Don’t promote stereotype, fight it

Hey Frank, this is your cousin, a highly successful artist.

Dear editor,

Hey Frank, this is your cousin, a highly successful artist.

So successful, in fact, I, along with five other artist, have recently received the BC Creative Achievement Award in First Nations Art. That’s right, I, a member of your home community has received an award of excellence for my message and my work.

My work can also be found in National Gallery of Canada, the Seattle Art Museum, the Vancouver Art Gallery and the Museum of Anthropology at UBC.

I have also been awarded the distinguished alumni award from the Emily Carr University and have numerous articles, interviews and essays written about my work, my message, as an artist. Some of them written within the last couple of months and on the local, national and international level.

So to toot my own horn: I am a success story. And I am not the only one.

Frank, I stand up, with pride every day, knowing that I am doing good for our people. That I am helping bring awareness to the issues that all aboriginal people face today.

I stand up, daily, to defend against all the stereotypes that are placed upon our people.

I stand up to prove that we can have worth.

I stand up every day to give inspiration to our community and our youth.

I stand up every day with the support of our elders.

I stand up knowing that  out great-great grandfather, Chief Billy Assu, would be proud of what I accomplished for our people.

I stand up, where you sit down. You are the complete antithesis of everything I stand for.

So I ask you Frank, what have you accomplished in life that gives you the right to chastise your own? How have you help our people stand up for themselves? How have you played a leadership roll that gives your the right to try and prove your superiority?

Perhaps its time to see past your own nose, Frank, because being selfish isn’t the answer. We, as Canadians, need to address the inherent issues of colonization.

We need to educate ourselves on our past so we can fully understand and offer compassion on these issues. Because you are right, as Canadians, will go out of our way to help those in need. We perceive ourselves to be a compassionate society, just not when it comes to our own people.

Not everyone can live a life of privilege, Frank. We live in a first world country, yet we segregate our own people to live in Third World conditions. Have you ever stepped back for a second and asked yourself why? What you have said promotes the stereotypes that you yourself have faced.

Attawapiskat, is just the tip of the iceberg, cousin: You know you see these conditions in our own community? We happen to be lucky enough to have not be wrought with conditions so dire. There are other issues at hand that dictate these deplorable conditions, you cannot  simply paint all aboriginal people with the same brush. You yourself have said you have faced discrimination in your life, and this is how you address the issues, by blaming the victim? So you are saying it is your fault that you’ve been on the receiving end of bigotry because of your skin. Think, Frank, think before you speak.

Frank, we have poor and marginalized people within our community that need a hand up, not a hand out. It is up to us, the people who have been fortunate enough to step outside the oppression to help our own. We need to show these people you’ve chastise that they are worth something.

You’ve blamed the victim, Frank. You are promoting the stereotype when you should be fighting against it.

You are using lateral violence to prove your self-centred sense of superiority: exactly what the ignorant and the government(s) wants to hear!

You are helping keep our people right where the Indian Act wants us. Frank, you should be standing up to prove that all aboriginal people have worth, that we warrant compassion, that we warrant action on these deplorable conditions.

You have played into the hands of the doctrine that has kept the First People oppressed for 135 years and I pity you, Frank. I feel sorry that you’ve lost your way and the connection to your people.

Frank, it is true that we have the power to dictate our own lineage in life. But some people within our community (within all aboriginal communities)  have been patronized to the point where they can only believe be the marginalized stereotype that you have just promoted.

Instead of chastising the poor, the marginalized and oppressed by calling them dumb, dirty and drunk, why not step up and help them?

Help them realize they are more than a statistic. Help them see they have value as human beings. Help them understand that they can have pride in being human, pride in being We Wai Kai.

That is your duty, Frank.

Sonny Assu

Editor’s note: Sonny Assu, from the We Wai Kai people on Quadra Island, lives in Montreal.

 

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