Every election, there are important reminders of the ignorance and racism Indigenous people face each day in Canada.
The ignorance is quite literal. Entire election campaigns go by where the media mostly ignores First Nations, Inuit or Métis peoples. Take clean water for example. Trouble with the water supply in Walkerton received media prominence for weeks and was seen as a key reason the Mike Harris government was defeated in Ontario, while decades of bad water on dozens of First Nation reserves is mentioned only as context to a lobbying scandal involving a former Harper aide. Despite deep poverty and longstanding democratic, legal and human rights grievances, there is nary a word on the nightly news of what parties would do about it.
What does garner the occasional news story in every election is racist commentary by candidates.
There were several in the 2008 election, for those who recall. So far in this election, there have been two instances, although sadly, more can be expected.
First, Yvon Levesque of the Bloc Quebecois said and then apologized for saying that the New Democrats had made a mistake in nominating a prominent Cree leader to oppose him in Abitibi-James Bay-Nunavik-Eeyou. Levesque’s reasoning was that having a First Nations candidate would cost the NDP votes, presumably because a significant portion of his constituency vote based on the race of the candidate. The fact that the NDP candidate, Romeo Saganash, is an accomplished lawyer who speaks at least four languages and was an important negotiator in La Paix des Braves is, according to this theory, insufficient to overcome being Cree.
And as the CBC reports today, Liberal candidate André Forbes is under fire for referring to the Innu of Quebec as “featherheads” among other slurs. Mr. Forbes history as leader of L’Association des Droits des Blancs is apparently also “under investigation” by the Liberal leadership.
The fact that these two incidents arose in Quebec should not be seen as a mitigating factor. Experience has shown that we can count on other such stories from elsewhere in the country over the next few weeks. Long experience also shows that, when the temporary furore dies down, we can count on the media to return to ignoring what has been called Canada’s greatest social injustice.
Daniel Wilson is a freelance writer and consultant specializing in Indigenous rights and human rights and co-author of the 2010 CCPA study, The Income Gap Between Aboriginal Peoples and the Rest of Canada.