Sunday, 14 June 2015

Truth and Reconcilliation: When Identity Falls Below the Flag

About eighteen and a half years ago plus two days (Yes, you can officially round my age to nineteen!), I was born in a hospital in a newly amalgamated city with a tall, steel tower which you would notice from a distance on the Highway 401. I grew up with my grandparents bringing spicy samosas back home and I learned to avoid the middle with its soft potato pieces, olive green peas and spices to render the back of my tongue in panic. I heard stories of colonialism in India and what Gandhi did to end it. At Ramadan I'd snack on the dates at 5 PM (back when the sun set at 5 PM) because I was too young to try what used to be about twelve hours without food, though I eagerly listened in a small beige hijab on the second floor of a mosque when I used to attend Islamic School about how it's one of the five pillars of Islam.

Come today and I know a relative who still wears white powder before heading to gatherings. Yet storebought samosas still go handy with glasses of milk and halal stores stand across the city. I'm a proud halal foodie and celebrated the middle of exams (Yes, the middle and not the end. Try it someday.) with another friend at a halal dessert cafe. I once saw a mosque being built in the city and tried it out later on. I'm at a university which held a vigil against Islamophobia at which a speaker told us we needed to end all hatred. Back at my high school, teachers knew it was pointless giving a significant lesson on Eid while a friend and I were able took a Biology quiz the day before Eid, also the quiz day itself. At that school I had an excellent education by teachers who embraced diversity, which I felt put me at an advantage above my peers when I arrived on campus.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission released a report about the legacy of residential schools. Prime Minister Stephen Harper did not comment on it, nor did he show any sign that he would follow its ninety-four recommendations. The report highlighted a system where children were taken from their families, abused and sometimes ended in a graveyard in Canada's bloodstain of - maybe not only cultural, but - genocide. Just for being Aboriginal.

Today the rate of children in care from Aboriginal families is high. Education on reserves is given 30% of the funds given to education off reserves. At Attawapiskat, where its chief and Idle No More's accomplished hunger striker Theresa Spence lives, a Tropicana carton is about 11 dollars. Over 800 Aboriginal women have been murdered or gone missing in Canada. When an Aboriginal elder visited my high school in the twelfth grade, it was uncomfortable leaving the auditorium knowing that she was worrying that her family was next. An article in the National Post recently covered a group of female Aboriginal high school students in Winnipeg, recently declared Canada's most racist city. Each student worried she'd be the next target.

I'm disappointed with not only the history but the remaining reality of the treatment of Aboriginals in Canada since settlers arrived from Europe. I'm disappointed that someone would put the very first cultures in the country below any others and deny them their diginity, freedom and a sense of home on their own land simply for being Aboriginal. I'm disappointed that all these years, they have not received as much funding as my own school (even though I'm wondering if my high school was one of the schools which wasn't funded largely) simply for being on reserves. I'm disappointed that orange juice from a grocery store on a reserve costs more than one in Toronto. No culture or religion should be put below another in any cubic centimetre in this world. Why does hatred and discrimination still continue?

At the same time, the mistreatment of another culture or religion unfortunately continues in Canada and looks to be expanding. Stephen Harper gave Islamophobic remarks that all radicalization begins in the mosque and proposed a bill that no one can become a citizen with a face cover while I haven't heard anything about Mustafa Mattan's death other than reading how little attention he received for being Black. I'm worried that all my hijab- and abaaya-wearing friends will experience Islamophobia, especially in the wake of the government trying to force an anti-niqab bill and claiming that Islam is a culture where women are oppressed. (I'm sure "The Opressor" never made the list of God's ninety-nine names. Meanwhile, what sounds opressed in a person who took an executive position in her high school's EcoSchools team, an engineer working at a large goods company and a person who texts you about working at a clinic until 10:30 in the night? Three women I know in hijabs.) While I don't wear a hijab, I've still got a chance of being a target. In the face of those who put excuses to hatred against another for their race or religion or anything which makes them themselves, we must be strong. If we are to be the True North Strong and Free, we must continue pouring the concrete into the cracks, the cracks of injustice which still glare under the red-and-white flag.

- FA

P. S: Though an earlier version of this post, titled "The Immigrants' Descendant on Aboriginal Land" and posted on Sunday June 14th, highlighted the struggle for Aboriginal Rights, I felt it downplayed Islamophobia as I contrasted it to racism against Aboriginals. Yet all struggles are equal and who am I to judge which one is worse than another? Yes, my high school was funded more than a school on a reserve, but that doesn't nullify any struggle in this city, in this country or in this world. I therefore apologize for what I wrote earlier and hope that my updated version rather does justice.

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