Images that make you go hmmmm.

Every once in a while I come across an image in my daily life that has an immediate impact on me. (You’ve already had my opinion on ‘native-themed’ costumes.)  First comes the flood of feelings.  Annoyance, frustration, confusion.  Then I look at the image again and try to understand what the image is meant to convey.  I wonder if the person who put the image together has any idea of how it just made me feel.  Generally I assume that no, the creator of the image is likely quite clueless on that front.

Let me show you an example.  I came across this ad in a local print magazine ( last year and scanned it in.

What is your reaction to this image?

The picture was cut off a bit on the left.  It says Méchant Pow-wow. Sort of slangy attempt at ‘bad-ass party’. The ad is for a bar called Saloon.

So how do you react to this image?  I showed this picture to a number of native friends, and they all rolled their eyes.  Some asked if this was a McGill ad, because McGill University has become somewhat infamous for their stereotypical portrayal of aboriginals.  We all seemed to have the same annoyed, ‘this is typical’ reaction to the image.

I just don’t get it.  What does this image have to do with the bar it is being used to advertise?  To me it seems obvious that with a name like Saloon, the bar is playing on the tired old Cowboys and Indians theme.  If so, what is the implication in a bar named for a western theme?  They are supposedly inviting people to a ‘bad ass pow-wow’.  What does that mean to non-native people?  The Indians are taking over the Cowboy’s party?  I don’t know, I’m stretching here.  Who are the Indians, who are the Cowboys…what the heck is this image trying to say?

I don’t like the mixture of a traditional headdress with an enticement to come get drunk at a bar with a pseudo ‘Western’ name.  I am generally suspicious of stereotypical portrayals of natives, because those portrayals are so often racist.  Sometimes the racism in the portrayals is very easy to point at and see.  Sometimes…it isn’t.

Which brings me to the following image.  This is a cartoon that appeared in a McGill University Law Faculty publication called Quid Novi.  It is a cartoon by first year law student, Patricia Nova.  Before I say anything about it, I’d like you to look at it for a while, and figure out what YOUR reactions are to this image.

My reaction?  Shock.  This is the creation of a law student.  I realise my reaction is silly on that point.  I attended law school at the University of Alberta, one year at McGill University, and I am currently brushing up on civil law part time at the Université de Montréal.  I’ve written about my alienation as an aboriginal person in the halls of legal learning.  I have no romanticised image of law students (neither do I cast them as villains).  Yet despite my own experiences I guess I expected…more tact?

This image is the source of some current controversy which I’ll detail in a moment, but first, I wanted to share some responses to this cartoon.  I asked a number of non-native friends to give me their interpretations of the image.  Some of these friends have been very understanding of native issues, while others have (respectfully) disagreed with me rather strongly at times.  I asked non-natives because I wanted to see how this cartoon impacted them compared to how it has impacted me (which I will discuss in a moment). Here are the reactions.  When I’ve clarified with them, I put my questions in green.

  • “Makes the indians seem stupid.”
  • “It’s funny.  And racist.”  Funny how?  Racist how? “It’s funny in the whole trick or treat play on words.  It’s racist in the stereotypical portrayal of Indians.”
  • “I think it’s funny.” Can you explain what you find funny about it?  “Trick or treat = treaty.  I think it’s a funny pun.  I guess it’s probably racist in the way it’s portraying Natives.  It’s probably in poor taste the way they made them talk.  I still think it’s a little funny though…because of the pun.”
  • “It’s racist in exactly the same way drawing big-lipped black people speaking pidgin English is.”
  • “Just simply the caricatures are racist. Nobody looks like that. It’s hateful- makes them look like an alien species or something. It reminds me of the way jews were drawn in the 30’s. It’s “othering” to make a race look so alien. It makes then non-human. Also I didn’t find it that funny or clever.”
  • “I don’t know if the intent is racism, it doesn’t seem like it, but it does seem like they are playing on stereotypes to make clear they are talking about indians from the distant past. Probably because they can’t draw very well.  It seems more like the intent is to talk shit about treaties. I don’t think they mean to disparage the intellect of the native community as much as they are trying to highlight the idea that they were too trusting of the settlers.”
  • It pisses me off that they wrote “saiz” which is pronounced phonetically EXACTLY THE SAME as says. So it wasn’t like they were trying to emphasize dialect or accent. The only thing misspelling says does is make the Indians look stupid. I found the pun somewhat clever and interesting.In my effort to assume the best of everyone I assume that the artist was trying to say Natives were too trusting and naive, and the Whiteys exploitative and manipulative. I think however that instead portrays the Natives as stupid. I do not think anyone is portrayed positively in this cartoon. I think there must have been a less racist way of making the trick or treat pun.

