Aboriginal Racism in Canada

Indigenous and non-Indigenous people are turning the tide

This series of three fact sheets focuses on racism experienced by Indigenous peoples in Canada – how to understand it in historical context, how it affects individuals and communities, and what programs, policies and strategies exist to combat it.

In the first fact sheet of the series, Understanding Racism, author Charlotte Reading describes the historical construction of race as a concept used to classify difference and maintain social hierarchies. The ideology of racism emerged from beliefs about racial inequality, which rationalized unfair treatment and diminished opportunities afforded to certain groups – most often non-white and Indigenous groups. Reading also explores several different forms of racism, including epistemic racism, which reflects domination of knowledge; relational racism, which refers to the context of everyday human relationships; structural racism, which frequently takes the form of social exclusion; symbolic racism, which operates on a subtle and hard-to-discern level; embodied racism, in which the inequalities experienced by racialized individuals is evident in heightened risk of physical violence, injury, or poorer health outcomes; and colour-blindness, a perspective which suggests that racial differences are not significant and thereby ignores or denies the existence of race-based injustice.

The second fact sheet, Aboriginal Experiences with Racism and its Impacts, written by Samantha Loppie, Charlotte Reading, and Sarah de Leeuw, explores the impact of the lived and structural forms of racism experienced by First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples in Canada. As the authors point out, racism is acutely experienced by many Indigenous people in Canada, [infecting] the lives of individuals and institutions – sometimes quietly, sometimes covertly … but always unjustly. The fact sheet provides an overview of expressions of racism, including racialized stereotypes and stigma, violent racism, and structural racism. The discussion of structural racism explores how paternalistic and disempowering federal policies and institutions perpetuate and deepen discrimination against Indigenous groups. These damaging systems and institutions include the policies of the federal Indian Act, the appalling abuses inflicted through the residential school system, and ongoing race-based discrimination and injustice experienced by Indigenous people involved in the justice and health care systems. Indigenous offenders are more likely to receive jail sentences if convicted of a crime and are currently the most over-represented group in the Canadian criminal justice system. In the health care system, Indigenous patients often experience longer wait times, fewer referrals, and disrespectful treatment. These historical and contemporary experiences of racism have been felt through generations of Indigenous people, causing cumulative and collective wounds that are not easily healed.

In the third and final fact sheet of this series, Policies, Programs and Strategies to Address Aboriginal Racism: A Canadian Perspective, author Charlotte Reading delves into the complex efforts to address racism in Canada. She describes several anti-racism interventions, including those focused on the media, in anti-oppressive education and cultural competency, in the health care system, and in federal policy through anti-discrimination legislation. As Reading concludes, "Alone, Indigenous people can do little to combat racism, particularly when it is so pervasively and deeply embedded in the ideological, political, economic and social structures of Canada. But together, as allies, Indigenous and non-Indigenous people are turning the tide."

 

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