There was no debate about how big a problem racism is in Canada in Inuvik June 12 as residents from numerous cultures took to the streets in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter protests erupting throughout North America.
Organized by Climate Action Inuvik, the movement took on a life of its own, drawing over 50 people who marched in groups of 25 to ensure safe physical distancing as they voiced their support for the fight against racism.
Starting at Ingamo Hall around noon, the demonstrators traveled down Mackenzie Road before gathering at Chief Jim Koe Park to hear several speakers and then take a knee in silence to honour George Floyd — who was killed after a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly 10 minutes. The officer has been charged with second degree murder.
“On behalf of our late parents and grandparents, our children, our grandchildren, for everything that we have gone through since John A MacDonald decided to start the residential school in Canada, I just want you to know — black lives matter!” said Gwich’in Elder Sarah Jerome to a chorus of cheers. “We might be a little lighter shade, but we still have gone through a lot of atrocities, racism, prejudice… and we survived.”
Jerome was one of four speakers who addressed the crowd about the challenges non-white Canadians face every day.
She noted as an educator, she had to work twice as hard than her white colleagues to prove her worth and capability. Jerome said she walked out of Stringer Hall, the local residential school where the Midnight Sun Complex now stands, seething with hatred towards her oppressors. But as time moved on, she said she took back her voice — and her power.
“In 2008 I was in Vancouver for a Truth and Reconciliation meeting. A very distinguished First Nations leader got up and she said to us: change your story.
“I needed to hear that, because anybody with white skin I hated, because of the residential schools and how we were treated. I had to forgive. It took me this many years to start my healing.”
Minerva Ward pointed out Canadian racism is far sneakier than its American counterpart.
“In Canada, we like to believe we are better than the United States. That racism exists in the U.S. and it doesn’t exist in Canada. That is not true,” she said. “While I probably would never be called the ‘n’ word to my face in Canada, the racism that exists in Canada is far more deadly, where people smile to your face and undermine you behind your back because of the colour of your skin.
“White mothers don’t have to worry about interactions with police. I have a black nephew in Toronto, he’s 12-years-old, six feet tall. My sister had to coach him on how to react if he was ever confronted by police.”
She called on the crowd to challenge racism wherever they see it — in their families, in their social interactions and in the media.
Recalling she had experienced racism in every place she lived across Canada, Julie Donohue-Kpolugbo challenged the crowd to interrogate themselves and see where their power and privilege makes them blind. She reminded the crowd that slavery was an institution in Upper and Lower Canada up until the 1830s and white supremacist notions from that century still permeate modern institutions.
“It’s time to move beyond the belief system that somehow we are better and more accepting here in Canada,” she said. “Stop looking for more palatable terms without challenge to your beliefs and ideologies. All this does is reinforce and glorify brutal history right here within our own borders.
“Consider this — you can be kind, loving, thoughtful and generous… and still be racist. The time to do the hard work of self-introspection has come. A time to acknowledge where power and privileged of being in a dominant, recognized and respected position in society brings a blindness to the experience and realities of those not in that position.”
Her husband Silas Kpolugbo said the video of Floyd’s death reminded him of how people killed animals in his youth in Nigeria.
“Growing up in Africa, you didn’t buy your meat pre-packaged in a store,” he said. “You want chicken, you catch a chicken and then you kill it. You slaughter it. You cut its neck.
“You want to eat a goat. You catch one. You kneel on it.”
“You kneel on it.”
“And you cut its throat.”
“That is what was done to George Floyd.”
Following the speeches, the crowd took a knee for several moments of silence to honour the memory of Floyd.
“It doesn’t matter what colour you are,” said Jerome. “We’re all human beings.”