Ignorance is not bliss

We are all accountable to Loretta Saunders

I sat down, after a brief hiatus, to tap out a column. It’s not usually hard: there’s never any shortage of issues to discuss in this province, politics is always bizarre, and (perceived?) inequalities abound. I tried several times to write about the abysmal media coverage of Labrador and other regions of the province. I even started quantifying what the media feeds the public – what’s covered and what’s not (did you know, for instance, that Here and Now spent nearly half the show talking about weather and weather-related stories on, oh, let’s randomly pick March 4? Or just 20 minutes on a normal day…).

A couple minutes on the Newfoundland and Labrador Winter Games. A minute on the world’s largest skidoo race. Half as much time was spent talking about a silly YouTube video.

None on Loretta Saunders.

No discussion about murdered and missing indigenous women. Granted, I don’t want to have to talk about this either. I want to live in an equal and just society where no/body is subject/ed/ified to violence. I realize humans are violent animals. I realize we’ll never eliminate or break all of the cycles of hate, prejudice, racism, suffering, addictions, pollution, and subjugation; all the forms of violence. But we need to at least strive so that no one segment of our society is exposed to greater risk of violence than any other.

We’re not going to get there by talking more about how fat our province is becoming (which got five minutes on March 5 – the same day CBC NL re-broadcast two and a half minutes of Loretta’s vigil in Ottawa), or big snowmen (30 seconds), or what’s going on in Rio de Jeneiro (40 seconds), or the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary car break-in leaflets (3 minutes), or how many friggin’ houses burn down in the run of a week on the Avalon. Or how crappy parking is in Quidi Vidi again today.

I also added up, by the way, the fact that CBC averages five minutes a show to tell us what’s coming up throughout the other 65 minutes of programming. Some days they read us a filtered version of social media commentary. Other days they cut’n’paste stories from the national and international news. Nothing going on in Newfoundland and Labrador? Do we really need 1.5 hours of news then?

We need to do better

I’m sorry. I’m just angry I guess. I know journalists work hard in this province to pull stories together – especially those under-supported journalists in regions that get maybe one story a day (if they’re really good). I also know we can’t talk about every big issue and fill up the air with that one issue. I know people grow tired of a topic if it’s overplayed, and if us poor members of the public have to reflect a little bit about the issue. But surely when a segment of our population is four times more likely to suffer violence, or seven times more likely to be murdered – we ought to at least take the opportunity to talk about why it happens.

Surely the producers and editors of our public media can choose to air something other than news of pets, fires, how-cold-it-is-in-Labrador, fender benders, and random political speculations, can’t they? Take some of the impunity away from the victimizers. De-normalize the violence a bit and remind us that we all own it.

Maybe they’re guilty of the same thing I was. I was afraid to talk about this issue. It’s hard. Where do you begin? Whose toes am I stepping on when I talk about it? Am I going to be seen as capitalizing on pain and suffering by talking about it?

I wanted to do a column about how little coverage Labrador gets in the media in general, with nice little pie charts and stuff like that. Maybe I shouldn’t pick fights with someone who buys ink by the barrel. But the reality is, groups of people are seriously affected by how they are (or aren’t) reflected in the media. It affects whether they feel they are part of society, or apart from it. People internalize that portrayal (or lack thereof) and this is why two minutes for Labrador, and Central and Western Newfoundland, doesn’t make us feel included. Especially when a piece about roadkill in St John’s does make the news (March 7). It’s also why negative stories about Aboriginal communities make us feel separate from non-Aboriginal society and vice versa.

Stereotypes run deep

I heard some people ask how could Loretta Saunders be counted as a missing, then murdered Aboriginal woman if she didn’t look Aboriginal? I mean she shouldn’t be an instant target of prejudice and racism if people couldn’t tell she’s Aboriginal, right? Well, not really. Because Aboriginal people often come from places with higher ‘built-in’ socio-cultural acceptance of violence(s). We are more blind to those dangers than, say, someone from Beverly Hills might be accustomed to. Take us out of our hometowns, reserves, or Inuit communities, and all of the social ‘protections’ (family, friends) also fall away.

We’re so accustomed to violence that we are more exposed than we might expect. We, too, are used to maintaining the silence in our own rural and Aboriginal communities. I grew up knowing who the offenders were in my own communities, and failing to stop the cycle meant more predation, and in some cases death. And like the recent exposure of abuse in Mary’s Harbour, the fact that everyone knew yet nobody spoke up – nobody acted to stop the cycle of abuse – makes those who knew complicit. Where were the MHAs, MPs, Ministers for the Status of Women and community leaders then?

As I just pointed out, Aboriginal people often come from communities with higher risk factors for pretty much every social woe. We all know it. We are also (mostly) all guilty of letting it happen, and perpetuating the myth that somehow they do it to themselves. First Nations reserves, Inuit and Métis communities are like ghettos in our minds. Those Aboriginals are killing themselves in there, and like the Black, Hispanic, or name-your-ethnicity-inner-city-ghettos, the mainstream population just doesn’t care all that much: ‘There’s nothing to be done, that’s just the way they are’. Or worse, it’s secretly thought to be a form of population control or political sedation.

It’s othering.

It’s racist.

It’s pretending mainstream society is no longer responsible: that residential schools, medical experiments, broken treaties, economic exclusion, land theft, and genocide all stopped years ago, and those Aboriginals should just get over it; it’s no longer ‘our’ fault. They got their welfare and their free trucks, skidoos and houses, right? We’re good now, right?

We’re all accountable

It’s gotta be something like that because we can’t even seem to talk about it, let alone do something about an issue that should be our collective problem, not just a matter of what ‘those Aboriginals’ are doing to each other. Or worse, people wind up blaming or ignoring the victim when it’s a non-Aboriginal who inflicts the violence upon them.

Even those who purport to be trying to help have an inherent built-in racism. Take this petition started by Greenpeace on March 9. As they’ve done with the little white coat seal pups, this organization is pretending to care about an issue, but is really just using the death of an Inuit (not Innu as presented in the petition) woman to promote their own name.

I’m not saying Aboriginal communities can’t, and haven’t, pulled themselves up by the bootstraps and fixed their social woes (woes originating from things that have been done to them, without any actual reconciliation). There are many communities and individuals that have beat all the odds, despite all the prejudices and racism, despite all the internal damage they still carry around. More often than not, they’ve succeeded despite mainstream society, rather than thanks to all those ‘blessings bestowed’ upon us by non-Aboriginal people.

Yes. Something horrible happened, again, to an Aboriginal person. Tragically, ironically, Loretta Saunders pulled herself through her own challenges, yet succumbed to the very issue she was trying to expose. She was laid to rest on International Women’s Day. My condolences to the family, friends, and community – but let’s not gloss over this issue any longer.

Let’s dare to have the tough discussions, and tackle what is society’s problem. Aboriginal problems are Canadian problems. I refuse to live in an isolated little ghetto, imagined or otherwise. Empowerment and cooperation are the solution, not more paternalism.

We’re all accountable to Loretta Saunders.

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