Discrimination—in the eye of the beholder?

Written by Brenda Schimke

One thing I know, I was completely ignorant about the systematic discrimination of our indigenous, Metis and Inuit peoples until the last two decades, and had not a clue about the untold harm that had been, and continues to be perpetrated on Canada’s first peoples.

I don’t remember any social study unit during my grade school that focussed on Canada’s original inhabitants. I remember playing cowboys and Indians, obviously with the American movie interpretation of ‘Indian’.

Having been born, raised and schooled in the Coronation area, without a native reserve anywhere near, I doubt that I even saw my first indigenous person until moving to Edmonton at the age of 17.

I knew nothing about the residential schools until the last decade, and although I knew families who had adopted native children in the 1960s, I was ignorant about the reality behind the ‘60’s scoop’.

In Cranbrook in the 1990s, I worked closely with two first nation tribes in various educational programming ventures. Those I met with were intelligent and motivated to help their people move forward to gain respect and power to control their future.

I remember thinking how beautiful the St. Eugene ‘residential’ school building and its location was in the St. Mary’s River valley. I had not a clue that behind those walls, generations of native children lived with sexual and physical abuse, starvation, forced labour and terror, or perhaps I had walked over unmarked graves.

It’s taken my lifetime, but finally, I am learning and understanding colonialism. The Truth and Reconciliation process forced me to wake up, but there is much to be done. All Canadians and all politicians must commit to achieving the 94 calls to action quickly. In particular, immediate focus needs to be made on crushing the systematic racism that has dominated our education, health care, social services, policing and justice services, pre- and post-Confederation. Self-governance needs to be a priority.

It is only when I started internalizing these horrible truths, that I was able to acknowledge my ignorance and privileged white racism.

I’ve come to appreciate the significant number of indigenous authors, or authors from other racialized groups, who write their personal stories. Each book I’ve read has a personal impact on me as it opens a small window into the mind and soul of those who daily live with discrimination and racism.
On this year’s Truth and Reconciliation Day, I chose to read a memoir of healing by Clayton Thomas-Muller entitled, “Life in the City of Dirty Water”.

In Thomas-Muller’s book, he wrote, “I’m not saying that being Indian or Black makes you right. I’ve met my fair share of idiots, and they’re not all the same colour. I’ve been an idiot myself, as you’ve seen [in this book]. But when you know that your people have been treated unfairly, nothing is simple.”

He went on to say, “When I am turned down for that job, is it because I’m Indian, or was the other guy truly more qualified? Did the cops work me over because I’m Indian, or is the cop just the kind of guy who would take any opportunity to bully someone vulnerable?”

Thomas-Muller is not a saint and never purports to be one. He understands the historical burden he carries and not all rejections in life are because of racism and discrimination, but keeping it separated isn’t always easy.

That leads me to Premier Danielle Smith’s belief that she and the unvaccinated were subjected to “the worse form of discrimination that she had ever seen before in her lifetime”.

When I discussed her comment with a person of colour, she said that Smith and this minority of people have actually experienced a discrimination never before seen in their lifetime. White populations in Canada have faced very few roadblocks so to lose their jobs, be taken off the transplant list, banned from attending church or losing opportunities for travel, entertainment, and eating out represented their first taste of discrimination.

She went on to say, the discrimination that Premier Smith felt was much different than how discrimination is normally defined. During the pandemic, all Canadians at some point were under the same public health restrictions; and at other times, some people chose personal beliefs over their jobs and pleasure. Another significant difference was this ‘discrimination’ lasted less than three years.

The other anomaly is this group has the political power in Danielle Smith and Pierre Poilievre, should he become Canada’s next Prime Minister, to not only take vengeance out against those deemed responsible (Dr. Deena Hinshaw and the AHC board of directors) but also to immediately protect this minority from any further vaccination mandates through changes to the Bill of Human Rights.

A timely response that indigenous, Metis, Inuit, people of colour, Jews, Muslims, and LGBTQ2s, who have faced systematic and generational discrimination and racism, could only dream about.

If Premier Smith had known just a little bit of history or had taken the time to read just a few real-life stories from these generationally-discriminated, racialized groups, she probably could have predicted the world-wide condemnation her ‘discrimination’ comment garnered. Thomas-Mueller concluded his book by writing, “But we must not allow our anger to consume us or tempt us to become the thing we are fighting.”

Very wise words from an individual who was born into a community of peoples who face systematic discrimination every day of their lives.

Brenda Schimke
ECA Review

About the author

Brenda Schimke

Schimke is a Graduate with Distinction from the University of Alberta with a BCom degree. She has lived and worked in Alberta, BC and Ontario.