July 14, 2010

Native children = unsafe community?

Native group-home proposal sparks racial tension in Ontario town

As Canada comes to grips with legislated bigotry through this year’s residential-schools apology, racial conflict has not completely gone away at the local level

By Patrick White
All Lori Flinders wanted was to build a group home for displaced native youth in the town of Alberton, Ont. What she encountered was a wave of local resistance that, to her, provided a lesson in reflexive racism.

A director with Weechi-it-te-win Family Services–a child welfare agency for 10 First Nations communities in Northwestern Ontario–Ms. Flinders says a racist smear campaign and a town council swayed by a “lynch-mob mentality” recently trounced plans to build the home.

Local politicians insist the rejection of the project was a land issue, not a race issue.

But Ms. Flinders isn’t buying it. “Knowing now some of the opinions that prevail there, I wouldn’t want to put our children in Alberton,” she said, surrounded by the fragrance of burning sage in her office in the basement of a former residential school in neighbouring Fort Frances. “I’m not sure they would be safe there.”
Some of the evidence for racism:But then a flyer turned up in local mailboxes warning residents if they did not attend a June 24, 2009 meeting, “You will have a NON-SECURE NATIVE DETENTION CENTRE/GROUP HOME IN YOUR COMMUNITY.” The flyer concluded, “PLEASE! HELP KEEP YOUR COMMUNITY SAFE.”

Aside from the flyer’s factual distortion–none of the children would be involved with the courts–the racial undertones worried at least one resident.

Dorothy Friesen, who moved to Alberton to retire from a career of charity work and activism in the Philippines and Chicago, thought it was the work of “a few whackos” and that “we’d go to this meeting and outnumber them.” When she arrived at the Alberton Municipal Office that night, however, she found more than 150 people had turned out to oppose the centre.

“They said the most awful things,” Ms. Friesen recalled. “They said they’d have to lock their doors now. One person said, ‘I have native friends but this is going too far.’ Another person brought an article about a murder around an Alberta group home. So all of a sudden this youth centre is being equated with violence and murder.”

Meanwhile, at one point in the evening, Ms. Flinders recalls a woman turning to her and saying, “Don’t you get it? We don’t want you here.”
A commenter on this article adds:I've worked with various populations in group home settings and relations with neighbours tended to be from good to excellent. The residents of these homes are monitored and taught life skills to help them cope and function in the world around them. If anything the folks in these homes tend get into less trouble socially or legally as there is staff to hold them to account.Comment:  Although no one said it explicitly, it's pretty clear what people were thinking: that Natives, especially Native children, are savages. "They'll rob us, rape us, and kill us if we let them loose from their prisons reservations."

For more on the subject, see Stereotypes Teach Natives They're Inferior and "Native Extraction Service" Classified Ad.

Below:  "Former Rainy River First Nation Chief Al Hunter and a young relative sit in Mr. Hunter's backyard." (Patrick White/The Globe and Mail)

1 comment:

Betsy said...

This brings tears to my eyes and hurts my heart. I am half Laguna, half Caucasion and I have felt racism from both sides..imagine how these children must feel, knowing that they are unwelcome in their own community!