Aboriginal Anxiety About The Police: Ep 19

More on:

TITLE: Aboriginal Anxiety About The Police
GUEST: Jesse Wente (Twitter: @JesseWente)
RELEASE DATE: Friday, July 15, 2016
DURATION: 42 min.

SYNOPSIS: An Indigenous broadcaster shares his personal and political perspective on police treatment of Aboriginal people, an issue he wrote about in his Huffington Post piece, “This Is Why People Of Colour Fear The Police.” Jesse Wente is the director of Film Programmes at TIFF Bell Lightbox, and a long-time CBC Radio pop culture columnist. He joined us from Toronto.

Subscribe: iTunes | Stitcher | RSS | Google Play


Rick Harp: Hello. I’m Rick Harp. This is MEDIA INDIGENA.

This week on the program, a personal perspective on police conduct.

Another week, yet another news report of police shooting and killing an African-American individual in a big U.S. city—that is, if a full seven days have even gone by between shootings. To say the relationship between the black community and certain police forces is tense is a massive understatement.

Here in Canada, there are clear echoes of such tension, including cities with large Indigenous populations. Fatalities in police custody are not unknown. Take the recent case of Jocelyn George in Port Alberni, BC. Her family is no closer to answers after the 18 year old mother of two inexplicably died after spending a night in RCMP custody on June 23rd.

My guest this week knows the anxiety Aboriginal people feel around police all too well. In his Huffington Post piece, ‘This Is Why People Of Color Fear The Police,’ Jesse Wente offered a very personal window into how law enforcement officers look upon and treat Anishinaabe men like himself.

The Director of Film Programmes at TIFF Bell Lightbox, Jesse’s also a long-time CBC radio pop culture columnist. Jesse Wente, welcome to MEDIA INDIGENA.

Jesse Wente: Thank you.

Harp: Now, Jesse, your piece begins by telling us how, in your 20s, you actually sat on a youth advisory council to no less than the police chief of Toronto. You also note how on one occasion he wasn’t exactly receptive to your advice and, although we can get into the substance of that disagreement, I first wanted you to share the story of what happened just a few weeks later when you and your future wife went out for a walk late one night.

Wente: Yeah, we were walking, it was probably close to midnight, on a street right in downtown Toronto, right outside her apartment actually.

We were heading back for the evening. At the time, and I think this is important for the story, I would have had my traditional hair, so it would have been quite long, all the way down my back. I was undoubtedly also dressed in a hoodie, whatever 20 year olds wear at the time, and the police cruiser pulled up beside us. They shone a spotlight onto us, namely, me, and asked me to face the wall, which I did, and then they proceeded to question my then-girlfriend (now wife) about … well, was she alright, was the first question they asked. Then they asked her if she knew who I was and where we were going. Those are the three questions I can remember. There may have been more, but granted this is 20 years ago. And I was to face the wall the entire time while they did this.

Once they, I guess, had figured out that she did know who I was, and we knew where we were going, and she wasn’t in any danger, they went on. Not, I have to say, Rick, an especially extraordinary experience or unique one, in my life anyway, and I suspect not for others, as well.

I don’t really think about it much at all because it is one of several encounters with the police. But that one in particular I know because my wife was there. She remembers it quite well and has always been disturbed by that encounter. I wrote that piece on my Facebook largely because after Black Lives Matter Toronto did their protest at the Pride Parade, there was a lot of discussion around that protest and the appropriateness, I guess, of it, or the validity of it, and a lot of just discussions around Black Lives Matter Toronto.

I just, in sort of an emotional moment, thought I would share why I, for example, think that we need to support Black Lives Matter in Toronto and everywhere, and that we need to really question the relationship, or the treatment, that marginalized people receive from the police and shared my story just as an example of what I experienced. It really was sort of in a moment of, I was just feeling upset and I wanted to just share it, and I didn’t realize that so many people would connect with it, and that it would ultimately travel as much as it has as a story.

Harp: Now, as you just mentioned, that wasn’t the first time and, as you wrote, it wouldn’t be the last. If you had to estimate, ballpark, how many times police have approached you, what would be that number, and what were their pretexts?

Wente: If I had to guess I would say easily a dozen times, and maybe closer to two dozen times.

I would say that a lot of them, the vast majority of these occurred when I had my traditional hair. When I would say, Rick, that I was more—in the eyes of some, I guess—noticeably Native then perhaps I am now. The hair thing actually disturbs me more than anything else, because it suggests that it really is just outward appearances influence so much.