Granted, these people are my friends for a reason, so this is not intended to be a cross-section of non-native opinion though I’ll mention that these friends include Canadians, citizens of the US, and folks from that weird island over there across the pond. (*blows kisses*)

My reaction

I have a number of problems with this cartoon.  The first thing that popped out at me was of course the style of dress.  Stereotypical pan-Indian images of native people.  Huge noses, a spear, arrows, headdresses, fringe.  The generic image so often used to represent us all, past and present.  I am supremely tired of this image.  If I knew that wider Canadian society truly understood the wealth of aboriginal diversity in this country, it wouldn’t get under my skin as much.  Then again, if that were true, I’d expect the images would reflect such awareness.

“Whitey”.  That’s the next thing that jumped out at me.  In the use of that term, the artist is making her ‘characters’ racists.  The term is  pejorative.  Oddly enough, the term is also one I rarely actually hear native people hurling, and to be honest, haven’t heard since I was in elementary school.  You know where I hear this term, constantly?  I hear it coming from non-natives who go on and on about how racist native people are against them.  Let’s not even get into the analysis of how historical and current power structures mean “whitey” is not a term that can be compared to other racial slurs.  I’ll let Louis CK discuss that.

When I see ‘characters’ using terms like this, the message I’m getting is, “you can be racist too!”  Well…duh!  There is nothing inherent in being aboriginal that makes us immune to being assholes, even racist ones.  There is something about being the subject of centuries of racism however that makes you pretty aware of the impact of racism, much in the way that not being the subject of centuries of racism might cause you to have trouble grasping how it feels.

Why do we need to have it pointed out that we can be racist too?  How is that an important message?  To me it smacks of “we all do it, it’s a human trait.”  If you push someone on this issue, you will often hear about how aboriginal peoples fought one another before the Europeans came, and this is used as proof that we are just as capable of treating ‘others’ poorly as Europeans did.  The message seems to be, “if the roles were reversed you would have done the same thing”.  Take that further into, “it’s not our fault” and you’ve understood the point.

And isn’t that the underlying fear?  That if we had “the power” (however that would be manifested), that we’d do ‘the same thing’?  On one hand you’d think that would be an admission of awareness that things are supremely unequal, but it usually isn’t.  After all, inequality as externally imposed  (state vs. native peoples) is often considered just a historical reality whereas many people believe the present is characterised by  internally created inequality (i.e. native peoples at fault).

I digress somewhat.  Who knows what the artist’s position is on this.  Whether she used the term “whitey” to portray her characters as racists, or whether she attempted to turn a pejorative term around on European settlers, it is an unhelpful word.

Then of course there is the issue of the casual mention of ‘killing whitey’.  This too is very loaded.  Is he killed?  Is the quick and tricky talking of the intended victim enough to save him?  Who knows.  All we know is that this character was ready to kill someone.  No context.  That’s just ‘how it was done’.

This too plays into the generic view of “Indians and Cowboys”, always at war with one another.  The artist with her reference to the tricky treaty may be taking the position that violence against “whitey” was justified for whatever reason, but it misses the point.  Distilling the relationship between native peoples and settlers to merely a relationship of violence and trickery is extremely prevalent and as unaware as showing us all dressed up in the same tired old garb.  This country is vastly and shockingly unaware of its own history.  It acknowledges only the very rough outlines of the complex trading relationships, the intermarriage, the alliances and conflicts.

It is like understanding only that at some point, your parents met and you were born, and that you had a childhood.  Without any more detailed memory beyond that of yourself as you grew up and developed, what would you know about yourself now as an adult? Aargh.  I’d love to explore that more, but I’m trying to stay on track.

There is the more obvious issue of whether or not the artist intended to portray her characters as stupid, or cheated.  Or both.  Either way it is not a particularly flattering portrayal and it is very disempowering.  It is definitely a more popular narrative now than it was when I was a child, that native peoples were swindled and cheated by the Treaties.  It isn’t a powerful narrative however, in the sense that it has not been accepted legally or politically as true, and there are few people who would be willing to readdress the Treaties on those grounds.

Yet the ‘innocent and naive natives getting cheated by the treacherous Europeans’ theme here is also incredibly simplistic.  It infantalises us rather than acknowledging different worldviews and suggests that whatever intelligence we had was no match for the wiles of the settlers.  It is another all-too common approach that paints us merely as victims.  It denigrates our experience as peoples who made Treaties for thousands of years before any European set foot here.

