David McConkey - Columnist, Consultant, Citizen
Columnist. Consultant. Citizen.

Can We Say No to More Racism?

Brandon Sun, July 29, 2019 – David McConkey

How could you stay silent and do nothing while a genocide was happening in your own country? That is the implicit question asked of all Canadians in the report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. While I disagree with some of their analyses and conclusions, I do think that the report is a challenge to us. We are challenged to call out racism and to ask more questions. So, I will call out some racism and ask a question: Why is an urban reserve being set up in Brandon?

Let’s start with some background. I think that if ordinary Canadians have been party to institutional racism and even a genocide, it is has been more from ignorance than from overt action. Pieces of presumed racism – like the Indian Act, reserves, residential schools, child apprehensions – were never presented to Canadians for their approval, at an election, say. If discussed at the time, these measures were defended as being done with the best of intentions. 

And some aspects of this racism, like the Indian Act, seem to be now accepted by Indigenous leadership. We have heard for years, and echoed in the MMIWG report, that this act is racist and patriarchal. I assume most Canadians are indifferent or would be happy to see it go. Yet the Indian Act remains. Perhaps one reason is that the act can be used to create new reserves, which are popular.

That brings us to the new urban reserve in Brandon. The announcement of the reserve was, how should we describe it: colonial? The “establishment” was represented: First Nations chiefs, the city, the province, the federal government. Ordinary people were not allowed a say. But you don’t need to know anything, for the urban reserve is being created with only the best of intentions. Our leaders tell us that – this time – racial discrimination is a good thing. This time, the community can be brought together by dividing people by race.

The kerfuffle about a “gaming centre” might indicate that our leaders don’t know as much as they pretend, but I digress. We know where this is going. Years from now, when the urban reserve concept is seen as part of a racist system; well, you ordinary folks who stayed silent were to blame all along.

An urban reserve discriminates by race in employment and tax deduction. On an urban reserve, employees doing the same job will be treated differently – depending on their race. You won't normally see this spelled out, so I will do so here.  Usually, when you are employed, your earnings are taxable, reported in Box 14 of your T4 slip as “Employment income.” But if you are an Indigenous person working on an urban reserve, your earnings are tax-free, reported in Box 71 as “Indian (exempt income).”

The City of Brandon portrays this racial tax exemption as beneficial for the community. Tax-free status on the urban reserve will provide Indigenous people with “more lucrative employment.” Because they won’t have taxes deducted, they will have more take home pay and will enjoy “a better quality of life.”

There is something very wrong here. The City of Brandon depends on taxes. But the city is telling ordinary Brandon residents that – because they have taxes deducted – their take home pay is less “lucrative.” And Indigenous residents working on the Brandon urban reserve won’t pay taxes. So, compared to other folks, these Indigenous residents will enjoy a more “lucrative” income and “a better quality of life.”

How has it come to this? By promoting an urban reserve, the city is speaking to its own residents in a way that is condescending, hypocritical and racially divisive.

I propose that legislation be changed so that any future urban reserve in Brandon be subject to a local referendum. I am not usually in favour of referendums, but this could be the only way for regular citizens to have any input. Our leaders – Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike  – seem hell-bent on expanding racist institutions. Against all evidence to the contrary, our leaders insist that racial separation is a good way to build a community. Instead, can we give the people the chance to say no to more racism?

I believe that an increasingly multicultural Brandon is a testament to an open, welcoming society being nurtured here. Let’s keep exploring positive, inclusive ways to communicate, work and live together.
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See also: 

More Gambling and Addiction for Brandon?

2008 Brandon Casino Plebiscite Result

Enlightenment Values Are Needed Now More Than Ever


How Can We Learn to Think and Argue Better?

More Than Ever, Words and Ideas Matter

Look at Broader Context Before Removing Building Names

 

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David McConkey,
Brandon, Manitoba
204-726-9440
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