Category Archives: racism

Facing the Uncomfortable Truth

 

Whenever I want to learn something important about race I turn to James Baldwin or Toni Morrison.  James Baldwin said this among, his many significant pronouncements about race:  “People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster.

 

In the US and Canada conservatives are doing to the best they can to help their followers avoid looking at the truth. In the US they do this in many ways, including their opposition to any criticism of their beloved country by people of color. For example, they have launched a concerted campaign against something they refer to as “critical race theory.”  That is nothing else than a technique that permits interested people to look behind the facades and  myths surrounding race. That can reveal some ugly truths that people in power–in the comfortable pews–don’t want revealed. Such people also do it by decrying what they feel is a negative view of their country promulgated by the New York Times 1609 project which again attempted to look at slavery in particular and race in general based on actual history, and not just the comfortable legends of white supremacy.

In Canada conservatives, among others, try to avoid looking at the truth by curtailing any criticism of people considered by them to be sacred, as evidenced by monuments around the country. The sacred include John A. MacDonald, Queen Victoria, and Queen Elizabeth. By definition, conservatives like things the way they are. Many of them are people of privilege who have benefited from the status quo.

 

Recently, in Manitoba, Conservative Premier Brian Pallister, fell into this trap when we ignored the sins of European settlers and concentrated instead solely on their ability to “build.” Here is what he said,

“The people who came to this country, before it was a country and since, didn’t come here to destroy anything. They came to build. They came to build better. To build, they did. They built farms, and they built businesses. They built communities, and churches too. And they built these things for themselves, and for one another, and they built them with dedication and with pride.”

 

Later the Premier claimed that he was complementing both settlers and indigenous people, but I don’t see that in his statement.  It might have been in his imagination.  When he later “apologized” for his statement, he did so in a clumsy fashion. He said, at a news conference he called, “I feel awful about the reaction and the misunderstanding I created with my comments.” He never admitted his statements were wrong because of what they ignored.  Pallister did not catch on that people did not think they misunderstood him. They heard him and were insulted at his casual dismissal of the offences committed by the settlers and only saw what they had built without paying attention to what they destroyed. Pallister was blinded by his own privilege in failing to understand this.

His statements made in the context of current discussions of the horrific abuse at Canada’s Indian Residential Schools is a sad reflection of white ignorance about their own white supremacy and privilege which for more than a century in Canada has given them a pass. They have been blinded to their own privilege.  Their current conservative supporters want to continue that pass. They want to ignore the truth.

Truth can set you free, but ignoring it, as Baldwin said, can turn you into a monster without you realizing it.

 

The Blindness of Privilege

 

Recently a person I know, the daughter of a friend of mine, said that she just could not understand “Indians.”  Why didn’t they just get over it? Why didn’t they forget about past wrongs? She said, “If our family could get over being cheated by a scam artist and robbed of hundreds of thousands of dollars, why can’t they get over residential schools?” I did not hear this first hand, so unfortunately I did not have an opportunity  to challenge her statements.

First of all, I know a little bit about the losses of my friend’s family. They lost a lot of money.  No one would like to lose all that money.  But the fact is that they were still left with lots of money after it happened. The family is still wealthy. They are just a little less wealthy than they could have been and or should have been.

This is actually a common attitude among white people. I have heard similar statements many times.

Frankly, though my white friends are much better off than most indigenous families. None of them were taken away from their homes and made to live in shabby schools with predatory teachers and religious scoundrels while they ate poorly, spent half of each day working literally like slaves, and all the while were taught that their parents were worthless, their culture was worthless, and they were worthless. Then the children that survived (and thousands did not!) were robbed of the opportunity to learn how to take care of children, which they could have learned from their parents. Instead, they were dumped in schools where no one wanted to teach them things like that, they wanted to teach them religion and the benefits of the white ways. Many of those children were then physically, mentally, emotionally, and sexually abused. They grew up thinking that they and their families and their race were all worthless. This happened for generations and the effects have cascaded through the generations. Then as adults these former children were subjected to pervasive systemic racism. The trauma of losing some money hardly compares.