The argument is going to be two-fold when people defend this cartoon.  One, that it’s not racist (either at all, or that the racism is satire).  Two, that the humour expresses an important and true message.

I see a repetition of a series of stereotypes, and whatever shock value the whole ‘Canada tricked them into it’ viewpoint may have had surely has worn off by now?  I think that’s me engaging in wishful thinking though.  I agree with one of the quotes above in that I think the message could have been achieved in a less disturbing way.  I think the stereotyping detracts from the intended message.  In fact, I think the unintended message of ignorance is much stronger.  Perhaps that is only obvious to some?

I think I’ve narrowed down why I was shocked, actually.  This cartoon displays only the surface image of nuance while representing an utter lack of actual complexity.  Yes, I do expect better, and I think I’m going to keep my expectations high.

We do not live in a country where the history, culture or present day reality of aboriginal peoples is well understood or discussed.  We live in a  country that has relied upon stereotypes for hundreds of years to prop up and form legal, political and social policies towards natives.  Those stereotypes have changed only slightly.  Often they are less overtly and recognisably racist and pejorative, and merely reflect the appalling lack of progress this country has made in coming to terms with its relationship with aboriginal peoples. Playing up those stereotypes is not radical, nor is it successful satire in this situation.  It is status quo.

My final thought on this is: if you do not understand why this comic is offensive to me as a native person, it is because you probably do not understand the history, culture and present day reality I referred to above, and that is what I am reacting to right now.

The Controversy

You can see the original comic here (PDF) on page 28. A number of responses to the comic were sent to the Editor, and a response from the Editors in Chief can be found on page 2 here (also PDF).  After that are some of the responses, followed up by the artist’s view of the whole thing.

Eden Alexander is a law student at McGill University, a good friend, and a member of the Aboriginal Law Student’s Association of McGill.  She has invited the editorial staff of Quid Novi and the artist Patricia Nova to a lunch in order to discuss the various issues surrounding the creation and publication of this comic.  Both have accepted. Eden indicates that the situation has become very adversarial and is hoping that talking about it will help.  I will also be attending the meeting and will follow up here with what comes out of it.

I think it is incredibly important to have these discussions, even though it can feel sometimes that we’ve had them a million times already.  There are so many wider issues at play here, including the societal contexts I’ve mentioned, but also the specific context of McGill University and the various portrayals of aboriginal peoples that have been as controversial or more over the past few years.

Let’s see where this takes us.

Update, November 15

The Quid Novi has published another editorial response to Patricia Nova’s cartoon as well as a slough of responses to both the cartoon itself and Patricia Nova’s justification for it.  The responses are well thought out and interesting and can be found here.  The paper has engaged a former ombudsman to address the issue and make recommendations on Quid Novi’s publication practices.

Update, November 22

A description of the meeting between Quid Novi, Patricia Nova and members of the Aboriginal Law Student’s Association was published today (along with some disgusting ‘oh you’re just thin-skinned’ opinions).  You’ll find it here on page 9.

I did not actually attend the meeting, due to a mix up in scheduling, but my friend Eden Alexander did, and felt very positive after the discussion.  She asks,  however, “where do we go from here?”

Aboriginal students were able to ‘get through’ to one person though it took an enormous amount of emotional energy.  As can be seen in some of the awful comments made before the meeting description, there is a much wider problem that is not being addressed properly.  These are the students we share the halls with, who tell us things like, ‘if you are offended, it says as much about who you are as what the cartoon was depicting’, etc.  People who completely dismiss our concerns and champion the right to continue exercising power over us in this way.

So while the meeting settled some personal feelings among individuals, it merely highlights how much farther we have to go…and how it shouldn’t always have to be us going through all the effort while the privileged sit and fold their arms and demand, ‘convince me it’s even a problem first’.

About âpihtawikosisân

Métis from Lac Ste. Anne, Alberta. Currently living in Montreal, Quebec. Passions: education, Aboriginal law, the Cree language, and roller derby. Education: BEd, LLB, working on a BCL
This entry was posted in Alienation, Culture, Injustice, Law, Pan-Indian, Representation of natives and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to Images that make you go hmmmm.

  1. Well done! Very well articulated, as usual.

  2. Emo says:

    My more generalized concern is that so much of the political debate catches on (and hangs on) things that are trivial and highly visible…

    …and the more important problems are non-trivial, but often enough invisible (or denoted simply by an absence).

