Tuesday, August 05, 2008

A Double Standard Brought To You By Canadian Colonialism

Recently I was involved in a conversation with an indigenous person who has had many years of experience responding to the desperate need found in most indigenous communities in Ontario, through working for and with state-funded nongovernmental organizations run by indigenous people and with a mandate to provide social services of various kinds to indigenous people within the Canadian state. They are what we knew as "Aboriginal community agencies" when I worked in the agency sector. I was blown away by what this person had to say about the extent to which such agencies are pressured to keep the people that work for them out of involvement in activities that their funders might not like. That is, out of anything resembling politics.

I mean, I worked for a white-dominated mainstream para-state social service agency for a couple of years, and I learned a lot about the ways in which funders control what such organizations can actually do. It is not pretty, and it is definitely an instrument through which hegemony happens. I think the Liberal Party of Canada deserves to be condemned en masse to an eternity of breaking large rocks into smaller rocks using only xylophone mallets for their role in creating the swell in homelessness in Canada in the late '90s and then cynically pretending to deal with the problem through inadequate, misdirected bandaid funding (some of which paid my salary, I'll admit). Though to be fair I know lots of people in lots of communities used that money to do important, even heroic, things that saved lives and reduced suffering, because it was what they had to work with.

But when I worked there, what we did off the clock was our own business. I'm sure there were limits to that -- that I could come up with scenarios in which my non-work political activities might have resulted in me being fired. Or, since the boss there was pretty intensely lawsuit-averse, that could have meant my contract would have been quietly not renewed. But most of those scenarios involve me being not just involved with radical politics but also being an idiot, or else the existence of an intensity of social struggle that has not come close to existing for the white-dominated radical left in this part of the world during my adulthood.

But according to the person I talked to tonight, Aboriginal community agencies are pressured by their funders -- that is to say, the settler state, for the most part -- with sufficient intensity that in many cases even showing up to the wrong event on your own time can get you into trouble, and a pattern of visible own-time involvement on the vaguely radical side is guaranteed to do so. Even granting that this may not be a universal experience, it says something that the way this was related was that it was just a fact of life.

This clear double standard makes me think of a story once relayed to me by a fellow young-middle-class-white-guy I was active with when I lived in another city. He told me he had been talking with someone we both had met a few times, a respected older Mohawk guy who, judging by what we knew about all the things he did in the community, was very much an activist, and was from a family that had a reputation as activists. This guy said, with a glint of grim humour and obviously making a point to my friend, "You're an activist, eh? You won't find any Indians who are activists, because they all end up locked up or dead."

No comments: