A young woman speaks at Luckakuck Way and Vedder Road on Feb. 14, 2020 on the Sto:lo day of action in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs. (Paul Henderson/ The Progress)

COLUMN: Trying to look forward while looking back

Reader suggests re-running a 2015 Times column after recent racism towards Indigenous people

After recent reaction to protests in support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, a reader suggested I re-run a column from June 4, 2015: in the Chilliwack Times. The message is indeed just as apt today as it was then. Edited for length:

“Oh no, here we go,” muttered the person blind to the colonial history of Canada now that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has issued its report on the dark past of residential schools in Canada.

“Why won’t those Indians just put the past behind them, get a job, and start contributing to society?”

That is what he said to me.

There are certain subjects usually left alone by those who should know better.

“That was the past, get over it.”

These are not the opinions of some bygone era. These are attitudes held by some people here and now. Present and but a scratch below a thin layer of politeness that covers our daily discourse.

“Why won’t those Indians just put the past behind them, get a job, and start contributing to society?”

I write it again, because this it struck me as amazing. I was chatting someone who should know better. An educated, successful member of Chilliwack society.

He used the term “Indians,” even. No, he wasn’t talking about people from India. I asked. When talking about our local Sto:lo population he said he prefers “Indian” over “native” or “aboriginal.”

And don’t even start him on the term “First Nations.”

“Don’t talk about Indians to this guy,” he joked as others joined us in the public setting where our conversation took place. Laughs.

Apparently, I’ve learned, it is political correctness run amok when people suggest an objectively inaccurate term is just weird to use.

“You know where India is, right?” I asked.

No comment.

“OK, then, you do know the ‘Indians’ in this country have endured an attempted cultural genocide, right?”

Get over it, was the response.

Today many local Sto:lo folks are likely grappling with Justice Murray Sinclair’s report, its 94 recommendations, something that invariably will dig up the terrible wounds of what was endured at residential schools by parents grandparents and great-grandparents.

The ignorance and hatred that led to a cultural genocide, a government-church led systematic “killing the Indian in the child” is done. It’s gone from our churches. It’s gone from our cultural institutions. It’s gone from our government.

But the sentiment remains, if below the surface for some, that Indigenous people should just snub out the last remnants of that language, drop the cultural practices, forget the drumming and the hunting and the fishing and the rest of it, and just be more like us.

Why can’t you be more like “us”?

There is, among us mostly white settlers, a belligerent sense of entitlement, but even more so a disregard for any expression of culture from those who were here before us.

“Political correctness” is a false label for what is simply correctness.

The guy I was talking to says the term First Nations is politically correct “crap” and he refuses to use it. Fine, but it also just happens to be correct. These “nations” of people were here “first.”

It’s really time to get our settler heads out of the sand, acknowledge the truth that some our ancestors took part in, or at least acquiesced to, very bad treatment of Indigenous people. We do need to reconcile. This doesn’t meant saying “we are sorry you are upset.” This means more, and individuals like the one quoted above need to learn some history. Learn how children were stolen from their parents as government policy.

“Cultural genocide is the destruction of those structures and practices that allow the group to continue as a group”

This is big stuff, and it’s been buried for too long. What we should not do is let the ignorance of the “be more like us” sentiment carry on.

Those today who are blind to history and what went on with the Indian School Act need to open their eyes.

• READ MORE: Sto:lo protest in support of Wet’suwet’en shuts down busiest intersection in Chilliwack

• READ MORE: Federal minister pledges to meet Wet’suwet’en chiefs in B.C. over natural gas pipeline


Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email:
paul.henderson@theprogress.com

@PeeJayAitch
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Grand Chief Steven Point, former lieutenant governor of B.C. marches with protesters along Knight Road in Chilliwack on Feb. 14, 2020 on Sto:lo day of action in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs. (Paul Henderson/ The Progress)

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