Who do you think was better off? Who should get over it? I think these children of wealthy whites should get over it. They should get over their privilege. They don’t even see their own privilege.  And they don’t even see the gross exploitation of others. There is nothing more blind than privilege. And nothing more ignorant. There is nothing so hard to see as one’s own privilege, because it seems so natural and right.

Good Intentions?

 

This week (May 2021)  the southern B.C. First Nation of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc near Kamloops B.C. announced that the remains of 215 children were found on the grounds of what used to be the site of Canada’s largest residential school. The school was closed in 1969 the year I attended first and second year university at the University of Manitoba. I just want to put this into context for me. I don’t think I am that old and this was not that long ago.

What I want to emphasize right now is that these were children taken from their homes to be “educated.”  We Canadians often think of ourselves as a kinder gentler version of our more powerful neighbours to the south. Many of us think that we took these children from their homes and into these schools to be educated for their own good. Sometimes white people say that we sent indigenous children to residential schools for good reasons. We had good intentions we say and sometimes even believe. We wanted them to get a good education. We wanted them to become like us because we were better than them. Assimilation we called it. White supremacy was what it was all about.

 

Children shouldn’t often die in schools should they? My wife Christiane had a very wise question for me when we heard this news. When we now learn that this Indian residential school had 215 bodies of children buried outside it, what possible explanation is consistent with a good intention? I could not think of one. Can you? Those who think our intentions are good must answer that.

 

Why are African Americans suspicious about vaccines?

 

Unfortunately, the colonial past of the USA and Canada means that African American and indigenous people have little trust in their governments.  For good reason they fear they might be taken advantage of because that has happened so often in the past. This is a stark reminder of the legacy of exploitation on the basis of race in both countries. The consequences of that racism are long, sinewy and durable.

In the US one incident stands out. That relates to 40 years of deadly experimentation at Tuskegee by Alabama scientists saturated with the dominant ideology of the time–white supremacy. Those experiments bred suspicion–justifiable suspicion. Those suspicions are now haunting the United States many decades later when it needs the trust of everyone–including African Americans.

It is well-known that historically people of colour have been taken advantage of during health emergencies. The African American men of Tuskegee Alabama were one group that was shamelessly exploited men.

More than 40 years ago scientists got the idea that they would like to “observe the natural history of syphilis.” They wanted to use subjects that were completely unaware that they were involved in an experiment as otherwise the data might be contaminated.  Well, the data was clean; the minds of the experimenters were not.

To keep the minds of the subjects uncompromised, the experimenters thought it would be reasonable to lie to their subjects about what was going on. The subjects thought they were being treated for blood problems. Actually, they had syphilis and were not being treated for blood problems or even for the life-threatening illness they did not know they had.

These experiments were not conducted by some shady medical operatives. They were conducted by the United States Public Health Service (USPHS). It was an offshoot of the government! As Ada McVean explained, “Even after penicillin was discovered as a safe and reliable cure for syphilis, the majority of men did not receive it.”

Here is the really horrific fact. As McVean said,

“Multiple times throughout the experiment researchers actively worked to ensure that their subjects did not receive treatment for syphilis.”

 Actually, the researchers took active steps to prevent participants from getting treatment that could have saved their lives.

Most of us have heard of experiments Nazis conducted on prisoners of war and in the death camps. Those prisoners had no choice. They were the victims of a totalitarian state.  How much better off were the African Americans?

Eventually  there was huge outrage across America. A Class action lawsuit was launched, as it should. In 1974, after I had already been in Law School for nearly 3 years, to put the time into context, Congress passed a law that scientists would be required to obtain informed consent from all subjects, even African Americans.

