Ottawa Citizen | September 11, 2001 | Orest Slepokura
Letters to the Editor

Blatant racism

Between 1975 and 1980, I lived and worked as a young white man in Fort George on James Bay, in Matthew Coon Come's neck of the woods. A common complaint of racism I heard was from a group of my Inuit friends, speaking bitterly of the racism of his Cree brethren.

However, the most visible and unabashed expression of racism came from Cree high school students directed toward their French teacher, my friend and colleague. They even kicked in his classroom door one morning. The reason: They vicariously blamed him for the big hydro-electric prject being developed upriver.

By my fifth year there, I managed to understand enough Cree to follow conversations held in my presence. There were many occasions when a Cree referred to the *whamstahgosho* (white man) in his midst in plainly racist terms. The speaker assumed I was unable to understand his racial slurs. This happened so routinely that I eventually stopped taking it personally.

Many of Mr. Coon Come's Cree brethren were remarkably at ease with their racism. I hope they have grown less comfortable with it in the ensuing 20 years.

Orest Slepokura
Strathmore, Alta.