Health & Well-Being

Let’s talk about discrimination

By Cynthia Smith

Were you ever discriminated against because you’re Aboriginal? How did you react? Did you even do or say anything? Did you do it with patience, kindness, love? Maybe you were the one discriminating against someone at one point, whether you were aware of it or not.

I was in both situations: I was discriminated against, and I discriminated against someone.

I was discriminated against because I am Native, when I moved to the city when I was a kid. Other children called me “Indian,” said my parents didn’t pay taxes and were always drunk, that we lived in tipis, went around on Skidoos, that sort of thing. I remember it clearly, still.

Later, I was also hit with such bullets as: “No way you’re Native, where’s your card?” “How many generations?” “You don’t look Native, are you sure you’re not from South America?”

Yes, I’m sure. For me, it was the beginning of the long road towards healing and feeling proud of my identity.

What often happens with discrimination is that one person feels they have the right to tell you who you really are. Maybe it’s a collateral effect of the Indian Act, by which the Canadian government claimed the right to define us as nations, peoples and individuals. It’s as if this attitude has transferred to everyone else, and not just towards Native people: “You’re not Moroccan, you were born here,” or the opposite “You’re not Canadian, you’re from Haïti.”

I once told a friend she was not Portuguese, but a Quebecer. Then I felt bad because I had been on the receiving end of this behaviour, and now I was doing it to her. Later, when I was on my way to healing and regaining pride in my identity, I apologized to her for what I had said. I told her she knew in her heart who she was, and that I loved her and was proud of her. Our hearts know who we are and where we come from.

I have learned that we often do to others what was done to us, not that it is an excuse. We are responsible for our words and actions and we must be good to one another, take care of one another, spread smiles and laughter, magic and love. I have learned that there is one Creator (or several, depending on your beliefs, and whatever you may call Him/Them), and that we are all human, that we all have our place in the big circle, along with all other living beings.

Being discriminated against because of a part of our identity is painful. It leaves scars. Many lost their lives, dropped out of school, became sick or lost confidence in themselves because of it. Let’s think twice before we hurt each other. Healing our people, our relationship with other peoples, starts from within ourselves.

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