Yet, as I said, the legacy of exploitation is long and hard. That history is part of the reason that African Americans are reluctant to take vaccines even when their physicians or friends recommend them. And now the United States desperately needs the cooperation of African Americans. If insufficient numbers elect to take the vaccines the United States will not attain herd immunity and then the virus will continue to spread among the unvaccinated communities and, perhaps, even affect those who have been vaccinated, if the virus continues to mutate and evolve to  achieve victory over the vaccines. This poses a real risk to all Americans! Sometimes the effects of historic injustices can be felt through the generations.

McVean summarized the problem this way:

“We know all about evil Nazis who experimented on prisoners. We condemn the scientists in Marvel movies who carry out tests on prisoners of war. But we’d do well to remember that America has also used its own people as lab rats. Yet to this day, no one has been prosecuted for their role in dooming 399 men to syphilis.”

This is why historic injustices require truth and reconciliation. That is a lesson the United States has not learned. Canada claims to have learned, it but I am not sure they have.

 

Conflicting Stories; Colliding Freedoms

 

We are hearing a lot of conflicting stories about Covid-19 and its variants and the vaccines. In Europe it seems like the pandemic has fresh legs that make it spread widely again, with more raging force than ever before. Yet in Manitoba we are “cautiously” opening up according to our Chief Medical Officer Brent Roussin. Is this really cautious? Why does he not think the same thing that is happening now in Europe won’t happen here too? I hope he is right, but I fear he is wrong. I hope he is not feeling the pressure from religious people like those in the Church of God Restoration outside of Steinbach, and others, that want to open up faster.

Yet the Winnipeg Free Press today reported,

“CANADA’S chief public health officer said Sunday that the collective efforts to fight COVID-19 are paying off, even as the country sits at a “critical juncture” in the fight against fast spreading variants.

Dr. Theresa Tam said on Twitter that COVID-19 disease activity continues to decline and vaccination is heading in the right direction.

“Our collective effort has begun to tip the balance in our favour,” she wrote. But she said Canadians need to maintain COVID-19 precautions to protect each other, especially as cases of more contagious variants are mounting across the country.”

On the other hand, the same article reported that “The faster-spreading COVID-19 variant first discovered in the United Kingdom has made its way into some schools in British Columbia, health officials announced late Saturday.”

 

Is that not concerning, considering what we know about the new variants of Covid-19?  I know vaccines help, but frankly not many Canadian arms have received it. I would feel a lot better if they did.

Of course, as we all know Covid-19 is amplifying existing inequities. That same article reported on this issue as follows:

” In a message published Sunday, Tam noted that COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on racialized communities. She said cases are 1.5 to 5 times higher in racialized communities in Toronto and Ottawa, while people living on First Nations reserves have a 69 per cent higher rate of infection compared to the general population.

“These disproportionate impacts among racialized and Indigenous communities are not due to biological differences between groups or populations,” she wrote.

“Rather, they reflect existing health inequities that are strongly influenced by a specific set of social and economic factors — things like income, education, employment and housing that shape an individual’s place in society.”

She said it’s imperative to work to fight racism in workplaces, education and health and social services systems, which she said has contributed to vaccine hesitancy in some communities and helped to create the inequitable living and working conditions that make some groups more susceptible to COVID-19.”

 

Often, I think William Faulkner was right: “We can never catch up with injustice.” But, I wish our religious people would not divert the attention of our health officials from fighting Covid-19 to dealing with their demands that they deal instead with their dubious claims of infringement on their religious freedom. I wish those religious zealots instead spent more time working to eradicate social injustice. Would that not make God happier?

Christian White  Supremacists

 

 

One more remarkable aspect of the rioters at the Capitol on January 6, 2021 was that most of them were white. Not only that, but many of them were White Supremacists who had been encouraged by Trump to attend. Many of them claimed to be Christians as well.  Many of them, claimed they were there because Trump had invited them. The close ties between white supremacists and Christian nationalists have deep historical roots.

