Witnessing An Act of Racism and Ignorance in NW Ontario: A First Hand Account

I know that racism exists in Canada, but to witness it in such an open manner, and in a public place is disturbing; especially, after the countless acts of kindness from all the people I have encountered during my walk.  As an aside, the acts of kindness I have witnessed were from a diverse range of people, communities, ethnicities, nationalties, whatever you want to call it; regardless, the acts were from people who held their hand out in kindness to some guy walking from Barrie, ON to Anchorage, AK!  I know that this was just one incident, but I have encountered others while walking, and thankfully I can count these incidents on only one hand and a few digits.  Nonetheless, I want to document this incident, since it was one of the most open acts of racism I have encountered thus far, and I really want to document all aspects of this walk.         

In the morning after a restless night sleep in the near subzero temperatures (< 2C) the night before, which I didn’t expect to encounter in August, I was enjoying a warm cup of coffee in a small Emo, ON family restaurant while watching the CBC morning news broadcast on a T.V. mounted in the corner of the room.  Across from me was a small two chair table where two stout middle aged men were having breakfast; the one man began dictating his opinions on ‘the native issue in Canada’, while the other man sat across from him absorbed the many lies, misinformation, and ignorance being dictated to him. 

What is most poignant about this incident is the common stereotypes, misinformation, and, the similar information I continue to hear while walking across NW Ontario.  They talked about indian’s, they talked about lazyness, they talked about how we just give them money and they don’t work for it.  Lastly, they talked about the use of the word genocide, and how they (scholars, news, and those indians) didn’t know what genocide was, since these fellows knew what this word meant.  The criteria mentioned by the one man loosely entailed the following criteria: millions of lives must be lost!  I am not an authority on this, but after hearing a panel discussion on CBC, which included some notable authorities on the topic, I don’t think a numeric value of millions of lives lost is the only defining property of determining if something is a genocide or not! 

After too many minutes of dictation by this one very opiniated man to the man sat across from him, a First Nation couple arrived at the restaurant, which was either missed by the man speaking — he was seated facing the door the couple entered, or he just didn’t care how hurtful, demeaning, and racist his discussion had become.  The conversation did lessen somewhat, but only slightly, but the word indian in a condescending tone was stated too loudly and often.  I and others sat listening to this without challenge, like staues.  

The conversation continued to mention the word Indian for the next few minutes, which is when the First Nation lady stood up, and walked over to challenge these two ignorant men.  When she first approached them at their table, she told them that she kept hearing the word indian, and with pride and a commanding posture, this brave lady stated that she was First Nation and that she didn’t appreciate the conversation they were having; the hard talking man’s face sunk, and he was now a back talking, quivering, and bumbling fool.  The rebuttle from this man was not harsh, or racist, it was a lie: he turned towards the T.V in the corner and stated that he was just discussing the broadcast about John A. McDonald behind him.  This lady concluded by stating that she lives here, and that she has lived here her whole life: this was her home.  After this brave, fiery lady sat down, the two men quickly paid their bill and left the table in a similar speed.  

It saddens me that this lady had to stand up and challenge this absolute ignorance during her breakfast at a restaurant!  Moreover, why didn’t I stand up against such racism?  If it is was someone talking about another minority group or religious group in a racist manner I would of stood up against him, and I am sure others would of as well; unfortunately, in this incident I sat in quiet disgust and so did others.  

After witnessing this event, I walked over to that couples table and apologized that she had to do that, and that I regretably sat there like a fool.  I commended her for what she had just done, and that she had every right to do what she did.  We had a quick conversation, and afterwards, her and her husband shook my hand and wished me luck on my journey. 

I later asked the waitress if this was a common occurance, and she stated that it was, but not as blatant as this morning; usually the conversation is quelled when a First Nation’s person is around.  Simililarily, I have witnessed many racist comment while I have talked with people along the way, which is unfortunate; however, today was the first time I have witnessed someone openly displaying it in public.  I know racism exists, but this time it really hurt me to see it so openly expressed.

While walking across NW Ontario, the First Nation communities I have encounter have been nothing but kind to me.  They have given me a place to sleep; money from someone that I later found out they really don’t have to give; I was also invited to share great food with them, and the conversations with them have been compelling and insightful.

2 thoughts on “Witnessing An Act of Racism and Ignorance in NW Ontario: A First Hand Account

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  1. Lovely to read your experiences on this journey you’ve embarked on Matt. The good, the bad and the ugly. Stay safe and humble.

    -Sarah (Gail’s daughter) The Sleeping Giant Guest House, TBay

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