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Native Career Magazine        

Native Career Magazine is an ezine that highlights jobs and articles for Aboriginal people in CANADA.                          

By Mitzi Brown

“Learning About Walking in Beauty,” new report not news to this Native

Vine Deloria Jr. a Standing Rock Sioux said, "American Indians seem an enigma to most other Americans. The images portrayed in the movies, whether of noble red man or bloodthirsty savage, recall the stereotypes of western history. Newspaper stories dealing with oil wells, uranium mines, land claims, and the occupation of public buildings and reservation hamlets almost seem to speak of another group altogether and it is difficult to connect the two perceptions of Indians in any single and comprehensible reality."

The issue of racism and racial profiling has been in the news a lot recently. Is it a much-ado about nothing?

The Toronto Police Services has denied that racial profiling exists among their workforce. For people who have felt the sting of racism and racial profiling it denies their story.

Native people have felt racism since colonization.

In addition to the racism from the Federal Government and their policies like residential schools, sixties scoop adoptees, relocation of Aboriginal communities and reserve systems, we have not had access to mass media or control of what other, non-Native people say about us.

As Natives, we face ignorance about our histories and cultures. We rank very low in importance on the scale when it comes to Canadians receiving education about us and until now it has been from the non-Native point of view.

From the outside, peering in, so to speak.

A contributing force to the racism of today it has been the root of the racism.

A new report, “Learning About Walking in Beauty” from the Canadian Race Relations Foundation (CRRF) and the Coalition for the Advancement of Aboriginal Studies outlines what Canadians learn in school about Aboriginal people.

One of the findings says that over 67% of school-aged children have never even discussed issues facing Aboriginal people in Canada.

This kind of blatant ignorance has to have fed racism towards Aboriginal people.

Racism affects Native people on many levels. Systemically--when we job search or look for housing doors are closed to us.  It also affects us in our interactions with Canadians on a day-to-day basis and their attitudes towards us.

Although I am Inuit, I have been told I am lucky to have tax exemption. I don’t have tax exemption, like all other Inuit. People often confuse Inuit and Innu using the terms interchangeably. We are distinct peoples with unique cultures and languages.
When searching for employment, many Native people fear saying they are Native for fear of not getting a job interview. When I was working in a Native employment centre, there was a dishwasher job posted from a restaurant. A Native jobseeker called to inquire about the position and the manager said to come on over. He did.

He returned a while later only to say that when he was told that the job had already been filled. It was his and our suspicion that the employer had racially discriminated against him.

My executive director called the restaurant manager who said it was a mistake, that the job was still open. And that he didn’t discriminate against this Native man.

The end of that story was, a Native man got his confidence shaken and was embarrassed. An employment centre with a bunch of angry staff because the Human Rights Commission said it was difficult to prove racism without witnesses.  And finally, a restaurant with or without a dishwasher, marked by Native people who say they will never frequent or apply for employment there. 

Other research by HRDC demonstrates that in the employment arena, because of the employment equity act, that although more Native people are gaining access to jobs than ever before, they are passed over for promotions in spite of having education and experience similar to their non-Native counterparts.

This finding raises serious questions about attitudes toward Native people in the corporate sector and why Natives aren’t promoted.

Natives who work for non-Native employers, have told me that they are pigeon holed into certain types of roles; that they can only work on Native cultural issues or products or services.

An Eaton centre human resources official once told me that they were not interested in hiring a Native employee because they were downsizing their Native craft department.

My response to this person was that Native people can work as sales clerks or in any job they had. Do not relegate a Native to selling Native crafts. Personally, I wouldn't know where to begin selling crafts or more importantly give the teachings behind them.

Similarly, is a white expected to work only in white areas? Does that even exist in "white" cultures? And, are white cultures viewed as homogenous?

Or, if a Jew approached a department store for employment, would he be met with the same response: “We are downsizing our Jewish section and therefore there is no job for you.”

Native writers cite discrimination in the way they are assigned work, confined to writing about Native issues.

Native actors face the challenge of only playing roles specifically written for Natives. This is problematic not only because it stereotyping, but because there isn’t enough work to keep Native writers and actors employed in the non-Native sector on Native issues. 

Employers must hire us because we are good writers, actors or artists to do generic things, as is done with non-Natives. We also want a broader experience in order to develop professionally as other employees are awarded.

The concept that because you are Native you must sell dream catchers or write about Native issues only, is ludicrous and should be no surprise that it is insulting to Native people.

There is hope for future school children that want to learn about Aboriginal people and our cultures because of organizations like the Canadian Race Relations Foundation and the Council for the Advancement of Aboriginal Education.

The Canadian Race Relations Foundation has issued a warning to Canada, that students “must be prepared to address the economic, social and cultural marginalization of Aboriginal Peoples, which the United Nations Human Rights Committee stated is ‘the most pressing human rights issue facing Canadians’ (April 1999)."

Adding that Aboriginal perspectives should be integrated across the curriculum from the earliest grades to high school and that it will begin to address the causes of racism.

The report delivers other recommendations on how to educate children about Aboriginal cultures and histories such as setting up Aboriginal-directed professional development opportunities for in-service teachers; Aboriginal-led changes to curricula for pre-service teachers and public policies that encourage more Aboriginals to become educators. The report also calls for more analysis, policy development and redirection of resources in other areas.