Racism in Canada – Continuing the Conversation


Racism in Canada2

I’ve been absent for a few weeks.
Nothing quite like a pandemic to take the wind out of your sails.
For whatever reason I’m experiencing a lot of social media fatigue…I’m sure there’s others out there.

I’m excited to have a guest on my post today: Robbie Nagle

I first met him and his family when I was homeschooling my own kids. Him and his sisters were always kind and polite to others. And just fun to be around. Perhaps because they are a family of geeks (Geeks Unite!).

I’ve become more aware of racism against Indigenous people after moving close to the Six Nations reserve (of the Grand River) but I haven’t had the opportunity to talk to anyone about it. So I’m glad that Robbie agreed to share with us over the next couple of weeks.

I’m sure I’ll learn tons and I hope you do too!


So Robbie, tell us a little about yourself.

I come from a large family – I am the oldest of 12 kids, with my youngest sibling being less than a year old. I am married to a wonderful woman and we have a three year old son who both fills me with life and is the reason I am addicted to caffeine! I am a children’s and youth pastor at a church here in Brantford and just love what I do! I am kept pretty busy between my family and my ministry but when I do get a chance to enjoy some free time there is nothing I love more than stories. Reading a good book, watching a good movie or play, or even better writing a story myself!

What is your heritage?

I have a rich tapestry of cultural heritage – most of Europe floats in my genes somewhere down the line! However the largest solid chunk of my heritage, and the one that has enriched and touched my life the most – and led to the most pain and difficulty – is my first Nations background. I am Cayuga – one of the six nations, properly known as Haudenosaunee.

Have you (or someone you know) ever encountered blatant racism?

So 9 months out of the year you would have to look real close at my face to know by sight that I am indigenous – I have the pale skin of my Irish ancestors – so I don’t often face immediate discrimination. Although, since wearing masks through this covid situation I’ve had several employees at shops treat me with far less civility and much more suspicion because my eyes (the most distinctly indigenous feature of mine) are now all they can see.

I have had colonial family members make comments about me and my mom’s side of the family based solely on native stereotypes that didn’t match at all with reality – things like we’re lazy, entitled, alcoholics because that is the picture they have of all indigenous people, despite our high work ethic and simple and generous lifestyle. Confronting them about that ended terribly by the way. So since I just look white people around me seem to think I won’t have a problem with them telling me all of the things wrong with indigenous people – and then there is the awkward moment where I tell them that’s me and my people they are talking about. They either continue, awkwardly change topics or pull out my least favourite response – “not you, you’re the good kind of native”. What does that even mean? Oh wait I know – the kind who has assimilated into white culture. Totally not me by the way.

My family members have experienced much worse. My mom is usually the one that gets the extra eye on her by the staff when she’s shopping – because around here if your native you’re probably going to try to steal from them. (Cue the eye roll) My uncle was pulled over and given a hard time by the police for driving the speed limit (more like driving while being indigenous). My grandma experienced so much prejudice growing up that she told me recently she had always wanted to just act like she was white. In fact the reason that my mom had to work so hard to try to learn and teach us our culture is because my grandma disassociated from our heritage  – which has actually been the goal of the colonial government from the beginning, assimilation. Let’s talk more about that in the next post because that is some foundational stuff for an understanding of the systemic racism problem as it effects indigenous people.

What would you want people’s first impression of you to be? Is that often the case?

What would I want people’s first impression of me to be? Probably that I am a soft and gentle person who wants to bring some joy and love to them. Is that what people see first? I don’t really know. The impression I have been getting lately (since the aforementioned mask thing) is that they view me as someone to be avoided. But alas…

What are you passionate about?

Easy – Jesus’ kingdom. As a follower of Jesus I believe he has called me to be a part of how he brings his kingdom of love here on earth as in heaven. Sometimes this looks like teaching people how to understand the Bible, pointing people to Jesus, helping them to become more like him. Often these days it looks like speaking up for the vulnerable and oppressed, pushing for peace and justice because king Jesus calls his people to be people of peace and justice. It always means loving and serving those around me.

