Gill nets, check. Time to turn our attention to combatting a more pressing issue: Racism..

racismNow that a solution to the Lake Nipissing fishery is in motion, it’s time to turn our collective efforts towards addressing the other, more significant issue that came about during the Lake Nipissing fisheries crisis.

On a regular basis, First Nation people in Nipissing First Nation have faced blatant, hard-hitting criticism and racism arising from the fisheries debate. Racism has manifest itself by becoming socially acceptable in everyday dialogue and among users of social media.

The health of Lake Nipissing is a serious issue and addressing the fishery needs to happen. But this issue pales in comparison to the issue of racism, discrimination and hatred. This has far greater negative impact on our society and on our people.

Racism in any of its forms is unacceptable and needs to be dealt with. There is an urgent need for a focussed anti-racism initiative in North Bay to address the fall-out from the fisheries issue and bridge the gap between the Anishinaabe community and our neighbours.

We need to build on the good work that has already taken place and address this heinous monster that has reared it’s ugly head.

Don Curry, Executive Director of the North Bay Multi-Cultural Centre and Maurice Switzer, a renowned Mississauga public educator, have done a commendable job in exploring the topic a few years back. I was proud to be a part of the important work that was done to analyze the issue of racism targeting Anishinaabe people. However, specific and comprehensive follow-up to their study has not taken place, mainly due to funding constraints.

I feel that a new, and focussed anti-racism initiative should encompass Treaty education, Canadian-Aboriginal history, a cultural exchange and focussed and wide-spread Anishinaabe awareness training. It should be integrated in the schools, as well as with businesses and community organizations. It should focus on healing and fostering understanding between our communities. It should also involve feasting and celebrating – and the best parts of Anishinaabe culture.

The youth and Elders should be a part of such an initiative. The initiative should be based in the culture and values of our people – so that we may share the beauty or our ways of life to all people in our area.

We aren’t just spears and gill nets. We don’t let our fish rot and we don’t waste fish. We are a kind, generous and hospitable people, wanting to share with our neighbours.

We have a lot to share, including the realities and facts about Aboriginal law and our perspectives on our rights.

Aboriginal and Treaty rights are as inalienable as the right to free speech, the right to religion and the right to liberty and freedom. They’re rights that come from the Creator and are very sacred to us.

But on a regular basis during this fisheries crisis, we’ve seen finger pointing. We’ve seen people calling for the arbitrary elimination of our rights. We’ve seen our neighbours generalize about our people using contemporary stereotypes and highly racialized commentary.

The sad reality is that many of these people don’t understand or don’t care that Aboriginal and Treaty rights are legal rights. They are a part of Canadian law, defended in the Supreme Court and protected by the Constitution.

The subject of eliminating the legal rights of another, by arbitrary act of an oppressor, is not and should not be acceptable commentary.

I’m very concerned that such commentary and unchecked racism is becoming wider spread, socially acceptable and is reinforcing intolerant attitudes in the community.

If you hear something, no matter how heinous, over and over again, it starts to seem okay. It seems acceptable to use disparaging comments on a public Facebook page, or in the online comments section. Everyone else is doing it, so others feel they can vent their vitriol, ignorance and hostility of First Nations. I find this unacceptable, offensive and hurtful. It is wrong.

Anishinaabe children hear that they are the cause of “a slaughter” on the Lake. They open Facebook and read that they are “raping” the Lake.

These are words from the very people organizing on social media. These are also the people on stage, at the front of the crowd, inciting action from dozens of angry residents. If this were the south, fifty years ago, they would conclude their rally by marching into Duchesnay Village looking for someone to make a example of.

All Canadians and all local residents, need to stand up and say something about such racist commentary and attitudes. People shouldn’t sit idly by and be complacent when seeing and reading this kind of racism.

We need to learn from history.

For a generation, people on the outskirts of Brantford watched, day-after-day, First Nations children marched into the Mush Hole (a residential school) and didn’t say anything.

During the war, people in eastern Europe seen trainloads of Jewish people, being shipped off in railway cars bound for extermination camp, and didn’t do anything.

Today, thousands of social media users, right here in our area, see and read these comments, week after week. And didn’t say anything about it.

It’s not right. It can’t be right. But it’s happening right here, right now, in our area, by our neighbours. We all have to do something about it.

