Tara Peters is standing up against racism in hopes her children won’t have to.
While Peters, herself, has never had racism pointedly directed at her, hearing it still cuts her to the core.
After 32 years, the last straw came last week.
The young mom was standing in a grocery line with her 20-month-old daughter Layla. She was exhausted, as moms of toddlers tend to be, and was doing everything she could to hold her daughter at bay while they waited to pay for their groceries.
A grandmotherly woman standing in front of Peters turned and started cooing at Layla, playing peak-a-boo with her, asking questions, anything to help distract the curious toddler from pulling chocolate bars off the shelves.
One aisle over, another mom of First Nations descent stood with her child, the same age and seeming curiosity as Layla.
Peters, a knowing smile on her face, looked up at the woman still playing with her daughter, about to laugh that she wasn’t the only one.
Instead, she faced a cold stare. The friendly grandmother was gone.
“They just shouldn’t fucking breed,” she hissed.
The man in front of the woman joined in, criticizing the aboriginal community for being lazy, having children they can’t afford or take care of, relying on their minority status.
Peters was stunned silent. Her heart raced. She felt sweat glistening her skin.
Peters, herself, is of First Nations descent, a member of the Chawathil band in Hope. She grew up on the reserve, she has a status card, her mom, Rhoda Peters, chief of the band, is a residential school survivor.
But the difference between Peters and the other mom is that Peters’ skin doesn’t show her heritage.
“Because of my caucasian appearance, because I am light skinned with auburn hair and hazel eyes, I was included in their little club,” she said.
“It was sickening. What is going on in your head to think that that is okay to say?”
For days after, Peters replayed the experience in her head over and over. She wished she had said something, had gone over and assisted the other mom, had stood up against the racist comments being thrown about so brazenly instead of averting her eyes to her daughter, her shoes, the rack of magazines, anywhere but at them.
For years she’s been witness to those comments and has almost always let them slide.
“I’m sick of distancing myself from friends because of their racist comments and attitudes; I’m sick of being told that everyone should just get over it because what happened to aboriginal people in Canada was something that happened a long time ago,” she said.The last residential school closed in 1996.
“Most of all, I’m sick of people looking at my loved ones and seeing nothing but dysfunction and then condemning them for their mental health issues when the very cause of those issues is that air of condemnation that allowed the Indian Act to come to pass.”
Racist remarks don’t show the love, support, and care of the aboriginal community, she said.
“Despite everything that has happened, despite the every day challenges, and heartache, and discrimination, we still have pride in our family, our people, our community, and our land,” she said. “I have experienced other cultures and other peoples, but I have yet to come across anyone who is so free with laughter, affection and love as my family. And by family, I mean my community and nation – that’s what family means at our table.”
It’s time Chilliwack stop burying its head in the sand, said Peters.
“People pretend this sort of stuff isn’t happening in our community, but it is,” she said. “One day soon, I will have to find a way to explain these things to my children. I will have to prepare them for that angry woman in the grocery store. I shouldn’t have to. It’s stupid that I have to – haven’t we grown up yet?”