    This looks like a cartoon that was made on a napkin (?) with only a few seconds of effort.

    Conversely, when was the last time that you saw a “no smoking” sign that was written in Cree, or in any indigenous language?

    The absence of signage is a big deal: it’s important but invisible. To be honest, the absence of signage does offend me, although it’s not something you can see or react to like an offensive cartoon. You can be in an institutional context where English, French and Chinese are all written on the wall… and there’s no attempt to recognize or give voice to any indigenous language.

    In terms of the relative importance of a problem, put it this way: (i) dealing with this cartoon won’t change anything (although it is highly visible). Conversely, (ii) dealing with public signage really would change things (although the problem is, so to speak, invisible). Children growing up seeing signage in Cree every day (even if they never learn to read it) would regard the world around them in a very different way. During my own childhood, I saw only two signs (just two) that were in any aboriginal language, and I remember them very vividly; in the context of a cultural genocide (that neither your parents nor your school are willing to address), the effect was pretty close to seeing a ghost.

    Currently, I don’t think you can even vote in Cree… the last federal elections had information in Inuit (Inuktitut) but in no other indigenous language.

    • I often think the visual is symbolic. To me, these debates are very much more about attitudes than about the visuals themselves. Of course, the people who create and support the visuals attempt to confine the debate to the image itself as though images are mostly neutral and there is no further context that can be examined.

      For me, this image is the very superficial ‘tip of the iceberg’ and discussing it may help bring some of those bigger and more important issues into the light. I’ll be able to bring some of the responses to this cartoon back to the blog, as well as the outcome of the meeting in order to provide examples of those deeper issues and the reaction to them.

  3. Not Blonde says:

    What about the images Aboriginal producers/directors are making now? Certainly there are complex layers of meaning as people deconstruct stereotypes, etc. But when artists/filmmakers don’t really understand meaning, making meaning, imagery, etc – the deconstruction ends up reinforcing stereotypes. But as Aboriginal people we don’t analyze our own images. Have you watched Health Nutz on APTN? It is appalling.

  4. Emo says:

    The issue dedicated to the responses (to the responses to) this cartoon is a deadpan demonstration as to why law students are not now (nor ever shall be) “the leaders of opinion” in Canadian society (vol. 33, no. 9). Sadly, our British Parliamentary system absolutely ensures that lawyers occupy the vast majority of seats in government –elected or unelected. The petulant participants in this dead-ended debate will go on to occupy positions of power and prestige (even if they have no skills other than writing exams and flattering more senior authorities).

    Page after page, I get to watch these natural-born bureaucrats clutching at paper and quill, trying to offer us some proof of their social salience, if not their literary pretensions, and proving nothing except that the opinions of the faculty of law are no better informed than the company of auto-mechanics. They’re all leaping at the chance to prove themselves to be the next John Stuart Mill, and proving, on the contrary, why they’ll never be one.

    Access to law school is based on the ability to pay. Access to the law is based on the ability to pay. This cartoon, and the controversy surrounding it, neither took place amongst accomplished cartoonists, nor amongst accomplished authors any of the matters concerned (political, indigenous, nor otherwise); it took place within one of the circles of the most uninspired (and uninspiring) of Canada’s political elites. The wholly unintentional self-parody of these law students lining up to deliver their sermons is indeed a very telling reflection on McGill and its school of law. The question remains to be asked why we live in a country that is ruled by lawyers.

    Genuinely, I’d rather elect one of the investigative reporters from A.P.T.N.

    • Emo says:

      Although my former comment was unduly harsh… I think I had just read through 14 pages of those comments at the time I wrote it… and the “ombudsman’s report”… and the crowning irony is that the same journal contains an announcement concerning “official language” law in Canada (of course, without the salience of indigenous languages or indigenous people occurring to anyone involved)… if you read it from cover to cover, that thing is pretty hard to bear.

    • It was weird the way the issue focused on the cartoonist’s response, but I’d like to point out that some of the people commenting are aboriginal and I do think some good points were made. Particularly by Joseph Paul Flowers, an Inuk law student who pointed out that it was incredibly frustrating to have it be demanded that he address the cartoonist on her terms…terms that are very much based on western adversarial discourse.

      I think you too easily dismiss the opinions that were expressed, and you made some very unkind assumptions about those few of us who have managed to get in to law school despite the fact that most of us don’t actually have a fantastic ‘ability to pay’ (nor are made very welcome).

      This is a student paper, intended for the Faculty internally. It does not aspire to the standards you mention.