The founder and C.E.O. of P.R.R.I., a non-profit organization that conducts research on religion and politics, Robert Jones, claimed in his book White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity, that

“Christianity in America has a long history of serving as a cloak for a racist political agendaThe norms of white supremacy have become deeply and broadly integrated into white Christian identity, operating far below the level of consciousness…The story of just how intractably white supremacy has become embedded in the DNA of American Christianity.”

 

As I said, often the offspring of marriage of politics and religion are ugly monstrosities. They are sometimes ugly but we don’t realize it because we have become so accustomed to it. We don’t even notice it.

That does not mean that all American Christians adopted this point of view. Some like the 21 Baptist leaders that included Steve Harmon, professor of theology at Gardner-Webb University School of Divinity said this on the day following the riot on the hill in Baptist News a mainstream publication:

“Minister friends, we must confront directly the baseless conspiracy theories and allegations that our own church members are embracing and passing along. They are not just wrongheaded ideas; they have consequences, and to tie these falsehoods to the salvation of Jesus is nothing less than blasphemy.”

The fact is however, that the violent and disruptive views of the evangelicals I have been mentioning are common among American and Canadian evangelicals. There are so many that support the more extreme views that it would not be fair to characterize them as fringe views. Trump has always received broad support among evangelicals. Polls have consistently showed that about 80% of American evangelicals have supported Trump and continue to support Trump even though his racist statements and positions are pretty plain to see. Trump himself often admitted they were his staunchest supporters. To me the reasons for this have always been mysterious, but no less real for that.

The close ties between racism and evangelicalism are disturbing and should not be swept under a carpet.

 

How Much Truth Can you Stand?

 

Nietzsche did not always get it right, but sometimes he hit the mark dead on. He hit the mark when he said, “a man’s worth is determined by how much truth he can stand.” But sometimes the truth is just hard to bear. That’s why it’s worth so much.

What Nietzsche said about individuals is also true of countries–their worth too depends on how much truth they can stand and frankly, most of them can’t stand very much. The United States and Canada are pretty good examples.

After the storming of the Capitol, the so-called sacred hall of American democracy, Joe Biden had this to say in his calm reassuring tone of voice so pleasant after 4 years of Trump’s hysterics:

“Let me be absolutely clear, the scenes of chaos in the Capitol do not reflect the true character of America; do not represent who we are.”

Is he right? Violence for political ends is particularly American. Entitled white men demanding their rights, while denying those of so many others is exactly who they are. People harbouring crazy beliefs without evidence is what Americans do best. Did you see the Qanon Shaman in the video of the Capitol under siege dressed in animal skins, a fur hat with horns, spear, face painted in the colours of the American flag, shirtless chest covered with hostile looking tattoos, chanting “USA’ over and over again with his fellow rabble-rousers? He looked pretty American. Where else could he be from?

 

A host of politicians and pundits after the rampage repeated “We are better than this,” or “This is not who we are.” I beg to differ. This is exactly who they are.

The New York Times posted an amazing video that did tell the truth. It said no one should be surprised at what happened. The speaker on the video pointed out the pictures in the rotunda behind the occupiers. They showed American soldiers (or at least their British ancestors) forcing native American women and children to submit to their dominance. The speaker on the video said,

“We have always been like this. America is a nation built on stolen land by stolen people. And if the rampage feels historic it’s because violence is in our national DNA. A mob razed a whole block in Philadelphia because they didn’t like the election results.”

 

America is a country where as soon as slaves were freed the rules of elections were changed to ensure that their voting would never disturb the real American choices made by their white superiors. It is a country where people don’t really believe in democracy at all, but they love to brag about it. They don’t believe in democracy because they only want the votes their own side to count. Where districts are twisted into impossible shapes so that the votes of opponents don’t count so much.

