The Little Things III

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


 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.

Let’s look to the party of 25 who decided to take Mr. Dressup’s tickle trunk to a whole new level in late January.  I am referring to the “Cowboys and Indians” party that started at a private Toronto residence and moved to The Rhino, a hipster hangout in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood.  Perhaps you’ve heard about it?  The event was a small blip on the media’s radar. 

 A party of approximately 25 people proudly sporting feathers, tomahawks, headdresses, braids, and plaid shirts, cowboy hats and leather vests arrived at the Parkdale hotspot to celebrate two birthdays.  They grew comfortable in the bar scene, dancing, ordering drinks, making war calls and mimicking face scalpings.  They were having a great ol’ time.

They were having so much fun, in fact, that they didn’t notice the looks of utter disgust on the faces of the other patrons in the bar.  Frankie, a Rhino regular, was also trying to enjoy his evening with his group of friends but this proved to be challenging.  He couldn’t relax while being surrounded by a large group of non-Aboriginal people inappropriately dressed in traditional Aboriginal attire who were acting out in such a disrespectful way.  Frankie and his friends were also non-Aboriginal, but that didn’t matter.  They knew inherently that what they were seeing was just not right.  They took action. 

Frankie and his pals took to Twitter.  One tweet read, “There are people actually dressed as cowboys and Indians.  Face paint and feathers.”  Their tweets were pushed forward by several Tweeters, and soon thereafter The Rhino twitter and Facebook accounts were soon inundated with pressing messages accusing The Rhino of promoting and supporting racist behaviours. 

 Julie, a female friend of Frankie’s, approached Rhino management and was told, “It’s just a costume.  Get over it.”

Another individual from the group approached another Rhino staffer and was told not to worry, that the group seemed to be on a pub crawl and would surely be moving on to another destination shortly.

 Clearly, the Rhino staff members were none too concerned.

Meanwhile in “TwitterWorld,” activists, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal alike, from various areas of the City of Toronto, began to flock to the Rhino to express their concerns and show solidarity. 

One small group arrived at the bar with flyers for distribution entitled, “Our Culture Is Not A Costume”. 

 Another small group took to conversing peacefully with members of the offending group in attempts to educate the ignorance. 

 Mister G, who tweeted an update, provided that he was successful in convincing the male offenders to remove their headdresses.  “Here at the @TheRhinoBar got the guys to remove their headdress.  There are people from the First Nations here, calm I don’t know how!!”

 Following the incident, The Rhino was quiet. Comments on the bar’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, whereby writers were calling out the staff for lack of action on the matter, were promptly deleted.  On January 29, approximately one week following the incident, The Rhino issued a statement on their website acknowledging the incident and clarifying that they had no part in organizing the costume party.  They also issued an apology stating, “Please accept our deepest apologies to anyone who has been offended by this incident and our assurances that we will not permit it to happen again.”

 We can thank the small yet significant actions of Frankie and his pals who so admirably spoke up that night of the “Big White ‘Rhino’ that was in the room.”

 It’s the little things…

Karen Restoule 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.