I often think of racism as a dark cloud, one that covers the beauty of the sun even at its strongest moments of brightness. Similarly, racism will create a barrier to seeing the beauty of a person at her brightest moments, to which there will be many overshadowed by judgment, creating an obstacle for her that carries with it many tears, heartache and a pain that hits the gut stronger than any punch could, leading to causes of depression, thoughts of suicide, substance abuse and humiliation. It is also the cause of broken bridges to which many were built, many more in the process, in a country that was once divided by it, one that will continue to be should ignorance and judgment continue to lead, rather than Education and compassion.
As I age my reaction to racism is met with disappointment rather than anger and the need to Educate rather than confront or retaliate, so as I read the headlines in Thunder Bay of a woman running a platform of hate directed against Anishinaabe people, I felt the need to react, but kept it limited. As I read the headlines of another woman broadcasting hate against my people, the wife of a Mayoral candidate in Winnipeg, a place I used to call home, I felt the need to react, but once again kept it limited. I took a step back and thought about it and I wondered what they were thinking and how they got there, my grandmother called this compassion, a lesson I only recently started understanding, years after her passing.
Then I thought about my people, first and foremost, the young ones. I was at two different powwows this past weekend and I listened to the drum while the young ones dressed up in their outfits, whose parents or grandparents looked as if they put in long hours making them, danced proudly and honorably. I watched a young grass dancer with bright green regalia and a brighter smile dance hard, who knew where he was going and how he was going to get there, a jingle dress dancer with long black braided hair, unknowing of my admiration for her beauty of not just her rhythm, but where she came from and how she was being raised, evident in her brilliant stride, one of confidence.
I thought of our cultural practices, ones I continue to learn which teach the basic foundation of respect for each other, but more importantly, respect for the Earth beneath us to which we walk and care for so that our descendants may do the same. I was mindful of my grandparents who sung me to sleep every summer night with the setting sun in a North I call home, after a day of checking snares for rabbit and partridge and fishing the shallow waters for clams, a delicacy.
The image of them sitting across from one another, a burning candle and a cup of tea separating them, sharing a piece of bannock to which they both dipped in the rabbit stew we had for dinner that night still visits my dreams often. Anishinaabe grandparents creating within me Anishinaabe values, teaching me to love the people and land to which I came and learn from them the compassion and care they were blessed with.
So finally, I thought of my boys, aged 8 and 10, naïve to the path they are about to walk without choice, a path to which they will have to endure the hardships of racism and learn quickly how to cope with people who dislike them for their skin color or background, people who will judge them before speaking to them. They will have to be confused, lonely and humiliated and like many of the Anishinaabe youth beside them, before them and after them, they will cope and endure, which in turn, I am confident in saying, will make them stronger leaders because of the fact they will have each other and their families.
So as I watch the sun rise once again, a beautiful day awaits in a country that doesn’t seem to know which way it is going, with respect to unity or division as racist headlines caused by racist thought floods the news. The direction it goes I can’t control, the direction I go, I can, which encompasses a continuation of building bridges, educating the ignorant and encouraging compassion so that my children and their peers will have something to build on, which is a relationship I have with my peers, friends and the hundreds and thousands of others I will meet. The country I know from the people I know is going in a positive direction, the people I have met appreciate the need for Anishinaabe values, culture and our knowledge of the land.
So, how these women got to the point of judging a host of different tribes, many of which I am still trying to understand is beyond me. All the teachings of my Ancestors, the land and all the compassion passed from generation to generation does not give me the ability to say or assume how they got to a point of expressing negativity on a culture so vibrant and beautiful, one derived from the very land to which they walk, to which they were born. Maybe an apology is in store? Maybe a little bit of compassion or Education, maybe a bit of both, or a lot of both, I don’t know. Perhaps a visit to a powwow or our home lands, to see where we come from and why God made us the way he did will allow them to see beyond the dark cloud before them now.