      • Emo says:

        Re: “It was weird the way the issue focused on the cartoonist’s response…”
        I agree; to me that also seemed very much indicative of the “insouciant law-student” attitude of trying to “pin a case” on some particular turn-of-phrase, as if she had incriminated herself by saying x instead of y. A lot of people were eager to show that they’re fractionally more intelligent than the cartoonist (as if that would matter or mean anything to anyone reading it… I suppose some of them are dreaming that they’ll impress their professors or future employers in this magazine).

        It’s true, as you say, that I have a dim view of “who gets to become a lawyer in Canada”; if you break down the process into a flow-chart, it is pretty obvious for whom this is an option and for whom it isn’t. Just looking at the sequences of stages involved in “articling” makes it clear why the best preparation for becoming a lawyer is to have parents who are already lawyers. It relies a great deal on connections to informal networks of influence –in addition to the direct costs (i.e., having time and money).

        I always find that narratives of “exceptions to the rule” tend to leave out big chunks of information as to what it was that made the person’s ascent possible (institutionally or financially). The current head of the federal Green Party is an interesting example (scil. Elizabeth May). She tells her own story in terms of a penniless waitress who transformed herself into a lawyer (with nothing but a high-school diploma, not even a B.A., and no great accomplishments on her C.V. at the time), and, frankly, I do believe that she’s telling the truth –but it is a version of the truth that omits several crucial stages that would have made the whole process possible. Looking at the flow-chart of how the system works, it is easy to see why waitresses almost never become lawyers, and why the vast majority of people in the legal profession got there through family connections to the same profession. I’m left guessing at what fills in the blanks in Elizabeth May’s story; and I don’t mean to insinuate that the untold chapters are anything “evil” –but yes, people need help (and connections) to even figure out how to move through that flow chart (e.g., even if you’re a recipient of charity, you need to know how to fill out the right forms to get that bursary, etc., and poor students generally need someone who guides them through many of those stages).

        If anyone wanted to reform the practice of the law in Canada so that it was based on meritocracy and open examinations, it would be easy enough to do so. If anyone wanted to reform the court system so that access to the law was not based on the ability to pay, it would be easy enough to do so. It ain’t happening.

        Compared to the profession of optometry (a subject of one of your recent postings) the profession of the law really seems like a scam (whereas the flowchart for becoming a certified optometrist is very straightforward); from a student’s perspective, there’s no point in initiating the process if you can’t be sure that there’s a firm that will make arrangements for your articling at the end (if you can call that the end, etc.).

        • I said, “and you made some very unkind assumptions about those few of us who have managed to get in to law school despite the fact that most of us don’t actually have a fantastic ‘ability to pay’ (nor are made very welcome).” I have plenty of opinions about the legal profession, about law schools and so on, especially considering how hard it is for aboriginal people to get in and succeed. However, we also often get it in the ear about how going to law school makes us corrupt, turns us into apples, means we’re going to start exploiting our own people, etc. Considering the obstacles we face and how shockingly few of us make it, I don’t find your criticisms helpful in this situation when you paint all of us with such a broad brush.

          Also note I am severely under the weather and may be taking things more personally than usual.

  5. Emo says:

    Well… get well soon…

    I think you’re aware that none of my comments above have anything to do with the litany of complaints against lawyers that you mention (that “…law school makes us corrupt, turns us into apples, means we’re going to start exploiting our own people, etc.”) –simply, nothing I said intersects with that in any way. (And, in related news, I don’t think that anyone is complaining that Elizabeth May is “exploiting her own people”… or, not that I know of…)

  6. sikak iskwew says:

    i thoroughly enjoyed your explication of the subtext and context of the cartoon done by the law student…i did have one exception though and that was around your comment that ndgns people can be racist. i am of the school of thought that enacting racism is a white privilege in and of itself; a Jewish person can be anti-German, but they can never be a Nazi. a person of color can discriminate against white people, but they can never be racist. the “reverse racism” corollary falls apart given the historical, social, cultural, ideological contexts of the power dynamics related to different forms of racist oppression combined with the institutional and social differentials around “race”, ie racism is premised on the power of a privileged-by-race group over an othered minority; white people have a race, ethnic people are simply the other in this dyad—raced versus racialized where racialization occurs along lines of imagined difference combined with the praxis of oppression in order to reify people of color into “those who are not white”—an ndgns person calling someone “whitey” has no raced power to it, whereas a white person calling a black person a n*****er or a native woman a sq**w has layers of raced oppression that are vivified by institutional (legal, military, social, material, etc) power as well as a long history of genocidal violence premised on notions of race alone. ndgns people do not have this history, nor do we have the institutional power to take white children away from their white parents, sentence white people to prisons run by majority ndgns staff, take land away from white people because they are white, etc etc. racism isn’t simply about an attitude that i am better than a white person because i am ndgns or vice versa; it is a culturally embedded ideological system of norms and values abut whiteness that privilege themselves and that run the gamut from lynching to spirituality to architecture to greetings to language to how to construct a thought itself…and even unto dictating to others how to construct their own thoughts; whiteness in racialized societies has the power to delegitimize ndgns ontological and philosophical foundations (and has been since contact). we do not currently enjoy that same kind of power because it is a raced power. racial oppression, then, is a function of white privilege and cannot ever be an expression of indigenous privilege (unless ndgns people internalized ideologies of racism and became the ones with social and institutional power).
    sikak iskwew

    • Thank you for your words!

      I am familiar with the school of thought that oppressed peoples cannot engage in oppressive practices like racism, sexism and homophobia etc. I agree that is is not the same as what is done by those actually in power, but I disagree that this means we literally cannot be racist/sexist/whateverist. I realise these terms themselves are problematic because of the power imbalance inherent in them, but I have yet to find words that adequately replace them in order to discuss the problems.

      I do think that ‘reverse racism etc’ is a smokescreen used by bigots to justify their own actions. I agree that the discussion is often hijacked by these claims and thus it is very difficult to talk about bigotry within our own communities as a result. I also agree that terms like ‘whitey’ are not comparably powerful terms to the slurs used against aboriginal peoples (and others). Not on an institutional and social level. However, when you’re getting hit and kicked and called ‘white bitch’ because that day someone chose to see you as ‘white’, it can feel pretty oppressive. It can take you a while to stop hating your attackers long enough to realise that we’re all part of the truly fucked up crab-in-a-bucket system those in power have designed for us.

      I do believe in horizontal or lateral violence; where we treat each other without respect because we are treated without respect. I have seen it in action, voiced via a perceived lack of ‘purity’, via sexism, via homophobia and so on. I see these things as colonial impositions, and the process of decolonisation is vital in the fight to stop horizontal violence. That does not mean that these aspects of bigotry do not exist or are not extremely problematic. We cannot merely label them as ‘colonial impositions’ and then do nothing about it. I see a lot of the negativity as a reaction to oppression, a way to vent the anger that being treated as subhuman creates in us.

      There is also the issue of how we interact with other oppressed peoples. There is a natural, yet ineffective system of comparison that becomes engaged when we attempt to figure out who is ‘more oppressed’. I think horizontal violence can happen not only within a group, but between oppressed groups as well. Those relationships are even harder to navigate than the relationship between the oppressed and the clear oppressors. While in a general sense it is true that settler-Canadians are privileged, it is not always true at the individual level. Mental illness, poverty, marital and/or family composition, education (or lack thereof), disability, homosexuality, gender etc etc etc…all of these factors can make the individual settler-Canadian a person who is also oppressed, and who does not have access to privilege.

      Does that mean that it is suddenly inaccurate to discuss the structures of colonialism and privilege, because there are individual exceptions? Obviously not(one would hope it’s obvious anyway). It is extremely unfortunate that because so many aboriginal peoples are literally just trying to get their basic needs met that we cannot form better alliances with those who are also shoved to the edge and abandoned there. Of course, we are expected to be saints, and to advocate for everyone, and this is unreasonable. Nonetheless, part of dealing with horizontal violence is not just navigating the internal oppression we engage in as a reaction to colonialism, but also requires us to rethink our relationships with ‘others’ who also find themselves subject to injustice and marginalisation.

      People born to privilege need to learn how their racism and bigotry helps maintain the power structure that dehumanises so many and benefits so few.

      We have to learn how racism and bigotry among us helps internalise the colonisation process, making us our own jailors. I agree that these two processes are extremely different. I try to always keep that in mind when I criticise the kinds of horizontal violence I see us engaging in.