I wish to say a heartfelt ‘chi-miigwetch’ (big thank) to those social media users and good neighbours who stand up for what is right and say something about racism. There are still a lot of good people out there.

When it comes to the fisheries issues, we are all on the same side. We want to find out who is responsible for these offenses and bring them to justice. We want to see our Lake flourish and see the walleye restored to abundance and health. There are many of us are happy to see our First Nation ban gill nets and see the commercial fishery curbed. But none of this should come at the expense of our rights or the dignity of Nbisiing Anishinaabeg people.

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5 Comments

  1. cam agowissa says:

    I have been hearing of racist acts and behavior towards our First Nations people in and around North Bay for awhile now. A cousin of mine who attends a post secondary institution spoke to me recently of the horrific racism First Nation students face daily while attending classes. Apparently when this was brought forward to the administration at this institution the concerns were ignored. I had suggested to her that a First Nation community response was needed, perhaps in the form of a meeting between First Nation community Elders and the leadership at the institution, and maybe a First Nation community sponsored rally to bring some attention to the issue. I am co-chair of a provincial anti-oppression roundtable for child welfare, and will be happy to participate in any ongoing attempts to deal with this issue. miigwtech

  2. Lise says:

    Very well said. A few rotten apples should not define a nation that is and should be very proud of their heritage!!

    The issue of gill netting being addressed and dealt with promptly by the new chief and council was indeed the best thing that could happen to Nipissing First Nation Community to deter the negative racism that ensued.

    Unfortunately, most of the population is not aware and does not truly understand the Aboriginal and Treaty rights are legal rights. I still don’t fully understand but I do realize that the negative comments will affect the children adversely.

  3. Donna says:

    Great article, well said. I used to read the comment sections of various articles, news, etc., but have since stopped because of the blatant and hateful things people say and think. It gets to you after a while, first your feel angry and enraged, then you start to feel down, sad and even depressed. For my own mental health I stopped reading comments unless they are positive messages and comments. As soon as I see something negative I skip it or move onto something else. I’d like to know what you suggest people do when they see inappropriate comments on p,aces like Facebook. I would certainly also be interested in helping with any community initiative to help educate, bridge relationships, etc.

  4. don wright says:

    Racism is poison and it hurts everyone. Now that I walk the red road i feel all racism as if it were directed at me. Racism is dirty and ugly and self consuming. There is no room for racism in an enlightened mind and there is no road to reconciliation following its path. Racism does not lead to happiness or self fulfilment…in fact ..it does the opposite.

  5. Bob Commanda says:

    The issue of “gill netting” being “dealt with promptly” as you’ve stated is NOT the best thing that could happen to Nipissing First Nation nor is it the answer to stop the racism!

    The racism issue will only stop when everyone understands the fact that our Nipissing First Nation grandfathers and all the Chiefs in the Robinson Huron Treaty area negotiated the right to continue our ancient traditions as we always had from time immemorial. This was to continue forever on our entire vast territories. Otherwise there could be no, mining, settlement, etc. They also negotiated payment for any resource taken from our territories forever(broken promise).

    Our rights were (semi-)honored for several years until all the pines in our First Nations Territories were cut down. The Federal Government then urgently needed a new revenue source. This they envisioned they would get from land taxes from farms, cottages, hunting licences and finally fishing licences! To accomplish this required the removal of Natives from their territories that were guaranteed to them forever(broken promise).

    Around 1900 sportmen’s groups like the current Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters urged the government to eliminate our rights just like the protesters we see today in the North Bay Nugget! Many Nipissing First Nation members were then arrested and charged by the newly created Ministry of Natural Resources in response to these protests. These arrests and imprisonments lasted from 1892 up until the 1970’s. This all for exercising our guaranteed Treaty Rights.

    The Federal Government then also envisioned teaching the Natives the ways of the settlers that were starting to flood into the First Nation Territories as a way to help it’s Province of Ontario continue to generate great wealth from the First Nations Territories. Forced removal of children to Residential Schools followed, many suffered and still do today. The combination of arrests, which the federal government did nothing to stop, and forced removal assimilation of children was seen as the final solution to the “indian problem” and to keep them away from the Government’s new found revenue source.

    So back to the fishing protests of today, stopping us from exercising our ancient ways and traditions as a means to stop the racism is still FORCED ASSIMIALTION and GENOCIDE, as was recently deemed by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. The forced assimilation and genocide is just never going to stop until people understand our First Nation Rights and why we have them.