Mom and Dad lived on the east coast of James Bay in northern Quebec from 1941 – 1955. Mom was the regional nurse and Dad was the Hudson’s Bay Company manager in Fort George. The Cree elder who translated, interpreted, and helped manage the daily operations was Willy Spencer. He was the person who held many things together, especially at sealift time when the ships would come in to offload their merchandise for the Hudson’s Bay store. He would direct the labourers where to take the bundles they were carrying as they came off the gang plank. When it came time to reload the ship with fur pelts, carvings, and goods made by the Cree and the Inuit to be transported south to the market place, Willy and the crew did the same thing in reverse.
Mom had to do many things that nurses in the south would never be allowed to do. She did amputations, dentistry, and other minor medical procedures out of necessity because transportation to more elaborate health care facilities was not always available. She experienced the devastation when certain diseases hit the various outposts because Indigenous people had not built up immunities to foreign diseases like Europeans had. She flew into outposts in order to care for the sick, but this lack of immunity was a death sentence for many and that was heart wrenching for her. She described a number of these experiences later in life when we had family slide show night and my parents would share their memories of those years with us.
Soon after I was born, my Mom and Dad were occupied in their professions so I was taken care of by two young Cree ladies with the last name of Pashagumskum. They took me with them on their visits to family and friends throughout the village which meant visiting in teepees or makeshift homes. When I look back now, I have gratitude for having the two best parents I could imagine and a community of people who truly loved other people. We shared food, music, games, stories, affection for the outdoors, and a common bond of mutual hard work.
When I learned about the residential schools from my mom and dad later in life, it was obvious they were emotionally upset at the whole process. Waiting till I was older was a smart thing for them to do because I was able to comprehend the agony that children and their parents felt when they were forced into separation for months at a time. Cruel, sickening, disrespectful, and dictatorial were the kindest words I could think of to describe this practice. Many of my friends growing up in southern Canada were of mixed origins and my parents always welcomed them into our home. We lived only a couple of blocks from the school and they often joined us for lunch. Respect for others was one of the primary lessons we were taught and racism of any kind was never tolerated.
It was those slide nights where we sat around and listened to Mom and Dad recall stories of the north that intrigued my two younger brothers and myself. Both my parents explained the way life was at that time and they always expressed their concern for Indigenous people. They saw first hand how cruel our government and the various church groups were about residential schools and they described how emotionally painful it was for everyone in the community. A number of my close friends were Indigenous and they were involved in the National Indian Brotherhood. I got to see first hand what unadulterated racism was like on the streets of Winnipeg and it made me very angry. This opened my eyes to how ignorant and abusive privileged white people could be towards people of colour.
The more I researched in university, the more I realized how racist Canada truly is.
Indigenous people of Canada have lived on this land for many thousands of years and have been fighting to be treated as equal human beings and partners in this country ever since settlers landed on its shores. They have endured unspeakable racial atrocities that have been clearly documented and acknowledged by the numerous federal government commissions with the resulting recommendations, which have taken millions of man hours to investigate, interview, confirm, document, debate, and make recommendations.
In addition to patriating the Constitution, the Constitution Act, 1982 enacted the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms; guaranteed rights of Aboriginal peoples of Canada, etc.
15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.
This is definitely not what the public has been seeing on the part of the police for a very long time and the public is now demanding changes. This is a very touchy situation because citizens have been needlessly abused or killed by police. The public wants changes and the majority are determined to make that happen. Racism does not belong in society, but it definitely does not belong in the police department. Police departments and politicians have been put on notice and they need to make significant changes quickly or suffer the wrath of the public.