Racism towards Canada’s First Nations Increases

On Jan. 22, the Canadian magazine Maclean’s published an article about the murder of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine.

What most people do not know, however, is that this case is just the tip of an iceberg. Fontaine was not the first girl to go missing or to suffer sexual abuse in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

And the reason why she, and others, went through this horrendous experience is because they are First Nation.

“The racism against native North Americans is profound, and ongoing,” said Eric Mortensen, assistant professor of religious studies.“It is not something that has been solved. There is a sense that the whole society in general has a little bit more of a tolerance for intolerance than perhaps in times a little further back.”

Such hatred against First Nation peoples started centuries ago.

“Those negative stereotypes go back to the very beginning, back to 1492,” said Thomas Guthrie, assistant professor of sociology and anthropology. “Europeans were dispossessing indigenous peoples of their lands in North America, and that process was often violent — especially against women.”

Fontaine was visiting her mother during summer vacation and having a good time before classes started again. Unfortunately, she would never come home.

“I think there is almost close to 1,100 or more missing or murdered aboriginal women,” Damon Johnston, president of the Aboriginal Council of Winnipeg, told The Guilfordian in a phone interview. “And because Manitoba has one of the highest per capita populations of aboriginal peoples in the country, a fair number of the victims are from Manitoba or happen to be in Manitoba.”

Racism against Native North Americans is not exclusively Canadian. The United States is also a central stage to many cases of discrimination and hatred.

Maclean’s’ article covers not only Fontaine’s past but also cases similar to hers and different points of view on the subject including that of Winnipeg’s mayor, Brian Bowman, who believes that Canada is not divided.

“You have got a more conservative government in Canada, so they do not want to make a big deal of it, or focus on it or put it on the table as a topic for important discussion and change,” said Mortensen.

Some people believe that change might, in fact, be the best solution, and that a great place to start is kindergarten.

“Early within the educational systems of this country, there has to be a retelling of the true history of this country,” said Johnston. “It has to be retold from our perspective, but also from a perspective of fact and truth in terms of the colonial approaches.”

The idea of reeducating people from an early age is also shared by other Americans who truly want to see racism and prejudice eradicated.

“When you are born you do not have any prejudice,” said first-year Eli Phillips. “It is really important to educate so that, as time progresses, there will be fewer and fewer incidents of racism.”

“In a world so diverse, the most important thing should be unity instead of war,” said Johnston.

“I do not see other Canadians as my enemies,” said Johnston.“I see them as going on this journey with us. And that we have a common goal, that is to heal our wounds and start repairing the damage that was done and, in the end, have a better Canada.”