The Barrie Examiner has been publishing numerous racist opinion editorials by Joffre McCleary, and Native Twitter is donewithit. McCleary’s bold statements include an editorial about how savage indigenous people were, titled, Europeans Brought an Administrative Structure. He writes, “Our European forefathers introduced woolen blankets, copper kettles and metal implements to the indigenous people they met. No longer would the women of the tribe have to chew pelts to make them supple. … Ask your wife to chew on a hide for a week and see how long your marriage lasts.”
Racism and misogyny and misinformation are fine enough for local papers across Canada, as per my experience as a Native woman. As a child there were often cartoons about “wagon burners” in our newspapers alongside the bias coverage on Native issues, framing our people as homeless, or drunks, or, there were the “compassionate” pieces that patronized us while simultaneously trying to fix our “plight,” the same ones we see online today.
Pieces like these belong in the obituaries as the last few words of rambling dead men. Emotionally dead, spiritually dead, intellectually obsolete—it all feels the same. There’s no point refuting white people who prefer the narrative that indigenous people were savages, because we were here for thousands of years before they came. If they think their rinky dink blankets saved us from anything, their deductive reasoning is on par with their writing: utterly lacking. They should take their blankets and go home, and stop writing.
The problem with their reasoning is that it’s polarizing. It asks indigenous people to defend ourselves, and to posit ourselves against something when we’d prefer confluence, restorative justice, equality—human rights. These desires require some level of complexity in discourse and idea, so the roadblocks of stupidity hinder us indeed. If people like this want us to “get over it” so badly, maybe they should stop living in a past they refuse to research adequately. The truth is they don’t want to exist in the present anymore than they assume we do, and their reasons are more dubious. They probably long for a segregated life of racial superiority. They believe the false narrative that we were savages because white supremacy is a dysfunction that requires delusion.
“Rationalize and justify, just like a drunk,” my mother would say. People like McCleary need to stay drunk on supremacy, because who could reconcile with reality after writing something like this, “Why do native [sic] leaders want to suppress any view that challenges their ‘victim-and-survivor’ model? As long as the aboriginal community can sustain the myth that they were or are victimized and abused, then they can continue to demand compensation, a never-ending settlement.” The reality is more complicated, and would involve actually reading the testimony of people who were abused, that did survive, and I don’t think people like McCleary can reconcile with the truth anymore than Canada can.
The reality would be less dichotomous. Our lives are as full as theirs, and our integral right to history is as valid. The stories of our past that make us proud and wrought with pain—we have a right to that truth and it involves you, Joffre McCleary. Your people and our people exist on the same continuum, and the narrative of our lives and the convergence is there in the pages that were not written, because someone like you, long ago, was convinced the narrative could not be complicated—there had to be a savage and a savior, or a right and wrong, and that’s just not the truth of any one life.
There can’t be restoration without truth, even for these white men who think they have a handle on the world. Men like these beg the question, seriously, what’s wrong with learning? Why are these (specific) white people scared to learn about something beyond themselves? Whereas we have been educated outside of our cultures for so long—we’ve acknowledged Western ideologies and histories, and we’ve retold those narratives and discussed them with our friends and families, and we’ve entertained every stereotype and considered ourselves within it. Joffre McCleary probably doesn’t have the capacity to exist in that mindset, where historical text is sometimes fiction that plays with blank space and the unsaid like an experiment, where people like McCleary fill the space with ignorance and assumption—that there was a winner in any of this, when humanity doesn’t work that way. There is no winner when humanity is absent.
Terese Mailhot is from Seabird Island Band. Her book “Heart Berries: A Memoir” is forthcoming from Counterpoint Press and Doubleday Canada. She is a Tecumseh Post Doctoral Fellow at Purdue University and works as creative writing faculty at the Institute of American Indian Arts.