The award-winning Globe and Mail reporter criss-crosses the country seeking honest answers to two painful questions: Are aboriginal people really second-class citizens? If so, will they always be?
The Globe and Mail, November 3, 2001
Are Canadians racists? Matthew Coon Come says we are.
Two months ago, the Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nations stood amid the ashes of apartheid in South Africa and told the world that Canadians may fancy themselves as enlightened champions of human development, but in reality we tolerate systematic racism.
People were shocked, but secretly many believe that he was not far off the mark, that racism creeps through every crack in our self-styled just society. Economically, socially, politically, culturally, we have come to accept a quiet apartheid that segregates, and thus weakens, native and non-native society.
The sad state of native communities is hardly a secret. Five years ago this month, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples produced an epic report warning that Canada's natives - more than a million strong - are being "pushed to the edge of economic, cultural and political extinction." Yet the warning was buried in record time - Canadians were in no mood to deal with their most enduring crisis.
This lack of will has been compounded greatly by all that has happened since the tragic events of Sept. 11. But the dawn of the age of terror only makes this national crisis even more relevant.
If Canada is to say to Afghans or Americans, Palestinians or Israelis, Indians or Pakistanis, that we believe humans of different faiths, languages and skin colour can live together in peace, then we have to understand why this is not the case in our own country.
To that end, I have spent much of this year crisscrossing the country. After years overseas, I wanted to see how native and non-native Canadians really get along, why we have such trouble sharing this vast and bountiful land and whether we really have created our own northern apartheid.
From sea to sea to sea, I have visited aboriginal and non-aboriginal people in their factories, fishing coves, hockey rinks, churches, sweat lodges and theatres to see how different our two worlds are, and how they can be peacefully bridged.
Most of those I met realize that their communities can exist as islands no longer - and they don't want them to, anyway. A federal poll of native opinions obtained by The Globe and Mail this week found that native people seem to be losing interest in self-government.
By the same token, many of the non-natives I met also seek closer ties. With the advent of globalization, they see the first nations as central to whatever is left of our national identity.
And yet there is the matter of 500 years' worth of bad blood and injustice. Is Matthew Coon Come right - have they turned natives and non-natives into Canada's true two solitudes, true distinct societies? Are we now too fed up with each other to do what it will take to solve our problems?
Daily until next Saturday and then weekly until concluding on Dec. 15, Canada's Apartheid will present the results of my attempt to give the nation's most difficult relationship a reality check.
After that, you be the judge.