      • sikak iskwew says:

        thanks for your swift reply. very impressed with your articulation and framing of the issues. yes our communities are dealing with a lot of baggage including enacting racist tendencies toward members of their own communities (metis, eg) and other people of color in the penultimate praxis of oppression and internalization of racist ideology. i grew up with the people around me casually using words like n****er, ch**nk and p**i etc. my mother told me that if i did not behave the boogeyman (and she pointed out a black man) was going to get me. but i do not understand any of it as classical racism in any form and i think we need to be very clear on that. however, i do absolutely agree we need to have more thoughtful and public dialectics around issues of race and racism in this country in order to understand what exactly racism is and how it is manifested in canada; people here have a very incomplete conception of it and this does a disservice to creating a space where the dialogue can be carried on in a meaningful and productive way between ourselves, our allies and those who would attack us from a position of racist ideology. thanks for your blog, i have been looking for just such an involved deconstruction of colonial racism in the blogosphere to get a sense of how ndgns people in canada understand, experience, and frame it at an every day level as well as an academic level. looking forward to reading more of your work.
        sikak iskwew

    • suezoo39 says:

      Reading through this post, its attachments, and now the comments; I find I can read the sentences better by mentally inserting the term “male[s]” every time you type white*.

      Similar to the Aboriginal Law Association, I attended my schooling as a 3% minority in a 97% male-dominated institution. My life has been lived much as the Aboriginal v.s. white -male- context. From accessing the education, to fighting for a place in the work place.

      Then finally succeeding in getting to the actual job, up north, and now it’s not “white male” attitudes only, it’s “ndgns males” as well.

      I’m not picking a bone, just taking a tiny sliver off the wide white paint brush.

      ” it is a culturally embedded ideological system of norms and values abut white -male-ness that privilege themselves and that run the gamut from lynching to spirituality to architecture to greetings to language to how to construct a thought itself…and even unto dictating to others how to construct their own thoughts; white -male-ness in racialized societies has the power to …”

      • Sharon Jackson says:

        ” I find I can read the sentences better by mentally inserting the term “male[s]” every time you type white*.

        How staggeringly convenient for you. Apparently you are a white person (as am I) and I am thrilled that as a white woman, you have achieved some equality in your education. You seem to think that being a white woman in a post secondary institution is equivalent to being a native woman in a similar situation.

        I beg to differ. In fact I think I am going to go out in to my front yard right now and burst out laughing… or crying.

        I will let you know. after it happens.

  7. kinanâskomitin for your participation on this blog, I look forward to hearing your view on this and other subjects as they come up!

  8. Melissa says:

    This was a interesting read. I am an art student/cartoonist and just generally really interested in what messages people get out of images. Also I am non-native if that matters. My initial reaction to the cartoon was different and less complicated than yours and it was great to read and understand your reaction to it. (my first thoughts on it were that it was supposed to be critical of white people/ settlers for screwing over native people but that it was also drawn and written in a pretty racist stereotypical way towards natives which portrayed them as dumb-the whole violence aspect of it didn’t even register somehow). One of the points that you mentioned was that you were offended by the way that the characters were dressed and I was wondering how you would dress/draw a character who is supposed to be native and of that era in a way that wouldn’t be offensive?
    I wanted to share a cartoon I drew years ago- it was intended as an editorial style cartoon re: the whole H1N1 body bags thing.

    What would be your reaction to seeing that? I certainly did not mean it to be offensive but now I am questioning if it could perceived that way.

  9. This is really good stuff, I thank you. In the early 90’s there was a primitive on-line computer game called something like “Cowboys and Indians” in which, as the brave Cowboy, if you got to the end of the game, your cartoon character got to have sex with a young cartoon Native woman (read rape a squaw) who was tied to a stake! There was so much outrage that the game was withdrawn. This cartoon is right up there with that. Yuck.

  10. Emily says:

    Thank you. I feel life from your perspective has been beautifully articulated.

  11. L.Van Horne says:

    I have wished that every treaty made with our native Canadians had been honored when the treatys were signed. I wonder how different their lifes would be today?
    As for the cartoon it was neither funny nor worth a second glance. It only showed 1 persons ignorance. I am not a native but my family has been here since 1632 in America.

    When you have respect for yourself and your accomplishments only then can you let the slurs run off your back.If you have gotten to university and or law school you have earned my respect in a big way.

    • One of the things I truly wish had, and would be acknowledged about the Treaties is that Treaties are about ongoing relationships, not one-time-only deals. We need to remember that.