I would say most of them were similar in that there was no further escalation of the incident. I’ve always been conscious of not going to jail or not wanting to get in the back of a police cruiser and going wherever that may take me. I have always done my best to de-escalate any encounter I’ve had with the police.

Almost all of them are really benign—I say that because we have such experience with the police, so they’re perhaps benign to me because they could be so much worse. It is usually what I would call ID checks, or stops in the street, asking, “Where you’re going? What are you doing there? Can I see some ID?” Those sorts of stops when there was… yeah, stops because I wasn’t doing anything that would warrant the attention, but that there would just be just sort of a question of why you were there, and who you were, and what you were up to.

Harp: So the infamous suspicion of ‘Walking While Indian?’

Wente: I guess… I would assume you know this stuff, Rick. It never felt dissimilar to the attention I would garner in a store where often you’d have employees following you. or there seemed to be a lot of attention in the store.

I would say the continuation I felt is not so much at the police, but I feel it at places like the airport a lot, where I do get a sense that … well, I get selectively screened at an alarming rate, I would guess to me. It just seems I get extra screening at those sorts of venues all the time. It was akin to that, but because it’s the police I guess it’s always a bit more unnerving, or unsettling, or threatening because they’re the police and you’re not really looking for interactions with them, or at least in my experience you’re not really looking for interactions with them, and so it can be unnerving when they occur.

I would say I get off lucky because it didn’t escalate beyond the questioning, or having to show them ID, or any of those sorts of things. It tended to stop there. When I think back on it, I guess, it was so normalized that it didn’t occur to me, to be honest, to complain. The idea that you would complain in the moment was… again, I was trying to stay out of the cruiser at all costs. It certainly didn’t mind me. It strikes me now that even as someone who, as you said, was on the police chief’s youth advisory Board, that never came up. Maybe it was so normalized that I thought that’s just what police did.

Because I grew up in Toronto, like, in the city, there was a stretch of my life where … and I did grow up not around other First Nations people, other than my family. There was a whole bunch of stuff that I thought everyone did: I thought everyone had bannock and corn soup, and then you realize as a kid, no, they don’t.

So, I think, even as a teenager and a young adult, maybe on some level I thought, maybe everyone had these interactions with the police and it wasn’t extraordinary? But you learn as you grow that it is extraordinary. My wife’s reaction was that she had never seen anything like that and never experienced anything like that. In fact, maybe that is ultimately what sort of contributed for me understanding that isn’t the normal way the vast majority of society interacts with the police.

Harp: Now, you mention in your piece that you have never lost that instinct or fear, “When I hear sirens and I’m walking at night I know there’s a chance they’re coming for me again and that it could end differently this time.” In preparing for our conversation I actually came across a book review. The book’s Dying From Improvement: Inquests and Inquiries into Indigenous Deaths in Custody, written by Sherene Razack last year.

I want to share with you something the book reviewer, Holly Doan, said about the book:

“Professor Razack identifies a disturbing theme. For a disproportionate number of Aboriginal men, arrest is fatal. Razack counted 116 Aboriginal deaths in custody in Saskatchewan between 1995 and 2013, including suicides, shootings, ‘head injuries,’ fatal rundowns by police cars, and hypothermia.”

Hearing those numbers for just Saskatchewan alone, what resonates most with you?

Wente: The hypothermia. That’s what I always remembered in those moments is the stories of the moonlight tours, if you’re familiar with that phrase.

Harp: Yeah, I’ve also heard them called Starlight Tours.

Wente: Starlight tours. They drop you off naked out on the outskirts of town, or near naked, or at least exposed to the elements. I don’t recall them being a thing in Toronto, but maybe I’m just naïve and ignorant on that.

I’m not surprised by those numbers at all. I think that is very much the lived experience, and I think, if you’ve been connected to the First Nations, Métis and Inuit community in Canada for any length of time, you hear enough of those stories where those numbers shouldn’t be surprising. Obviously, in the course of my career, you learn all the numbers about incarceration and all the other sort of numbers where the Indigenous people show up and are much more representative than they are elsewhere. I think you sort of unconsciously think that.

And I think now, at night, it is true that, yeah, I do feel that when I hear the sirens. That maybe, because it’s not foreign to me, the idea that just by walking down the street they might come to ask me something, because that’s happened. The idea that that could escalate into something else, well that’s happened to other people. There’s no saying it couldn’t happen to me, and I think that it’s an awareness that I assume I’m not alone in. I haven’t talked to a lot of people about this, but I know certainly with my black friends and colleagues, absolutely, of course, they live it on a level … that’s everyday life for them.

