeneration Corp. president Kim Sigurdson of being a “f…… money hungry crackhead Indian.”
It pains me to repeat even that much of that person’s hateful diatribe, but sometimes you have to hear it or read it to truly understand the depths of race-based hatred.
That bigotry lies beneath many a principled cause, and it can easily bubble to the surface. I’ve been grateful that, while I disagree with a great deal of what opponents are claiming about ACC, the battle is being fought for the great part on environmental issues, not race.
Nevertheless, it’s there. On an unrelated matter, a letter to the editor a few days ago urged that native Indians stop “whining” and “join the rest of us.” It wasn’t racist per se, because the role of First Nations in Canadian society is legitimate grist for discussion. But it touched off an online debate that has been, at times, thoughtful and, at others, at least bordering on racist.
I will pause here to note that even someone with a name like Rothenburger can have a few drops of Indian blood — several of my ancestors were native or Metis. Though I’m proud of that, I’m not a registered Metis and I don’t consider myself worthy of the title. But it’s given me a special interest in the history and culture of our aboriginal peoples.
So let’s set aside for a moment the true racists, native and non-native, and try to understand why there’s such a gulf between average natives and average non-natives who would rather just all get along.
I understand why many Canadians chafe under the knowledge that status Indians get special tax breaks. I also understand that, while it’s not so evident in our neck of the woods, Indians in many parts of Canada live in appalling conditions.
I understand the intensity of commitment to land issues, the feeling of disenfranchisement that time can’t remove. But I also understand why some non-natives get annoyed whenever someone gets in front of a mike and welcomes everyone to Secwepemc territory.
I understand the importance of bringing back indigenous languages — how can you have a healthy, vibrant culture if your language is gone? (It seems no two people, of any descent, are able to even pronounce Secwepemc the same way.) Yet people struggle with the insertion of those numeral 7s in the middle of the English alphabet and wonder how that’s supposed to help anything.
Non-natives, some anyway, are frankly sick and tired of hearing about “aboriginal rights and title,” Delgamuukw, “extinguishment,” land claims and “meaningful consultation.” On the other hand, if my great-grandfather’s land was taken away from him and I was living with the consequences I think I’d be seriously pissed off.
It’s not hard for me to see why rights and title are so important to native people, but I can’t see how an Austrian ski team using the slopes of Sun Peaks to train on is a problem for anyone.
Non-natives, I think, have a legitimate curiosity about why Indian bands are not more accountable for how they spend federal support money. Natives, I’m sure, figure it’s nobody’s business but their own.
I guess I can even understand why some people can’t figure out why Indians a generation removed from residential schools continue to “whine” about it, but I also get that that kind of hurt doesn’t go away quickly.
By the same token, while I can see why natives harbour grievances that span several generations, I can also see why non-natives are confused as to why they’re constantly being blamed for the sins of their grandfathers.
If I had an actual answer to any of this, we could do away with treaty commissions, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, lawyers and mediators.
I’ll say this, though: if there’s anything good in this cultural divide, it’s that it reminds us of the fact we aren’t all the same, nor should we be, nor should we try to be.
We just need to keep working, respectfully, to figure each other out.
AROUND TOWN: While Cowboy continues to be first choice for downtown coffee drinkers, a lot of caffeine addicts are trying out the unique Italian blends at Café Ariana, corner of Lansdowne and Third. . . MP Cathy McLeod is busy meeting with anybody and everybody who has opinions about what should be in the upcoming federal budget, and figures she’ll have the equivalent of an MA thesis to write in time for a meeting with PM Harper in Vancouver shortly. . . Annual TRU Foundation gala is on tonight with a Forbidden City (that’s the ancient royal palace in Beijing) theme. Dinner? Roast Beijing duck, of course. Among auction items are an imported Chinese sword, porcelain artwork by Metis artist Terry Jackson, and a whole bunch more.