    • sikak iskwew says:

      The other thing is people need to learn is how to speak to the ongoing imbalances of power that are, to a very critical extent, being perpetuated through the use of language. Language is a window into the way someone thinks and I always found it revealing that a non-ndgns person would speak about me and my community in possessive terms….like the poster above using the phrase: “our native Canadians”. Talk about rude. We are not your property and for you to use that phrase only speaks to the offensive history of attempts at ownership of Europeans over ndgns people. Also, not every ndgns person (myself included) considers themselves a “Canadian”. My Nation is ancient and predates “Canada” by several hundred thousand generations. My Nation is not European in origin and not colonial nor was it built on the genocide of others; my Nation is my Tribal Nation…..never make the mistake of believing that simply because a few hundred years have passed and that a person is indigenous that they have bought into the propaganda and lies of the colonialist delusion regarding nationhood. When you and people like you finally understand this, then YOU will have earned MY respect.

  12. Sharon Jackson says:

    @ sikak iskwew L. Van Horne appears to be an ally and was making a point about how the lives of First Nations people would be different had all treaties been honourable and honoured. She used the unfortunate phrase, “our native Canadians,” and you bit her head off.

    Why not just point out the error so that she (and we) would all be better off for it? No need to go on the attack.

    • Nursegirl says:

      L Van Horne’s statements all reeked of privilege, though. I agree that biting the heads off of uninformed allies isn’t helpful but…
      – (s)he called the comic 1 person’s ignorance, rather than acknowledging the place that racist stereotyping has in broader Canadian culture (as shown by the pages of defensiveness in the follow up issues of Quid Novi)
      – (s)he described being a descendent of an early settler as if it should be a point of pride
      – (s)he said what would help our host here allow slurs to run off her back (sometimes having pride in self and accomplishments is why people shouldn’t allow slurs and should instead fight back)
      and in addition (s)he called 1st Nations people “hers”

      Altogether, I can understand why sikak iskwew responded negatively

  13. Emo says:

    I still don’t see how you manage to respond to this so… uh… “positively”, Chelsea. Are we reading the same newsletter?

    Your most recent update draws attention to page 9 of vol. 33, no. 10…

    It’s difficult to regard this as anything better than depressing, especially if you include the top half of p. 9 (i.e., comments from Shaheem Joya that start on page 8). All of the comments are imbued with the snide self-importance that I complained of before… but I’d say that Joya’s contribution is especially deserving of ridicule.

    In general, in relation to First Nations, White Canadians are racist in ways that are easy to anticipate… perhaps simply because they’re familiar and unimaginative. New immigrants to Canada are also racist, but in ways that are difficult to anticipate, partly because they come from a diversity of backgrounds, and partly because they “buy into” the British Empire in very different ways.

    A Pakistani immigrant to Canada recently took some time out of his day to lecture me about how I ought to be racist against First Nations (i.e., obviously, this guy starting lecturing me without knowing anything about my own background, current activities, etc.) and he presumed himself to be in a position to explain to me what terrible people the “Natives” are (i.e., interestingly, natives was his preferred term) on the grounds that I’m evidently new around here (about the latter, BTW, he didn’t even ask: he inferred that I’m new here, because I evidently lacked his animosity toward First Nations). The guy was, in effect, reproaching me for my lack of racism, and trying to explain to me, from his supposed wealth of knowledge, what my attitude ought to be here in Canada. Based on his own account, I would surmise that he has lived in Canada for circa five years.

    My experience with the Chinese in Canada has actually been much more diverse, perhaps because they have their own peculiar history of (1) resenting the British Empire and (2) justifying China’s (troubled) relationship with its own indigenous ethnic minorities. Yeah, if I were to actually compute it as a statistic (based on entirely anecdotal observations), I think the Chinese immigrants have the lowest rate of racism toward the Cree, and the highest rate of positive reactions toward learning Cree as a language, of any segment of the population I’ve dealt with.

    Among the many things making it so difficult to endure Shaheem Joya’s commentary is her assumption that we live in an ideal democracy, and that the point to be dealt with here concerns abstract rights and principles that don’t exist for anyone –but seem especially surreal if you’re looking at this from a First Nations perspective. Is Canada a democracy? Well, it certainly fails Britain’s own standards of representative democracy. Of the total number of federal parliamentarians ever elected, would you like to guess the percentage who were (in the
    broadest possible definition) “aboriginal”?

    Less than 1%. Far, far less than one percent. It would round off to 0.007%.

    By contrast, post-colonial India with its much-criticized “scheduled castes and tribes” system, has done a much better job of creating a representative democracy for its Adivasis (another problematic term… but let’s not digress). This is comparing two very bad instances: nobody would consider India to have set the standard for success, but my point is here that the presumption that Canada is a paragon by comparison is only possible through a sort of self-selecting amnesia… with the single greatest aspect “forgotten” being the indigenous peoples themselves.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s