February 15, 2011

Conspiracy of Silence stigmatizes Native women

Conspiracy of Silence:  The Riveting, Real-Life Account of The [Helen Betty Osborne] Pas Murder and Cover-up that Rocked the Nation

By Jorge Antonio VallejosFour white boys. One Cree girl.

Four cowards. One warrior.

Two white boys given immunity, one acquitted, one handed a life (?) sentence. A stolen and erased Aboriginal sister joins her ancestors. An Aboriginal community saddened and silenced:

This is the Helen Betty Osborne murder, court case, and disgrace.

Journalist Lisa Priest starts her sympathetic and problematic book Conspiracy of Silence by saying, “November 13, 1971 was cold and miserable.”
Vallejos notes a problem with the book:Doing what conventional journalists do, Priest, a white woman, gives you the dirt that most people want to read—it’s her training, her job, and her cultural background. There is a sympathetic tone throughout; there is good investigative work on every page; there is the sense of exposing a wrong that needs to be justified; but there is also Priest’s own unchecked assumptions and racism.

The “cold” in the first line of Priest’s book is transferred to her zombification of Aboriginal women:

Native women hung out on the streets…they had been waifs who had been turned out on the street either because their parents didn’t want them or because they cost too much to feed. They were neither beautiful nor attractive. They craved affection in any form…They were malnourished, with dried eyes, prematurely wrinkled faces, and round bellies due to starchy diets of bannock…They stood leaning sloppily to one side. Some of them sniffed glue to get over the beating from the night before, but all were helpless because they had nowhere to sleep except under the railroad bridge.
At times like these you wonder what Priest is trying to do. Does justice come through villainous jabs? Is empathy practiced through disempowerment? Is truth to be exposed through sweeping, racist statements?

None of the Aboriginal women this writer knows fit Priest’s description. Published in 1989, the description of Aboriginal women in Conspiracy of Silence is a part of the larger conspiracy to keep the epidemic of the 800+ MISSING and MURDERED Aboriginal women of Turtle Island from the world. Canada, a safe haven for millions who come from other lands, is unsafe for the life-givers of the original peoples. If and when news gets out that Aboriginal women are under attack with the support of government and police inaction, the response given is a description like the one Priest gives, along with blame laid on the women.

One of the biggest things activists both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal are fighting is the stigma of Aboriginal women that Priest promotes in her book. In a book that is supposed to fight the problem, Priest willfully adds to it.
Comment:  Vallejos says Priest's tone when describing Native women is off, but doesn't give much more than the one example above. That makes it hard to judge how valid his criticism is.

For more on the subject, see Amnesty International Honors Native Reports and Media Ignores Victimized Native Women.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It all depends on where to go. I only ask for an accurate portrayal, nothing more or less.