It’s the little things...II

Monday, February 11, 2013

It’s the little things...


by Karen R. Restoule*

I often think about the role of reconciliation in the Idle No More movement, how both non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal peoples play important roles in the quest to achieve equality. With images of protests, railway blockades, and highway slowdowns that run through my mind when I hear the words "Idle No More", I force myself to shift my thinking beyond the large scale exhibitions and consider the actions that occur at the most fundamental level. Much less obvious, and not widely displayed to the average Canadian, simple acts of respect and inclusion are occurring across this country and their effects are of a quiet strength. Read on...


Thomas, a popular hairstylist in northeastern Ontario, loves his job and can’t imagine doing anything else.  What other job would allow him to meet and chat with such a wide diversity of people while expressing his creative artistic side in the styling of hair. He was enjoying a pleasant Tuesday evening styling primping Connie and Suzette, who had been clients of his for over a decade. The three of them were enjoying a conversation about their travels, when Connie and Suzette began to share their opinions on the more recent Idle No More movement and its effects on their daily lives.

At one point, the exchange went something like this:


Connie: “I really wish them Indians would stop whining and crying about their rights. The government gives them enough money as it is, they should just shut up and be happy with it.”

Suzette: “Oh yes, I know. I was trying to get into town for some shopping at Costco the other day and some of them had blocked the road! They were only letting a few cars by at a time, and were handing out flyers to each car that drove by. I was curious to see what it was they were complaining about this time, so I took one and it was just another complaint about their “rights”. I just don’t understand what more they want – the government gives them so much already!”

And so the conversation continued.

Thomas grew quiet. He is not Aboriginal, but he has grown tired of hearing the complaints about Aboriginal peoples and their rights. He found himself wondering how it was that two non-Aboriginal privileged women could have such strong opinions on a group of peoples that they clearly knew nothing about. Thomas admits to having a limited understanding of the issues himself, but before forming opinions he had reached out to few Aboriginal friends and clients to whom he would ask questions from time to time. He was slowly learning, and the more he learned, the more he was able to recognize the injustice and inequality that is a reality for Aboriginal peoples in Canada and across the world.

He felt that what he was hearing was wrong, so he decided to speak up.

Thomas: “You know ladies, I don’t understand why you’re so upset and speak so poorly of Aboriginal peoples.  Just last year, you were outraged because one of our local mining companies had been bought out and your husband’s jobs and workers’ rights were affected. You both spoke so passionately about how important it was to strike and advocate about the labour rights that your fathers, grandfathers and great grandfathers had fought so hard to have recognized and protected. Why is it that you believe it to be okay for the mining workers to advocate to have their rights protected and respected, but it’s not okay for Aboriginal peoples to advocate to have theirs protected and respected?”

Connie and Suzette sat in silence as their perms set. 

It’s the little things.

*Karen is Ojibway and a member of Dokis First Nation. She is a recent graduate of the French Common Law Program at the University of Ottawa. Currently, Karen is completing her articles in the area of social justice. Prior to attending law school, she worked in provincial corrections and legal fields. She graduated from the University of Toronto in 2005, in Aboriginal Studies and Linguistics. In her free time, Karen enjoys visiting with family and friends, cooking, film, and working towards the advancement of the rights of First Nations communities and peoples.

Designed by Rachel Gold.