An incident occurred recently which left me feeling sick at heart.
I was at an event, there to offer words of encouragement and acknowledgement for people being honoured for their good work and as well to offer words of prayer, a request to Creator for all to go well. Before things got rolling, a man approached me from the audience and said, “Hey chief, how are you doing?” I immediately told him not to call me ‘chief’. I further stated, “I am not a chief, call me ‘chief’ again and you and I are going to have a major problem on our hands.” The man instantly apologized. He approached me again a few moments later and again expressed words of apology. I let him know that ‘chief’ was a derogatory name racist white people give to First Nations men and that I did not tolerate it. The man said he did not know this. I accepted his apology and we shook hands.
The exchange bothered me the rest of the night and I awoke with it on my mind the next morning. I remember a poster in a prominent place in a room where activists meet. It featured a photo of a lunch room where white workers are sitting at tables in groups. Sitting alone at a table is a First Nations man (worker). At the bottom of the poster it read “His co-workers call him ‘Chief’, at home his children call him ‘Dad’. ‘Zero Tolerance on Racism’ the poster stated in large letters. The poster’s message: The co-workers of the man sitting alone, though they called him ‘chief’, were not motivated to do so out of respect but were doing so because of racism. If the First Nations man was indeed respected, he would not be eating his lunch by himself.
Ignorance is sometimes like a lash across the face. The words of the ignorant can be just as hurtful to a member of a minority as those of a bigot. One must inform themselves about title and protocol before approaching individuals of different cultures for conversation. It simply is all about common sense and respect. That a lot of folks are unaware the name ‘chief’ is derogatory (has been for generations) only proves to me that many Canadians never cared enough about First Nations Peoples to know what is offensive to them and what is not. If I were a chief I would accept the title with honour. I am not a chief so do not call me ‘chief’, please.
I will never accept that ‘chief’ could be said as a show of ‘respect.’ If you really do respect me, then please call me by my name. My name was given to me by my loving parents. Use it! Anyone who believes it is his ‘right’ to bestow ‘respect’ onto a member of a cultural minority with a name ‘he’ feels is appropriate for ‘them’ has a superiority complex boiling in his subconscious. What offends me is what offends ‘me’. You make a huge mistake when you see it otherwise!
As an activist I have a thick skin. I would not be a very good one if I did not. To insults and slurs from my enemies, I say, bring ’em on! I won’t back down! I can take it! But when people who approach me under the guise of what defines respect and friendship and then offend me by calling me a racist name, look out, my reaction will be the same as it would if the hurtful word had been said by a racist and bigot. True friends know better! Respect is what it is, it does not have several definitions. Check the dictionary if you do not believe me.
All I want is respect for First Nations Peoples, the women, the children and the men on this rich land of ours. Is this expecting too much?
Albert, it saddens me to hear of this hurtful experience. Thank you for sharing your story. It is my hope that by sharing this we can cast light on the struggle that far too many people face every single day.
I am a visible minority. We went out as a group from work to eat at a farewell lunch. I ended up not being able to sit at a table reserved for others. When I say reserved, these colleagues would not let me sit at their table because they were holding it for their clique. It happened again this month. I am not ashamed to say that I cried and I was hurt. I have resolved never to attend group lunches again.
I am at least encouraged that the fellow seemed ready to “stand corrected”. Very often embarassment gets channelled into anger and strengthens hostility. We most resent those whom we have slighted.
I appreciate that you did him —and all of us— a favour by taking him up on his words and making him really see what they meant; recognizing it came with a cost to you of a stressful time.
I’ve experienced when people address women and I’ve watched when older people are addressed with words that trivialize their dignity, too — often it can be a clumsy, ill-informed but real wish to be friendly and jolly. They seem confused when it is explained what they are really implying, if they stop to think about it, or what unhappy attitudes and historic associations those words revive.
Not all people are well-meaning, but the sign of good will is that at least he or she will try to hear, to re-examine assumptions, to learn better. It must be tiring to be continually in the position to have to decide whether to be the one who has to do the teaching!
It is unfortunate that Albert Dumont has been treated with such disrespect. I have heard him address many meetings of the PSAC and has always been respectful of us and should be treated in kind.
Thank you, brother, for sharing this story. The subtle difference between hatred and ignorance rarely changes the hurtful outcome. I am saddened when I see people use such terms, even when they mean no harm.
And I am concerned that our post-9/11 world has increased an us-versus-them attitude, where people become more prone to focusing on differences than similarities. But I am encouraged when I see people confident enough to correct the slurs and somehow turn the event into a positive learning experience for others.