And since I wrote that story I’ve heard so much of that, just so many stories of people saying very similar experiences and that they understood where I was coming from and that they have that same fear because it’s not a dream, right? I guess we’re not making it up, would be it for me. That fear comes from a real, genuine place and the stats just affirm, I think, the lived experience that many of us have had, which is that maybe you should look over your shoulder. That’s not an invalid thing to do.

Harp: So what is to be done, Jesse? How can things be made better? What needs to change for that to happen?

Is it more Aboriginal police, better cross-cultural awareness for non-Aboriginal police, better screening of people who get into the force? Do we need to rethink the institution altogether, even abolish police forces? What do you think?

Wente: Yeah, if I was to be really honest, probably the latter thing you said, about just rethinking or abolishing altogether.

Which I know is difficult and hard for us to wrap our heads around. But I think there’s clearly something broken and it’s a systemic something that’s not… it is sometimes embodied in individuals, but I think that’s not where it comes from. And so, I think, in all the things that I’ve read in the last few months—well, actually since we’ve seen increased reporting around these issues, thanks to Black Lives Matter, and thanks to something like Idle No More as well. The statistics are pretty damning and they suggest a system that is perhaps beyond repair.

I’m struck that in Canada, as well, the history of law enforcement, and where and why those institutions were built and designed, is related to systemic inequities and the preservation of those. I think in the States many have written about the historic ties that law enforcement has to the slave trade and to that era. In Canada, especially with a force, like, say, the RCMP, the history of those folks and their role in relation to the Indigenous community and what they were sort of built—because the RCMP was really built to police Indigenous people, right. That’s sort of really what the point of them was.

Harp: Some say police and pacify.

Wente: I would agree, yes. You don’t want to be too extreme, but to suggest that they were at least a militaristic-type force in their original form is not incorrect, I don’t think, in terms of the type of role that they were put into position to play and enforce, what they were trying to enforce on Indigenous people.

It’s hard to imagine how that history, you’re going to alter that in order to change those relationships. Those relationships are deeply embedded in the very construct of a lot of these police services. So I think we can do all sorts of radical thinking, and I don’t think highly more Indigenous officers is it, because I think there’s lots of evidence to suggest that even officers that come from marginalized communities, once they are inculcated into a culture that supports white supremacy, that a lot of them will be subsumed by that culture, regardless of their own ethnic origins.

And so it’s the culture that’s bad, right. We hear this a lot. There’s tons of individually great police officers. No doubt. Just like there’s also no doubt there’s individual police officers that are failing. I think the problem is that, culturally, which one of those are getting the most support? Which one of the culture most built to support in their causes, and I’m not sure that support’s falling all the time in the right place. That suggests to me that the whole system is really broken—well, it’s not broken, it’s doing exactly what it was built for, and to me that means there is nothing fixable, because it’s functioning correctly. And so, we have to build a new thing that isn’t polluted or corrupted by histories that are so ingrained, and so long-standing, and so embedded, not just in those cultures but the larger culture, to ever get it right.

I do think you have to start from the ground up, and really rethink the idea of what role it is we want police to really be having. ‘Cause, right now, it seems like they protect a very specific group of interests. And it’s often just their own. But they’re not serving and protecting everyone.

I think then that you can’t live by that mantra, right. Let’s shit or get off the pot, Rick: like, either call it that they’re here to enforce laws that are discriminatory and we live in a police state, and let’s reconcile the fact that we live in a police state, or, let’s tear it all down and rebuild something that is equitable and that isn’t based in the history that a lot of these institutions are now based in.

Harp: Well, clearly, you’re not on the same page as the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations. That’s Perry Bellegarde, and he and the RCMP—well, he on behalf of the AFN—and the head of the RCMP, that is, Chief Commissioner Bob Paulson, they just signed a memorandum of understanding which, among other things, is intent on developing strategies to jointly identify and address incidents and issues of discrimination in RCMP policing services. It also commits the RCMP to build on the current 8 per cent of employees of the force who are Indigenous.

Now, this flows from what the Commissioner said in December, when he said, “I understand that there are racists in my police force. I don’t want them to be in my police force.” And to which Bellegarde said, “You know, the mere fact that Paulson’s been meeting with us is a positive, positive statement that he wants to rebuild and repair any kind of damaged relationship that there is between the RCMP and First Nations people.”

