Westbank First Nation chief Christopher Derickson speaks at grand reopening of Sənsisyustən House of Learning in September 2019. (Contributed by WFN)

WFN chief addresses racism against Indigenous people

Christopher Derickson says confronting racism is a reality for First Nations people in Canada

The Black Lives Matter movement born in the U.S. has been labelled a global wake-up call for minority injustice.

But the furor caused by the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police was nothing new for the Indigenous community across Canada.

For Christopher Derickson, Westbank First Nation chief, systemic racism is something he has faced and learned about throughout his life, from the attempted eradication of his culture to being singled out as different from Caucasians.

Recently while sitting around the dinner table with his mom, wife and son, they recalled stories of encountering prejudice in its many forms.

Christopher Derickson (Contributed by WFN)

“My mom recounted a story that happened just a few days ago, where she was discriminated against in a store,” Derickson explained.

“She was being treated differently than the Caucasian people in the store, asked not to touch things…so racism exists in our society too and Indigenous people experience it.”

He said another incident in a local restaurant carrying racial overtones involving him and hiws wife occurred which came as something of a shock to his wife, who is non-Indigenous.

“It was the first time my wife had witnessed or experienced racism, something that a person of colour or Indigenous descent experiences throughout my lifetime and no doubt will continue to experience.

“We have to have discussions at a societal level where we listen to one another, ask questions about how racism makes you feel, listen to our perspective and learn from that.”

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He tells another story of his son, now 24, when he was a student at Kitsilano Secondary School in Vancouver, asked one day by his teacher why he knew so much about Indigenous culture, noting his son is a “fair-skinned, blonde hair, blue-eyed good looking man” who doesn’t have the stereotypical features often associated to someone of Indigenous descent.

“The teacher asked him why do you know so much, and he replied he was Indigenous,” said Derickson. “The teacher said he didn’t believe him.”

While racism has exploded in protests around the world sparked by Floyd’s death, Derickson said the roots of racism are traced by in history to the spread of western society across the globe, where the cultures of native people in newly discovered lands were stamped out by European settlers.

“The cultural decimation of cultures around the world provides the foundation for the expansion of western society, which we have elevated to being the exploration and discovery of a new world. That system has been in place for hundreds of years since and won’t be undone overnight.”

From an Indigenous people’s perspective in Canada, Derickson said they hope the Black Lives Matter movement creates headway to set an example for breaking down systemic racism around the world.

“But we don’t want to confuse Black Lives Matter with our own movement here in Canada. Our own history and how colonization impacted our culture is a different setting and conversation than what is happening in the U.S. There are, of course, similarities with racism being experienced on both fronts but our narratives are very different.”

He said talking about personally facing racism brings a unique perspective that his family can share and acknowledge themselves.

“On the bright side at least we are having the conversation about racism and encouraging others to have those conversations…”

Derickson said he takes faith in the younger millennial generation, who see the world differently than the aging demographic currently controlling the power levers of government and society influence.

“They see the world in a different way, and they give me hope those values will get reflected at the higher levels as they age and become more influential in the decision-making for our country.”

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