What’s the one thing that you wish people knew about indigenous people?

What is something I wish people knew about indigenous people? This is a hard one. There is so much! Most foundational basic thing I wish people understood? That each indigenous nation is a separate and distinct nation – separate from other indigenous nations, but also separate from colonial Canada. This means that I can’t tell you in any authoritative and meaningful sense about a nation outside of my own – nor can someone from one nation speak on behalf of mine. It’s a personal irritation of mine when colonials treat all indigenous nations like we are one monolithic culture failing to recognize each of us has our own distinct culture and history.

This also means that our collective relationship with Canada is a long and complicated one guided by treaties – agreements binding our nations. This is really where the heart of a lot of current misunderstanding comes when indigenous rights are talked about. When settlers first arrived to turtle Island there were hundreds of distinct nations – with their own complex alliances and rivalries – and the settlers presence here was made possible only by treaties forged between settlers and our indigenous nations. Some of the most famous around here being the two row wampum, and the silver chain.

Relationships between the colonial government and our nation’s should be nation to nation relationships between allies based on treaties – however from the very beginning these treaties have been violated and abused by the colonizers as they work towards their stated goal as far as indigenous nations go – complete elimination of all indigenous culture and people through genocide and assimilation. Don’t believe me? Take a brief snapshot of just one influential early politicians push for the elimination and assimilation of our people by reading this national Post article on Sir John A. Macdonald (https://www.google.com/amp/s/nationalpost.com/news/canada/here-is-what-sir-john-a-macdonald-did-to-indigenous-people/wcm/5b55e85b-39ec-41d7-a6ba-b89ebb938ff8/amp/)

Thank you so much for sharing with us today Robbie. I look forward to learning more.


4 thoughts on “Racism in Canada – Continuing the Conversation”

  1. “It’s a personal irritation of mine when colonials treat all indigenous nations like we are one monolithic culture failing to recognize each of us has our own distinct culture and history.”

    Just wondered if it is possible for First Nations people to accept that us ‘colonials’ are not one monolithic culture either. Though some people are just plain bad, some are unkind, some are misguided – but most are as respectful of others and as anti-racist as Robbie is.

    1. Robbie’s response: Great point! As to the last comment (about not all colonials are racist) that is totally true – also not at all what was being said or implied by the above quoted point. Nor do I know a single indigenous person who believes all settler Canadians to be racists. Systemic racism (we will talk more on that in the upcoming post) doesn’t mean every member of the system is a racist. It means the system is stacked against certain groups in preference to others.

      Now as to the not treating colonials as a monolithic culture there is two aspects that should be touched on – culturally it would be equally ridiculous for an indigenous person to expect someone of French descent to explain Irish culture (as an example) however that doesn’t often happen – where as indigenous people are often lumped in as one culture despite drastic differences. The larger piece here is governance and group identity. In this sense colonial Canadians are a monolithic culture – though they came from different nations, they opted to form a new government and thus collective identity. Indigenous nations did not do so (with some exceptions – such as my own nation, which formed a group of nations). Yet often in land disputes people are quick to find someone from a different nation offering an opinion on the nation whose land is in question – which would be much like The USA saying they can do what they want with a portion of Ontario and it’s okay because Greenland said Ontario should let them. I hope that helps clarify!

      1. Yes, Canadians came from many cultures and they chose to form democratic government systems at the federal, provincial and municipal level – which allows for a rich and diverse way of living in communities. What I like best about Canada now is that we are surrounded by so many cultures (my grandsons grade school had students from 37 countries) and we choose to celebrate our heritage while being thankful we are Canadians.
        I’m glad you do not know a single indigenous person who believes all settler Canadians to be racists. I do not know a single person who lumps indigenous people into one culture either.
        I understand the distinction between being racist and systemic racism… or at least, I know what racism is by definition. I don’t know what the term means anymore – it is flung about so broadly and randomly.

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