When I was 21 years old a Kamloops grocery store denied my ability to purchase mouthwash. “Some people drink it,” said the young lady, as she avoided eye contact. Naturally, I lost it and received a written apology from the manager of the store and the corporate office for what happened to me.
I get that many Okanagan people are subject to this example and far worse examples of racism from the wider society and after reading an article in the February Maclean’s magazine outlining just how racist our society is towards First Nations people, I agree that something must be done about it.
Another issue relating to racism and First Nations people is the issue of “brown on brown” racism or lateral violence amongst our own people. What purpose does it serve to put down your fellow First Nations person for not being “indian enough?” Sure, some of us don’t hunt or fish regularly, but that doesn’t mean we don’t know how. Perhaps some of us are just as comfortable in the non-First Nations world as we are within the First Nation world.
What’s wrong with that?
What makes a person Okanagan? Is it being able to speak the language? Is it being able to recount the stories of our ancestors? When I was a boy, I asked my mom what it meant to be First Nations and she didn’t even pause for a moment when she said, “Proud.”
That was good enough for me.
So I guess I’m throwing a lifeline to all of the folks reading this who have felt they have been judged by other First Nations people. Things can and will get better for First Nations people when we figure out that we have common goals and the only way to reach those goals is to work together and not keep attacking each other.
It’s strange to say, but I can almost accept Ignorant comments from non-First Nations people. I know the education system doesn’t serve them well when it comes to our issues.
What I find increasingly hard to do is to accept the racism from my fellow First Nations people. We should know better. Sure, I have a white grandma and I love her with all my heart. The lessons about love and reconciliation she has taught me will go with me to my grave.
I’m going to make a promise to be as accepting and open to the lives and viewpoints of my fellow humans, First Nations and Okanagans. I challenge anyone who is reading this to do the same. How can we demand honour and respect from the non-Okanagan world when we have a difficult time showing honour and respect for each other?