A day to think about racism


For almost every worthy cause imaginable, there’s now a special “day” or “week,” or “month” dedicated to its promotion and celebration. There are so many nowadays, it’s impossible to navigate your way through the calendar without stumbling across several overlapping promotional weeks and months.

There’s yet another one coming up on Monday, March 21: The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. It’s called “international” because it was designated as such by the United Nations.

For understandable reasons, this day isn’t well-known in Nunavut. Other worthy and necessary causes have attracted the attention of Nunavut residents, such as Inuktitut Language Week. And, of course, the energies of many residents are now consumed by preparations for the celebrations that will mark the creation of Nunavut on April 1.

Nunavut residents, however, have many good reasons to pay attention to the message conveyed by the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

The Canada that colonized Nunavut 60 years ago is not the Canada that negotiated the Nunavut agreement in the 1990s. Fifty years ago, the overwhelming majority of non-aboriginal Canadians were people descended from immigrants who came from either France or the British Isles.

But the Canada of the 1990s is no longer Anglo-Saxon or Celtic or French; the Canada of the 1990s, especially outside of Quebec, isn’t even European anymore. In large cities such as Toronto and Vancouver, those whose ancestors came from the British Isles are now in a minority. The Canada of the new millenium is a country whose face will be Asian, African and Latin American as well as European and aboriginal, as immigrants from the Third World recolonize a country founded by those who once colonized them.

At the same time, the Nunavut of the new millenium will be even more of a multi-racial society than it is now. Though Inuit are likely to form the majority of Nunavut’s population for many generations into the future, and perhaps forever, Nunavut’s non-Inuit population is becoming increasingly diverse. The term “white,” as it was once used to identify non-Inuit people residing in Nunavut, is already an anachronism.

New people from new lands bring incomprehensible languages, strange foods, different religions, and sometimes alien ways of thinking. That’s hard for some people to get used to. But in the end, the presence of newcomers in a society leads to new concepts of what it means to be human, and stronger, more mature concepts of unity.

On a practical level, Nunavut residents need to face the reality of racism here. It exists here in many forms, at many levels, and for many reasons.

For example, there are still non-Inuit who privately harbour racist beliefs about Inuit, even though most have learned how to hide them in public. At the same time, there are Inuit, who, in a similar manner harbour deep resentments towards non-Inuit.

Despite all that, Nunavut is model of racial harmony compared to many other multi-racial societies in the world, especially those nations in which non-European peoples have only recently emerged from the yoke of European colonialism. Canada too, is a miraculous example of racial harmony.

That, however, is no reason to be complacent. Preserving and building upon the climate of mutual tolerance and respect that now exists between and among Inuit and non-Inuit will take hard, honest work. It may be worth your while to think about that on March 21, for a few minutes at least. JB

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