recognizing racism in Northern Ontario

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So there’s a story around here about a company promoting ice huts that said in their ad: “Please no status card users! You are not welcome in our huts. Equality for all or you will not get the time of day from us and will lose any deposit paid to us.” Since the uproar over it the owner has tried to claim he was just saying that everyone (including natives) has to abide by fishing regulations at his huts (even though legally those fishing regulations don’t apply to natives). I‘m watching on the local news as commenters try to defend the guy, claiming that the owner wasn’t racist he just worded the ad wrong. This idea that something isn’t racist if you can imagine a better way of wording the argument the person wanted to make is so wrong. Racism is demonstrated in the person’s willingness to not care if his poorly worded add discourages natives from coming to his huts.

I’m not linking to the stories about this, or to the ice-hut company because one of the native chiefs has spoken out accepting the man’s apology and asking that people give the man a chance to change. In other words, don’t hound him, don’t public shame him. I respect that. I think it shows real strength of character on Nipissing First Nation Chief Scott McLeod’s part.

I do think the situation is worth talking about, because I think we need to recognize that racism is harmful even if a person doesn’t mean it. Intent is not all that matters. If a person had a sign in their window saying “Jews not welcome” and tried to justify it by saying that all of his recipes depend entirely on including pork, we’d recognize this as racism, right, because he choose to say Jews not welcome rather than “Taste the pork in everything!” The ice hut company chose to reject the people, rather than spell out their rules (and “Equality for all or… ” doesn’t actually specify what equality means. It doesn’t specify whether the ice hut would be willing to accommodate natives who agree to not use their status rights or whether all natives are rejected until equal fishing rights for all are law.) People defend themselves behind claiming things it was just poorly thought out but not thinking is not an excuse.

I agree that the ice hut owner should be allowed space and time in which to change. He should not be hounded. He should not be stalked or harassed. I think though there is a huge difference between saying he needs space in order to change (as chief McLeod said) and trying to deny that the add was racist (as some commenters have).

The ice hut owner doesn’t own the fish or the lake. I get that he doesn’t approve of natives having different fishing rights, but I can’t help wondering…. is this the equivalent of a hotel owner setting rules that two men can’t sleep in the same bedroom because he doesn’t approve of gay relationships? To what extend does a rental service have the right to set rules about what legal things people may or may not do in his rental place? I know some limits are allowed but I don’t know which are. I would be curious about what legal grounds there could be for insisting that people catch less than the number of fish they are allowed to catch.

I want to end this post with a few links to other articles about racism in Northern Ontario.

Racism in Ontario <– a radio podcast talking about the need for data about racism in Northern communities, because the first nation experience is different.
Racism forces Sudbury family to keep ‘low profile’ about their Syrian heritage
Tribunal finds for Sudbury man who was spat on and called a f–king Jew. (NOTE: the restaurant has changed owners. Do not take out the action on the new owners.)

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One Comment

  • Jim Demers

    Totally agree and a good opportunity to teach your children about Aboriginal rights under Treaties and Human Rights under the Charter. Lake Nipissing has the added complexity of being under two separate jurisdiction the NFN and the MNRF. They have both been working together on the Nipissing issue until this recent situation. This particular ice hut company actually doesn’t even have a license to rent huts which is illegal. There certainly is racism in Canada and it rears its ugly head every now and then – however its the underlying quiet forms of racism that seem to pervade through groups and communities. PS on another note as a retired teacher/tutor here is a link to an awesome site that’s free and has links to many fun curriculum based activities in all subjects from kindergarten to gr 12. http://linktolearning.com

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