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Canada's Apartheid, by John Stackhouse
Stories
Introduction
  Nov. 3

Welcome to Harlem on the Prairies
  Nov. 3 (Saskatoon, SK)

Crystal's choice: The best of both worlds
  Nov. 5 (Mississauga, ON)

How the Mi'kmaq profit from fear
  Nov. 6 (Cape Breton, NS)

The healing power of hockey
  Nov. 7 (The Pas, MB)

Norma Rae of the Okanagan
  Nov. 8 (Westbank, BC)

Comic genius or 'niggers in red face'?
  Nov. 9 (Regina, SK)

Praying for a miracle
  Nov. 10 (Lac Ste. Anne, AB)

To have and to have not
  Nov. 12 (Moosonee, ON)

Trouble in paradise
  Nov. 19 (Tofino, BC)

A cut of the action
  Nov. 26 (Wabigoon, ON)

The young and the restless
  Dec. 3 (Ashern, MB)

The wireless warrior's digital dream
  Dec. 10 (Ottawa,ON)

'Everyone thought we were stupid'
  Dec. 14 (Salluit, QC)

First step: End the segregation
  Dec. 15 (Last in the series)

 

First step: End the segregation

Story by John Stackhouse. Photos by Louie Palu.
The Globe and Mail, December 15, 2001

Part 1 of 6: Building bridges between Canada's cultures


Conclusion Depending on the day of the week, or his hair style, George Leach can be just about any kind of Canadian he wants. Urban hip. Rural cowboy. Angry Indian. Or loving dad. And on any given day, he may be all of the above, blending his many cultures, and his two nations, in a style that says as much about this country's racial hopes as it does about our troubled past.

The twentysomething musician is much more than a hot new name on the blues scene and a talented actor on stage and screen. He has the ability to cross cultures as if skipping over a stream on his family's reserve outside Lillooet, B.C. He can mix riffs from Lenny Kravitz with chants from his Sta'tl'imx nation, just as easily as he captained his largely white high school's basketball team and now hangs out on Toronto's trendy Queen Street West.

"You don't want to be looked at as a professional Indian. At the same time, you don't want to assimilate," he says of his approach to music and life.

"I want to build a bridge between cultures."

Canada needs a lot of bridges, far more than we realize. For Leach, who stands with one foot on each side of the original Canadian divide, too many of us - the professional Indians and the assimilators - would prefer to lob contempt at each other, and disavow the sort of integration that he is seeking.

Even now in the 21st century - his century - he finds racism still runs deep, in the city and on the reserve. And it is more than simple prejudice. Canada is no South Africa, but there is enough of a fissure that it amounts to a subtle form of apartheid.

Intentionally or not, too much of Canada continues to push natives into a second-class carriage, and too many native leaders keep them there. In workplaces, sports teams, schools and places of worship, there are powerful divisions that perpetuate a two-tier society, the one that Paul Papigatuk, a Quebec Inuit leader, calls "our caste system."

In the big nickel mine on Papigatuk's people's land, I could not help but feel I was witnessing a scene out of the American South, with Inuit taking the place of blacks in the menial and unskilled jobs while whites held every position of authority above them.

That's not the mining company's fault. Decades of failed education, social and cultural policies, as well as retrograde attitudes among many aboriginal leaders, has ensured that most people in Papigatuk's village can't do much more than hunt, fish and wash dishes.

To break the barriers, which is what most Canadians seem to want, we must do more than hope a few more like George Leach will come along. We also need to do more than bet on quick fixes, as one government after another has done for the past 40 years.

I came to this view as I travelled the country, meeting natives and non-natives and writing about our complex and often misunderstood relationship in very ordinary situations.

Through the first 13 parts of this series, it has become clear that regardless of the setting - a hockey team, theatre group, tree nursery, high school - centuries of contact have done precious little to bring us closer together.

What Canada can do to end its silent apartheid is to follow the lessons learned in dealing with poverty overseas. To start, our government must stop chasing symptoms, be they alcohol abuse or unemployment. And Canadians must stop asking: How do we fix the native problem?

We don't. We fix the relationship.

The repair work starts here, in the news media, and runs through the education system, where aboriginal relations continue to be treated as a novelty, when they're treated at all.

Canadians, both native and non-native, need a far more honest understanding of our history, and our ongoing relationship. Instead, from kindergarten to rocking chair, we get little more than a highlight reel of confrontations that affect only a small minority on both sides.

The relationship has to be changed as well, starting with the land claims and reserves that form the deepest roots of a Canadian apartheid.

Both federal and provincial levels of governments continue to spend billions of dollars a year on aboriginal social problems that show few signs of abating, while refusing to invest in the land disputes that continue to divide peoples. More money spent on land claims today could end far more money sucked away by the symptoms of alienation tomorrow.

But the federal government is dangerously moving in the other direction, looking for the quick fixes - the Band-Aids of development - to show to voters that the situation is not all hopeless. Without some effort at prevention, the wounds will continue to fester.
THIS STORY AT A GLANCE (Parts 1 to 6):


Photo Essay
Two worlds


1. Building bridges between Canada's cultures
'You don't want to be looked at as a professional Indian. At the same time, you don't want to assimilate'

2. Overhauling the reserve system
'There is a valuable lesson to be learned here from overseas development'

3. 'Yet divided we remain'
By almost any measure, natives live in a different world

4. 'Racism is racism'
George Leach lets the comments roll off his back

5. 'Assimilation is not something to fear'
Churches, school systems, and Olympic hockey teams as signs of ownership, not insecurity

6. 'This is our land'
Taking matters into their own hands



 
 

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photo essays
Two worlds - photo essay


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