"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

White Privilege III – A Personal Encounter

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So, I argued myself in two earlier posts to a position where I’m convinced that the oft-touted idea of ‘white privilege’ is post-Christian.  That hasn’t shifted, but I had an experience the other night that opened a bit of a window for me that makes it a little easier to understand what people are trying to get at with the flawed concept.

The event was a dinner with a group of colleagues after a few days of really productive and cooperative work.  I was, as is usual, the only indigenous person in the room.  Because I neglected to wear my sash, or to carry my fire bag with me I looked the part of an entirely white Canadian.

A conversation started around the upcoming hunting trip of a relative, and how she had been given privileged access to that hunt because she was Metis.  The immediate comment which followed was that she was only something like 1/16 native, and how unreasonable it was for someone like that to receive any special treatment.

I was about to jump in with a comment about how blood quantum was an out-dated concept in Canada, this had been confirmed by the Supreme Court on a number of occasions, and that the concept was considered somewhat racist.  Before I could do that a couple of side discussions took off about privilege based on native ancestry that left me feeling very unsettled.

One comment was a joke about ‘traditional hunting grounds’, and that because one Metis relative’s mother had always shopped at Safeway it was now joked (by other non-inidgenous family members) that he now had the right to hunt there.

This was meant in jest, mostly.  What really struck me was how easily the discussion unfolded for those around me, and how isolated I had suddenly become.  If at that point I did what I probably should have, which was to speak truth into the lie, I would have risked lots with a group of people that I have to work rather closely with.  I would have become one of those activist indigenous people who are always looked on with suspicion because they’re always making those around them uncomfortable.

Certainly a moral failure for me, as it was a great opportunity to rebuke a destructive untruth.  What really shocked me was how easily all the words fell out from people’s mouths affirming the banter which was going on.

I still wouldn’t call this a question of privilege, as what was happening was not a question of being privileged.  What was happening was a question of being powerful over those who have no such power.

I’m not used to the feeling of being powerless, and indeed on lessor issues (not involving indigeneity) I’ve taken things right to the wall to make sure that my voice was heard.

So, if people want to start speaking about white power, I think I could get on board with that.  It really circles around the drain called ignorance in the bathtub of neglect.  But it is a bit clearer to me now exactly what dynamic is at work.

I’m learning also about being fierce on these issues, mostly from observing a community of fierce indigenous women on twitter, most recently around the question of Joseph Boyden’s claims of indigenous heritage (which have been pretty conclusively demonstrated to be fantasy rather than fact).  Their example is what will set the path for me ahead.

It also confirms something viscerally which I previously only knew academically – it is difficult to understand power, until you have experience powerlessness.

[As a footnote here, I’ll note that the term ‘native’ is almost entirely discarded by anyone who has been paying attention to the community – there is no such thing as ‘native’ identity.  One thing stated clearly out of the Boyden debate is that there is no one person who has a right to speak on behalf of ‘natives’.  The reason is 600+ individual communities, and tens of thousand individual experiences, all which contribute to the discussion.  This is one of the most radical concepts to come out of indigenous community – that achieving consensus on any question requires listening to many voices, and continuing to listen until the voices are done.  This is why the government’s desire to finish the TRC legal process is an example of that white power – the real discussions have not really even started.  To my indigenous world view, what the TRC has done is created a space where we can start to tell our stories.  As we’re seeking to undo something like 300 years of violence and power, this is not a question that will be resolved within a generation.]




Written by sameo416

January 20, 2017 at 6:32 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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