White Grief: Responding to Indian Genocides & Colour Oppression

Alone
I sat through my first day of White Bison Wellbriety Facilitator's Training today. It's a Native American organization dedicated to educating aboriginal and non-aboriginal peoples of Turtle Island using culture as prevention.

While the organization is from the US, much of the information and cultural awareness is certainly applicable to Canada. I am being trained to offer the program for youth in my local community, along with my fellow co-workers. 

The thing is, I was one of the only white people in the whole room. A year and half ago, when I took my Race & Ethnic Relations course with Eastern University, the room was made up of African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Canadians, and Caucasians (even saying these terms brings a certain amount of dread & doubt, hoping I'm using sensitive terms). I even sensed the divide between American and Canadian. Yet I wasn't the minority in the room then. I was today.

There was a giant lump of mashed potatoes in my throat all day.

I had no business here.

I am not aboriginal.

The genocides… the residential schools… the small pox blankets… the spiritual/sexual/physical/emotional/mental abuse… the racism… the demonization of spirituality… the '60s Scoop… the continued persistence of the federal and provincial governments to apprehend aboriginal children…

I have never lived under such oppression.

My skin has never been brown.

My hair has never been cut.

My hands were never torn away from my mother's or my father's.

And never for centuries on end.

I have never been accused of being a dirty drunk just because of my skin colour.

I have never felt the need to commit suicide just because of my skin colour.

I have never been accused of being a welfare leech just because of my skin colour.

I have never had social services knocking at my door checking on my kids just because of my skin colour.

I have never lived under the gaze of "non-racists" making sure I tow the line of hard work.

Some people say that racism doesn't exist in Lac La Biche. Many others would disagree, and I would be one of them. Racism isn't the explosion of Nazi-like barbarism in the form of concentration camps. No… that would be an OUTCOME of racism. 

Racism is… the snarky comments made under the breath that indians use the system for free cash… the pride we feel in ourselves for being "harder workers" than indians… for feeling we have to hold VBS camps every summer on reservations because they're "unnsaved"… plenty of assumptions, plenty of prejudice, plenty of arrogance, and plenty of "they", "them", "the Other" talk.

But…

… what happens when a white person acknowledges the racism, past AND present? What happens when we see how our laws, our gospel, our ways, our dress, our talk, our forms of education, our foods, our very existence did in fact (and still does) live to eradicate American Indians, Canada's Indigenous Peoples, people of colour?

What if we accept these realities?

What then?

Many of my friends of colour in my class all those months ago said: "It's not a 'blame game'! It's about knowing the truth, accepting the truth and moving ahead together. Don't feel any guilt!"

But I did feel guilt.

A lot of it.

And shame.

I wanted to peel my white coloured skin off of my body and throw it back to God.

Just like today.

And the same response was given today: "This isn't a game of blame-laying. We do not share this to bring guilt or accusation. We share because the stories have to be told. We must share to heal."

I think I understand.

From the perspective of healing, people still alive having lived in the Canada's residential schools or our foster care system, I can understand the pure motive of simply wanting to reclaim the voice God game them.

But… (you knew it was coming)…

White people hunted aboriginals down.

White people cut hair.

White people segregated African-Americans.

White people taught love and forgiveness, but treated people of colour with contempt.

White people looked away.

White people wrote history to be… white.

White people took on Manifest Destiny and preached it as gospel.

People died.

Children were murdered.

Millions lie in unmarked graves — brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles, aunts, mothers and fathers.

When confronted with these atrocities, there is shock, disbelief, denial… it sounds very much like grief.

And grief it is.

Sitting in the session today, listening to a wise person tell me not to feel bad, I had a thought:

"I hear you. I hear where you're coming from. But I would respectfully ask the you give white people space — space to grieve. Not everyone who learns of the realities of our histories denies them. Some of us pray and hope for reconciliation at the deepest levels. But for that to happen, you must let us grieve the reality that our white ancestry did what it did, and does what it does. We must be free to grieve for a season."

I don't wish to wallow in grief, nor do I wish to be seen as a victim of anything.

What I wish for is the time and space to grieve properly the inter-generational trauma that haunts people of colour all across Turtle Island to this day. For me, as a white woman, to move ahead in faith, hope, and love, I need my friends of all colours to let me grieve reality… for a season.

Please.

Let me grieve.

I need to. 

2 comments

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  1. attack womb

    Respectfully, you don’t get to. Sorry, but oppressed and marginalized people have never been given space or seasons to grieve.

    When you are in an aboriginal space and you want to grieve, please take this advice: remember that you are not the most vulnerable person in the room. Remember that making it about your feelings (however valid or noble they might be) once again puts whiteness at the centre.

    By all means: grieve. Go home and wail and sob. Draw a bath and bawl your face off at the injustice of it all – it’s heavy stuff. If you keep paying attention, you will keep grieving. We grieve our entire lives because of the harm and injustice done to us, that keeps being done to us. Why should you be immune?

    So, yes. Grieve. It will give us something in common. Just don’t ask us for the time or space to do that in, as though your grief is something that can be conquered in a season and then you can move on.

    I will never see the end of my grief. So I’m sorry if I don’t make space for yours.

    Like

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