But I get the sense from you, it’s not individual racists that are the problem, it is the structural racism sort of baked into the origins of the RCMP. Which, apparently, that they may not be able to overcome. So, I…

Wente: …well, what laws are they… even if you get all racists out of the police force, what laws are they enforcing? Are those discriminatory?

They’re not the ones that make the laws. They’re not the ones that set the larger cultural agenda. They’re tools, or weapons, or blunt whatever of the system. They are not, in and of themselves, the system, they’re just part of it.

Sure, I think all of that sounds great, but if we’re still living under the Indian Act, if there’s all those other things that reinforce discriminatory behavior on the part of the police, because they see it in other elements of culture, then I think it’s going to be a challenge. Just like it is a challenge… like, we can’t get rid of mascots that are offensive. To suggest that somehow identifying racism, just identifying it, or these sorts of measures are somehow a cure-all is nuts. We have to be real. Like, I don’t know that operating within the current structures and paradigms, even with great shifts, are ever going to achieve the sort of goals and equality that I think Indigenous people are seeking.

At the same time we’re reading this, we’re seeing the Minister of Indigenous Affairs saying they can’t adopt the UN Declaration, that that can’t be embodied, that they won’t get rid of the Indian Act. Well, it is within those frameworks of those decisions that police enforcement exists, that law enforcement exists. I think it’s great if we can get rid of one-to-one racist interactions between law enforcement and the citizens, but that doesn’t actually, in and of itself, solve the structural problems. They are a symptom of larger-standing issues.

Harp: So it’s not bad apples that are the problem, it’s the whole damn orchard.

Wente: Yeah, or, we’re growing apples in the wrong orchard. And I don’t want to take it back to a land discussion, but, yeah, if we’re going to use that analogy, you’ve got to get the bad apples out. I’m not saying you don’t do that, but if your orchard is being grown on bad earth in and of itself, it’s going to be a challenge to ever make that healthy. I think that is one of the fundamental challenges. It is the fundamental challenge for everything that would fall under reconciliation, or any of this, because it’s not just the police interactions, it’s not just the mascots, it’s so many other things, and they’re big, they’re really challenging.

But what I think what we’re looking to, and what I think we increasingly have to understand, is if equality is a goal of these nations, if fair treatment is really a fundamental value of the governments of the people of the culture of North America that is here now, then there are sacrifices involved in that. There are things that that over-culture’s going to have to give up, it just is. You can’t have everything and think that that is equality, that everyone else will suddenly rise. But that’s not how this is going to work.

I think until we are culturally in a place where we’re willing to sacrifice those things, where we’re willing to give up parts of what’s happened and willing to meet Indigenous people, black people, all the marginalized groups, halfway, some way, meet them anywhere, these are all just half measures, y’know, is the reality.

And we’re going to end up in a place where we’re going to be talking about reparations, and land, and sovereignty, and all sorts of giant conversations that are really ugly and sticky and are going to upset people and challenge the very notion of the nation that we all now, in theory, live under in Canada. If we the nation actually value equality, that is where this road leads. We have to find the comfort, we got to start making these steps, in order to get to those big things, because we’re never going to get there if we can’t even resolve wholesale, state-sanctioned murder. How is that not what we see sometimes? And if it’s not murder, it’s state-sanctioned harassment, or brutality, or abuse. It’s all part of the big stages, but it’s all really ugly.

And it worries me that we’re getting caught so early in this game. Y’know, that the civil rights movement, that all of the efforts that happened decades ago, it doesn’t feel like we’ve moved the needle that far, and we’re still getting caught up in very basic things when we need to be having the much more substantive discussions. We need to be having the discussions around how you tear down these long-standing structures and what you’re building in its place. We can’t even get into the orchard to have this discussion, let alone actually think about moving the orchard and planting it somewhere else.

Harp: Now, we started on a personal note. Let’s end the same way. Also a part of your essay, you wrote, “I worry that this will one day happen to my son who, like me, is going to be a very large Ojibwe man and that he won’t get off easy like I did.” How old is your son right now?

Wente: He’s eight.

Harp: He’s eight. Okay, so his ability to…

Wente: …most people think he’s twelve, to give you an idea of the size.

Harp: Okay. And so, is he in a position to read and process your piece, do you think?

Wente: No, no.

Harp: When he is, how will you approach a discussion about all these issues with him?

Wente: Well, we’ve had… I talk to him about these things. He’s seen some of it.

