Color an Indian: The Struggles of an Anti-Racist Parent

crossposted from Womanist Musings

[Editor's note: In honor of her blog's first birthday, Renee at Womanist Musings has been sharing favorite posts from the site's history. I thought this one was a gem that illustrates the vigilance needed in anti-racist parenting--a vigilance that extends to watching even educators who should know better. Also note, the label "Indian," while largely unacceptable in Canada, is used by some Native peoples in the United States.]

My little guy Destruction started grade two this year.  Each night his father and I sit at the kitchen table with him and supervise his homework.  We consider this family time and are both equally invested in making sure that our child is learning.

Tonight little Destruction brought home a page to colour of an Indian. It described her as living in the forest behind his school.  There are no Native children in his grade, and I cannot help but wonder if there were, would the teacher still have found this “image” acceptable?

No matter what the teachers intent was, colour an Indian, is unacceptable.  I quickly informed Destruction that he is to say either Native Canadian, or Aboriginal person.  I also reminded him of a Native family that we have been friendly with for years, and asked him if they looked like this horrendous picture.

He said, “no they look like you and me.” I told him certain clothing is worn to celebrate traditional Native holidays, but it is certainly not representative of the ways in which Natives dress today. Then he brought it up…the Disney movie that is on my list of top 10 hated movies…Pocahontas.  We then spent the next 15 minutes explaining to him everything that is wrong with that movie, and why it is not representative of Native peoples.

Each day we must struggle to impart positive messages about race to our child, and to find out that the school is subverting our work in this way is infuriating.  With thanksgiving a few weeks away, I suppose I should not be surprised that the education system sees this as an opportunity to spread falsehoods about Native Canadians.

I am already preparing myself for the false tales of the long suffering Jesuit priests who tried desperately to Christianize the heathens, all the while ignoring the broken treaties, the stolen land, the murders, child abuse etc.  The colonization of Native Canadians continues to this very day.
They are over represented in our prison population, Native Canadian women suffer from the most amount of rapes, they largely live in poverty, and have high rates of obesity.  Colonization of Native Canadians has real and lasting effects, and this will all be over looked as our children learn about the great explorers Samuel de Champlain and Jacques Cartier.

I intend to inform my children of the history that the government would like us to forget.  I will remind them that the land on which our home is built is not ours; it is Native land.  I will remind them that the comforts that they take for granted were paid for by Aboriginal blood. 

Being an anti-racist parent means a commitment to telling our children the truth. Much of Canadian history when it comes to race is actually quite ugly though we collectively would like to believe that we are not “that bad”.  You see, discursively many Canadians develop an identity by seeking to assert difference between us, and Americans; rather than admitting to a true and distinctive identity that has its own issues.

Tomorrow I will send this little homework assignment back to his school, informing his teacher that my child does not, “colour Indians“.  My child is being raised in a household where all bodies matter and we will not tolerate the reduction of anyone based in ignorance.  

 

 

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About Tami

Tami Winfrey Harris writes about race, feminism, politics and pop culture at the blog What Tami Said. Her work has also appeared online at The Guardian’s Comment is Free, Ms. Magazine blog, Newsweek, Change.org, Huffington Post and Racialicious. She is a graduate of the Iowa State University Greenlee School of Journalism. She is mom to two awesome stepkids and spends her spare time researching her family history and cultivating a righteous 'fro.
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