As the Times video said,

“And for the purest expression of the American way, just look at the man responsible for Wednesday’s violence–the man who leads by Twitter who knows that if you have enough money they’ll let you do anything. He told us who he was and we picked him, because this is exactly who we are. America the land of the snake oil salesman.”

 

You think snake oil is too harsh? Does that not describe the president who said he would lead the group of insurgents into the Capitol and then returned instead to the comfort of the White House to watch the proceedings on his big screen television?

To say, as Biden did, that the scene of chaos at the Capitol does not describe them is absolutely false. It is an uncomfortable truth, but as the Times video said, his “platitudes spin a fantasy as absurd as Qanon.” It is painful to admit but America prefers fantasies to hard truths. As the video pointed out,

“We can only realize our strengths if we stop whitewashing our sins. We are a nation forged in racist violence. A society that values wealth over wisdom. A country where personal ambitions mean more than morality. Masked with false piety where citizens wreak havoc with the very institutions that enable them.”

 

Now there is a new president. Many look to him as their saviour. I love Joe Biden. He’s dull, he’s boring, and I hope he won’t be a strong leader. That’s my kind of leader. But unlike Nietzsche, Biden got it wrong. He got it all wrong when he said, “this is not America.”

I am not saying this everything they are. The are fine people on both sides. Americans are also people who work together to get things done, giving a helping hand to a fallen friend, or even in some cases, a fallen foe. But these other Americans seem to have been silent for so long. Where were they when they elected a mean-spirited, cruel, and relentless bigot?

Not that Canadians are very different let me hasten to add. We have built this country by stealing land from the inhabitants contrary to promises we have not fulfilled. Often Canadians do this without resorting to war. We often have subtler and more corrupt ways of doing the same thing. We have sent  Indigenous children to schools where they were brutally assaulted in the name of “civilization” and “religion.” We are governed by unjustified beliefs as much as our neighbours to our south. Our claims to piety ring hollow. Just as it does for the Americans.

The video claims that everything we saw on January 6, as ugly as it was, was exactly who they are— because it’s the product of what they have always been. Until Americans and Canadian face that truth, we’ll never change it.

 

Ignorance Allied with power is a ferocious enemy of justice

If a person gives up on evidence, he or she gives up on truth. If, for example, faith is the foundation of belief one can only convince another of the truth of that belief if that other person shares the same faith. A Muslim cannot convince a Christian of a statement of faith. Similarly a Christian cannot convince the Muslim of a statement of faith either. A Muslim could persuade a Christian that the book in her bag is red by opening the bag and showing it to the Christian. In other words by showing the evidence to the Christian, the Christian can be convinced that the book is in fact red. If we give up basing beliefs on evidence we will relegate a lot of claims to realm of faith where agreement will not be possible.

The same goes for hunches. For example, when Trump said he had a hunch that the coronavirus would soon disappear that would not convince anyone, other than a person who had faith in Trump. Many of them had that faith so he could persuade them. They would believe him no matter how likely it was that he was right. That is why evidence is better than faith, or hunches, or feelings, or gut reactions. Faith is all right in our personal lives. In social lives where we live and interact with each other we need evidence.

Without evidence then the world of shared facts shrinks dramatically. The only shared facts then are those between members of the same faith, or between people who have the same feeling, or the same hunch. As result of the world of shared facts having shrunk many more people are ignorant than otherwise should be the case. That is an unfortunate consequence of abandoning evidence. And there is another consequence of that.

When people in power are ignorant, the rest of us had better look out. As James Baldwin said, in his 1972 book No Name in the Street: “Ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”

 In the summer of 2020 we saw a good example of this when Black Lives Matter and their supporters took to the streets to protest police brutality against black lives and the long history of black oppression.

 

As Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for The New York Times, recently pointed out: Not in generations has a sitting president so overtly declared himself the candidate of white America.”

