With the recent police-involved death of George Floyd in Minneapolis followed by the police-involved shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, both captured on video, the smouldering racial tension south of the border exploded into weeks of protests, riots and unfortunately, more deaths.
Many writers and educators have delved deeply into the history of fractured race relations in the United States. Springing from roots dating back to plantations and slavery, the American experience between black and white has been a long and troubled journey. Hopefully, the journey will now be forced to the next level of long-needed resolution.
As Canadians, we tend to smugly regard our southern neighbours with a sense of superiority as would a well-tended community looking over the fence at the run-down trailer park next door. But sadly, if we scratch the surface, we have our own issues.
In the mid-1950s and barely in his teens, my father left his home due in part to familial problems but also in part to escape the “Troubles” that would rock Northern Ireland for the next decades. He arrived in an England mired in class struggles, coal strikes and mine closures that put English society through a turbulent time in the 1960s. Choosing to move their young family to Canada, my parents tried hard to fit in with the new culture. My Dad’s co-workers were a diverse group of Italians, Portuguese, Dutch, German and English ex-pats along with a smattering of First Nations men. Those co-workers were routinely described in terms that today we would regard as derogatory. Drunken X, Cheap Y, and Squareheads were considered part of who you were based on where you came from.
These racial terms drifted into my generation. My hockey teammates and foes were derided and sometimes affectionally labeled with the same types of race-related nicknames. Even today, if anyone says things are much different in Terrace, then that person has not spent any time on local Facebook or other social media groups.
As we watch our American neighbours struggle with monuments and statues rooted in a their own historical view, I wonder about our own local symbols and monuments. Some have a broad historical and cultural significance such as the cenotaph at City Hall and the recently-carved logger on Lakelse Ave. We have had streets and schools named after prominent citizens, although I would guess the families of ET Kenney and Clarence Michiel are still disappointed after Suwilaawks was chosen as a replacement name.
As we attempt to discuss and improve our own fractured relationship with First Nations peoples, should we look at our own house? While the rest of us enjoy the civic festivities of Riverboat Days, for example, is that an event in which the Kitselas and Kitsumkalum peoples feel included? Did we have or is it time that we had that conversation with them and ask if we are celebrating something that represents a dark and difficult time in their history. The story of this area did not begin with the riverboats and I wonder if there is a way that we can better celebrate our collective heritage with our friends and neighbours.
The recent announcement of the extension of the Millennium Trail to Kitsumkalum could in some ways represent a pathway to discussion and reconciliation, linking the two communities together not only physically, but in a symbolic and neighbourly sense as well.
It’s not as dramatic as ripping down statues, but having that conversation is a much more Canadian way of accomplishing something together.