A guilt complex at the Games

Allan Fotheringham August 29 1994

A guilt complex at the Games

Allan Fotheringham August 29 1994

A guilt complex at the Games


There is a little quiz this scribe conducts when found in a room that contains more than six Canadians and a bottle of wine. It is to ask them what percentage of the United States population is black. The answers go all the way up to 45 per cent.

It is perhaps understandable ignorance for foreigners. Considering newspaper, magazine and TV coverage of American anxieties over the problems of black education, black crime, black teenage pregnancy, black single-parent families and black rage, Canadians might assume the high percentages.

In fact, the correct figure is 12 per cent. Inner-city concentration of the black underclass magnifies the perception, but there are many American states that hardly ever see a black citizen.

The guilt—justifiable—with how minorities are treated extends even more so in Canada. The 300 million around the world exposed to the televised opening of the Commonwealth Games in Victoria would naturally assume native Indians make up a very large portion of our 30 million population.

The magnificently staged event (produced and choreographed by one Jacques Lemay, another irony) had natives in tribal dress greeting visitors to their island home. There was a Coast Salish welcome ceremony.

There was a demonstration of baggataway, the Indian game that evolved into lacrosse— though the federal brains who mainly paid for these ceremonies have recently recommended that the game be chopped from Sport Canada’s payroll.

There was—made for television and not for the spectators or the athletes as all these things are—an elaborate Disney-like telling of the legend of the Kawadilikala. It must have looked great in Kuala Lumpur and Swaziland and Bognor Regis, but it was all so out of proportion.

White guilt is a powerful force. Native Indians make up some four per cent of the Canadian population. Even Canadians are surprised to learn that. As our stupid gov-

emments have never figured out how to understand and accommodate and appreciate the native population since the Europeans landed here, media coverage in recent years (guilt! guilt!) has been devoted to an attempt to redress the balance.

The stupids in Ottawa devised an oxymoron called the department of Indian affairs and northern development. As more astute observers (not to mention the Indians themselves) have pointed out, having one government department devoted to “developing” the north—i.e. oil and gas and pipelines—could not possibly be in tune with the same bureaucrats who are supposed to be sensitive to native peoples’ concerns.

A young and idealistic cabinet minister by name of Jean Chrétien, when given the portfolio, vowed that his main goal was to eliminate his own job: get the government out of the way and give Indian affairs back to the

Indians. That was several decades ago and Ottawa with its sticky fingers still can’t figure out how to do it.

Canadians’ inability to understand the Indian and the Métis and the Inuit (while leading the drive to kick South Africa out of the Commonwealth) increases, rather than the opposite, with time. The guilt complex over Louis Riel festers still. To such an extent that a relatively new statue of him on the Manitoba legislative grounds has just been ordered removed—on the excuse that because he is partially naked in the sculpture his memory is demeaned.

The New Democratic government of British Columbia is at sea, trying to counter the polls that show it almost as unpopular as the regime of the professional eccentric Bill Vander Zalm and his Social Credit loonies. Its cabinet and premier wobble this way and that, trying to reconcile its instincts to cater to sympathies with Indian land claims and its larger constituency that demands that common sense must take over somewhere.

The lawyers of the province grow rich in the never-ending disputes that arise from colonial days and end up in the Supreme Court in Ottawa, the city that is the source of most of the problems. Ovide Mercredi, representing four per cent of the population (and not even all of it) becomes a national personality on television because of federal-provincial conferences on the Constitution, Canada’s favorite sport.

And so, with some 64 Commonwealth countries watching and the Goodyear blimp overhead, the ultimate indignity unfolds. Canada, which does not treat its native peoples well, pretends it does for world television.

The unspeakable increase in teen suicides on Indian reserves is not shown for the Disney-familiar audiences who like Super Bowl spectaculars where—as in Victoria—the mere spectators in the arena are a rent-acrowd, a backdrop for the cameras.

In previous Games, athletes marched in, lined up on the grass, their serried ranks an eye-pleasing tableau. In Victoria, they are shunted into far seats, unwanted, unobserved, since the greensward is needed for the technicolor display sent around the globe.

The final insult to the Indian people is now in place. Now that they have been ignored and neglected, there is only one thing to do to them. They are exploited, on world television, for General Motors, Coca-Cola and IBM, just some of the major sponsors of the athletic frolic.