Canadians Aren't Racist — Indigenous Issues Are Just "Invisible" To Them, Former PM Says

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You don't have to be a screaming bigot to support a racist system.

It's a hard concept for some people to grasp, but all you need to perpetuate racism is simply sit back, let things run their course — and remain blissfully ignorant to the plight of others.

The idea is one former prime minister of Canada Paul Martin seems not to completely understand.

Martin claimed Thursday that Canadians aren't racist against indigenous people — they just tend not to notice what's happening to them.

"I do not believe Canadians are racist," Martin told The Canadian Press in an interview. "I do believe, unfortunately, that the whole issue that we are talking about is invisible to so many Canadians ... But it is my belief if we speak about ... more and more Canadians are becoming aware of it."

Source: Mic/Getty Images
Source: Mic/Getty Images

This notion of invisibility is especially strange because indigenous Canadians face a host of struggles anyone paying attention can plainly see.

In particular, First Nations people have been subject to similar patterns of colonial violence as their Native American counterparts.

A legacy of cultural genocide — characterized by government-engineered land theft, forced relocation and placement of indigenous children in so-called residential schools to facilitate assimilation — have made indigenous people one of Canada's most socioeconomically devastated populations.

The irony here is that Canadians' lack of awareness is the perfect example of racism at work.

Indigenous issues are "invisible" to so many Canadians because the system of racial inequality that's marginalized them makes it so. Part of the privilege attached to being white in a majority-white nation means not having to notice people of color's problems — even problems your own government is responsible for.

Members of the Attawapiskat First Nation protest living conditions on their reservation in front of parliament.Source: AFP/Getty Images
Members of the Attawapiskat First Nation protest living conditions on their reservation in front of parliament.  AFP/Getty Images

This legacy of violence is still alive in Canada today.

According to CBC, half of all First Nations children live in poverty — the highest rate of any demographic in the country. In some First Nations communities, suicide rates are also staggering: In March alone, 28 members of the 2,000-person Attawapiskat First Nation attempted to kill themselves.

What's more, an estimated 4,000 indigenous women been murdered or gone missing in Canada since 1980 — constituting one of North America's most striking epidemics of violence against woman. 

First Nations women are just 4% of the country's female population but 16% of women who've gone missing, been kidnapped or been murdered over that period.

The Canadian government has largely ignored indigenous issues.

Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.Source: Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images
Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.  Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images

Until the current administration under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the Canadian government had resisted launching an inquiry into the missing women — despite persistent calls from advocates and indigenous people to do so. 

Things are getting (slightly) better now.

The Canadian government is pouring resources into addressing First Nations issues — perhaps more than ever before. For instance, the province of Ontario recently decided to commit $100 million to investigating violence against indigenous women. 

But make no mistake — there's one reason why any of this is an issue to begin with. 

It's called racism. 

Whether individual Canadians themselves are racist or not is besides the point. That indigenous issues could remain invisible to them for so long is a direct by-product of systemic racism.