Trump allied himself with right wing groups who wanted to maintain confederate flags and monuments so that racial bigotry and hatred could be legitimized. By doing so Trump tried to hide the roots of racism. In other words he allied himself with ignorance, as he has so often done. As a result the streets of America were made much more dangerous that summer than they ought to have been. He did that after all to emphasize to his base of white supremacists and their conscious and unconscious supporters that he was on their side. It is hardly surprising that he would do this in the midst of a tight election campaign. As Henry Giroux said, “After all, his white supremacist ideology is the cornerstone of his appeal to the reactionary and bigoted elements of his base.”

For exactly the same reason Trump got angry with NASCAR for banning the Confederate flag. It was what Giroux called “organized forgetting”. And when that is aligned with the most powerful office in the world, the American Presidency, that is, as Baldwin said, the most ferocious enemy justice can have.

Trump also proudly tweeted that critical race theory should be banned from all federal agencies because “this is a sickness that cannot be allowed to continue . Please report any sightings so we can quickly extinguish! ” People should be ignorant instead. That was more congenial with Trump’s ideology–white supremacy.

He also tweeted “How to be anti-white 101 permanently cancelled.” Really what he wanted to do is erase history. He wanted to show just the good parts. The parts that exalted whiteness. I am not saying whites are all bad. I am just saying they were not all good, and to suggest otherwise is a lie and an attempt to bury the truth. It is an attempt to entrench ignorance.

Giroux described it this way:

“Trump’s ignorance floods the Twitter landscape daily. He denies climate change along with the dangers that it poses to humanity, discredits scientific evidence in the face of a massive pandemic, claims that systemic racism doesn’t exist in the United States and mangles history with his ignorance of the past.”

Implicit in Baldwin’s warning is that the greatest threat to democratic societies is a collective ignorance that legitimizes forms of organized forgetting, social amnesia and the death of civic literacy.

Under the Trump regime, historical amnesia is used as a weapon of miseducation, politics and power. Trump wants to erase the struggles of those who fought for justice in the past because they offer dangerous memories and lessons to the protesters marching in the streets today.

Efforts to erase the progress of the past, including emancipation, is a centrepiece of authoritarian societies. These efforts cause public memory to wither and the threads of authoritarianism to take root and become normalized. They’re often accompanied by a broader attack on critical education, civic literacy, investigative journalists and the critical media.

When people stop looking at the evidence, they stop looking for the truth and they allow ignorance to rule. And that helps injustice to flourish. And that is an ugly thing.

Not happy with American Election

 

People asked me if I was happy about the elections results of 2020, The answer is obvious—of course I was. But am I satisfied? Not by a long shot!

In the 2020 presidential election of 2020 approximately 73 million Americans voted for Donald Trump after seeing him on television and reading about him every single day. No person in the history of the world has become more famous or well known. Trump can bask in that thought. That is what narcissists  and demagogues do.

No American can say they were deceived about who Trump was. Trump cannot hold back because he always thinks he can sell us on his narrative. That is what he did his whole life as a real estate developer. Every American knew exactly who they were voting for. And who did they vote for? This is not a pretty picture.

 

Approximately 73 million Americans voted for a president they knew had lied to them about the severity of Covid-19 pandemic because he did not want to alarm them. So he lied instead, thus lulling them into a false sense of security so they failed to take precautions to protect themselves, their loved ones, and the communities in which they lived.

 

Approximately 73 million Americans voted for a president they knew was a white nationalist who refused to renounce white supremacy and instead asked the Proud boys to ‘Stand back and stand by” a call that they accepted as an endorsement.

Approximately 73 million Americans voted for a president they knew voted for president who mocked handicapped people.

Approximately 73 million Americans voted for a president they who they knew thought that because he was a star he could freely grope any woman he met.

Approximately 73 million Americans voted for a president they knew  tried to pressure a foreign country (the Ukraine) to do him a personal favor of investing one of his political opponents by withholding funds that had been approved by Congress and which the Ukraine needed to protect itself from Russia.

Approximately 74 million Americans voted for a president they knew claimed that as president he could do whatever he wanted fo nothing he did was illegal.

