Another day, another racist article in my local newspaper, The Chronicle Journal. This time it isn't an ignorant letter to the editor, though—it's an ignorant op-ed from a retired judge.
I follow a lot of Indigenous people on Twitter, because I want to hear what they have to say. This article comes hot on the heels of a similarly stultifying piece from Conrad Black a few days ago, and it's one day after the news that another Indigenous teen (Brayden Moonias) has been found dead here in Thunder Bay, with police reporting signs of foul play.
My city has a racism problem, and it is literally killing Indigenous people. But too many citizens refuse to acknowledge this, and now we're importing racist rants from Winnipeg when we should be standing together against opinions like this.
So I wrote a letter to the editor responding to this piece. No idea yet if it will be published. Here is the letter in full:
I wish I could say that I'm shocked that The Chronicle Journal ran Brian Giesbrecht's "System that rewards status Indians is spectacularly unfair" a day after Brayden Moonias was found dead here in Thunder Bay.
Giesbrecht would have his readers believe that the government is committing some great injustice against Canadians by continuing to "give" Status to so many people. It's curious that he has no time to consider the ongoing injustices, by commission or omission, at the hands of the government against Indigenous peoples in Canada.
This is the same demagoguery going on south of the border--just swap out "Indigenous people" with "immigrants" and you get the same disingenuous screed. In both cases, the intent is to appeal to the "regular, hard-working” people (read: white people) and whip up fear that they are somehow being left out in the cold.
With his absurd misrepresentation that we are now all somehow Métis, he shows his true colours; in this he echoes Duncan Campbell Scott, who infamously viewed the existence of Indigenous people in Canada as an inconvenience that must be remedied through assimilation. How far we haven't come in a century.
I'm not left out in the cold, and neither is Mr. Giesbrecht. I can walk around this city without being worried about being stopped by police. My existence is not controversial.
That is why it is so disappointing that people like Giesbrecht continue to be given platforms to air these opinions. This is not an issue to debate like whether or not we should have a new event centre. Indigenous people have an inherent right to the practice and preservation of their language, culture, and identity as something distinct and valuable. Indigenous people have a right to live.
One thing about the original article intrigued me: it says it is "Distributed by Troy Media". Alarm bells sounded. Recently, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver did a feature on Sinclair Broadcast Group, a media consortium in the US that is buying up local news outlets and pushing "must run" content on them with a decidedly right-wing bent.
So I checked out their website, and sure enough, here's some of the brilliant headlines they're distributing:
Like, I get it. My newspaper has a small and shrinking subscriber base and can't afford to write as much of its own content as it would like. Troy Media fills an obvious niche for them in terms of providing ready-made editorial content (or as The Chronicle Journal says on Troy Media's [testimonials page], "Can life get any easier?")
Still, the fact that this piece comes from an editorial content company with an obvious bias in no way excuses The Chronicle Journal. Its editors should have known better than to publish a trash article like this, full stop. To do so when we are in the middle of a crisis caused by the very assimilationist and colonial attitudes evinced by people like Giesbrecht is irresponsible at best and willfully complicit at worst.
Even if one wants to argue for a standard of "objective" journalism (and I think that's a debatable standard, myself), that doesn't mean the newspaper is obligated to publish every piece of content offered to it. That's the entire reason editors exist: to decide what is fit for print! I think there are reasonable articles to be run about the Indian Act, about Status Indians, etc.—but those should be written by Indigenous people, in good faith, not by settlers using their privilege to punch down.
I'm extremely disappointed by the poor editorial judgment shown here by The Chronicle Journal (and this is definitely not the first time it has happened). We have a racism problem in Thunder Bay. We are failing Indigenous people. And articles like this do nothing but fan the flames of that racism, of people's ignorance, instead of educating and actually working towards the reconciliation that has been the buzzword of this sesquicentennial year.
I'm not writing this because it's anything new. Indigenous people have been saying it for a long time. Canadian media has a huge problem with the way it portrays non-white, non-male voices.
Check out Indian and Cowboy, the media network recently relaunched by Ryan McMahon. Indigenous voices are making themselves heard in a variety of platforms. If "mainstream" media isn't going to let them in, we have an obligation to spread and support the alternatives.
It's time for settlers like myself to start talking more about these issues--not over Indigenous voices, mind you, but to other settlers, to point to those voices, to get more people listening. We need to put our money into these causes. We need to put our bodies on the line, if that's what it takes, if you're able. That is the work of reconciliation and decolonization. That's what my newspaper is failing to do, and what so many of us need to do better.