Approximately 73 million Americans voted for a president they knew abandoned long time American allies (the Kurds) who were under attack by the Turks, thus forcing them to turn to Russia for protection, proving that “these colors run” contrary to American propaganda.

What does this say about America?   That is the real question.

 

Over Representation of Indigenous people in Canadian jails and prisons.

 

In April 1988, the Manitoba Government created the Public Inquiry into the Administration of Justice and Aboriginal People, commonly known as the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry (‘AJI’). The co-Chairs of the AJI were Associate Chief Justice Hamilton of the Court of Queen’s Bench and Judge Murray Sinclair at the time the Associate Chief Judge of the Provincial Court. Murray Sinclair later served as the Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and is now a Senator of Canada.

The Inquiry was created in response to two main incidents:

  • the trial in November 1987 of two men for the 1971 murder of Helen Betty Osborne in The Pas. Allegations were made that the identity of four people present at the killing was known widely in the community shortly after the murder.
  • The death (March 1988) of J.J. Harper, executive director of the Island Lake Tribal Council, following an encounter with a Winnipeg police officer. Many people, particularly in the Aboriginal community, believed many questions about the incident were left unanswered by the police service’s internal investigation.

The Inquiry issued its report in the fall of 1991. I was a bencher of the Law Society of Manitoba at the time. The Law Society is the governing body of the legal profession of Manitoba tasked with regulating the legal profession in the interests of the people of Manitoba. I am not proud to say what our governing body did with that report after it was delivered in 1991. The short answer is not much. Our inaction is part of the problem. I understand that now. I did not really appreciate it then, as did few of my colleagues.

The report of the AJI was one of the first reports to draw serious attention to the over representation of indigenous people in Manitoba’s jails and prisons. Almost 30 years later on the CBC radio program The Sunday Edition, which aired on August 2, 2020, guest host Elamin Abdelmahmoud asked Murray Sinclair, now a Senator, some pointed questions. He asked him this, “Senator you were one of the first judges to write about the over representation of indigenous people within the criminal justice system. You did this way back in the 1990s. Why has so little changed this since?”

The answer might surprise you. It surprised me. This is what he said in reply,

“Actually there has been quite a significant change, but the change has been upwards. When we reported on the over representation of indigenous people, the number of indigenous people in provincial jails in Manitoba was just around 60%. About 62%. Now it’s over 77%! And in the case of indigenous women represented about 78% of those who are incarcerated in the case of the AJI report, now its well over 90%! And youth numbers have gone up as well.”

Of course even these glaring figures don’t tell the whole story. In Manitoba  75% of all prisoners are indigenous and across Canada indigenous people make up a 25% of the prison population despite the fact that they represent only 4% of the country’s population. I think the percentage is about 11% in Manitoba.

Not only is this horrendous we have to understand the intergenerational impact of locking up so many indigenous people. Some more shocking numbers might make that clear too. Whether or not indigenous children themselves get involved with the Canadian justice system, indigenous children are 12 times more likely to have their family life disrupted by an agency of government such as a police officer or Child Welfare officer or some official who shows up at their house and takes somebody away or threatens to do so. These are horrendous disruptions and affect children powerfully. As Senator Sinclair said,

“You become the subject of a social control system virtually from the time that you are born until the time you yourself become an adult. So that impact is quite dramatic. You basically come to dislike or distrust those agencies who are doing that because as a child first of all you don’t understand what is going on, but more importantly you often get to resent it because you know that the person being dealt with often is a person that you don’t want taken away and you don’t want to lose in your live and yet you do. Or you yourself get taken out of the household and you don’t want that to happen and you know that things can always be fixed if only somebody would do the right thing and help the family”

Helping families is that not what it should be about?

Does anyone out there suggest that such massive over representation of indigenous people in jails  and prisons is a sign of systemic racism? Is there any other reasonable explanation?