He’s been through an airport with me. He’s been through the security at Disney World with me, so he’s seen additional screening in process, the random screening occur, and the randomness of it. So he’s seen some of that, and I’ve talked him through some of those experiences, but I don’t know if he fully registers, because I don’t know if I would have registered then, and I don’t know if I fully want him to register.

And I’ve had this discussion with lots of parents about how we talk to our kids, and it’s the … I’m of the belief that once you’re woke, you can’t go back to sleep, that once you’re woke, you see. And the challenge I think with parenting is, at what point do you want your kids awoken?

And I think for Indigenous people and marginalized people it’s not a question of should they ever be, it’s that you will have to wake them up. And I mean that in the sort of current sense of being woke. They don’t have the privilege to sleep through it, sleep through life. So they have to be woke.

The beauty of being a kid, of childhood, is that you’re not woke, that none of this stuff matters yet. When I was a kid, it didn’t matter yet, when I was his age. I was much too concerned about hitting the T-ball, or whatever, to worry about these things. But I also remember that when I was a kid I did not have these conversations with my parents. My dad is a white guy from Chicago. My mom is Anishinaabe from Serpent River. They grew up in Toronto. Well, he grew up in Chicago. And as a white man, I don’t think he was equipped to know what this would be. I think my mother probably was, likewise, not fully equipped to prepare.

Then, when it happened to me, I wasn’t sort of prepared, I became prepared, but I wasn’t in those initial moments. For me as a parent, I can see it coming and so I’d rather them be prepared. And I have a son and a daughter. And I wrote that article—they haven’t read it, I guess I’ll let them because there’s nothing bad in it—but, y’know, so much of this stuff, when I talk about this stuff, Rick, is about my kids. Because I don’t feel like I’ve done enough for them yet.

Because they’re not going to grow up in a world that is appreciably different than the one I did, and that’s what we all hope for our kids. And so, knowing that—they’re absolutely going to come after him. If he grows his traditional hair. If he grows his traditional hair, this is going to happen to him.

With her, I worry about all sorts of other things happening to her, because I don’t know what it’s like to be an Indigenous woman personally, but we certainly know what the numbers tell us, and what our family and friends tell us, so I worry about all that.

You don’t ever want to be the thing where like, “Oh, now that I’ve got a kid, I understand these issues.” I understood these issues long before I ever had children. What I understand is the threat they’re under from these things. And so, I do want him to be prepared, to get himself out of it like I did, but I also want him to be aware, like, conscious of it, and to not normalize it like I did, because that doesn’t help anything.

I should have yelled louder. I was a journalist. You know, I could have done more…



Harp: It’s all right. It’s all right.

Wente: For me, it all comes down to my kids, and, god, I wish I could let them sleep.

Harp: I have a 10 year old daughter. I’ve thought this many times: the idea that she’s going to be subject to all of these things, like you say, the numbers in terms of her becoming a statistic, another missing and/or murdered Indigenous woman.

It’s … oh, man, I can’t … My mind doesn’t…

Wente: …and she’s way more likely to end up talking to the police than anyone else, any other woman in Canada. That’s what the statistics say. She’s going to be having the spotlight on her, too.

So what do you tell her? What do you say?

Harp: That is the operative question, and I think that I’m trying to find a way that keeps her safe, has her—like you say, make sure she’s woke—but I want her to be angry about it. I want her to speak out against it, although that can make you a target as well.

Because I’m sure you’ve received some heat from people who dismiss what you say. And, y’know, this could be a very, very long conversation and, to be honest, it needs to happen, but the fact that it has to happen infuriates me.

Two things popped into my mind as you were talking. It struck me just how, on the part of the larger society—that is to say, white mainstream society—there is a privilege of innocence and a luxury of ignorance.

And there’s no doubt that the issue of police brutality is a brown people’s issue in terms of who bears the brunt of it. But what I’m starting to see more of are discussions around who bears the onus to change things, not least white people. What can, and should, they be doing if they want to be true allies to Indigenous peoples on this front?

Wente: Well, I think, first and foremost: listen. And don’t talk, just listen.

And then I think change—because doing nothing is a victory for the status quo. If we don’t speak up and try to actually change things they won’t. They just won’t. In all these sorts of discussions, it’s not about guilt, or blame, or anything like that. I don’t blame anyone for anything that has happened… anyone that lives today, I don’t really blame for what happened to my ancestors. I get that the people living today weren’t there. I get it.

What I do want is … exactly what needs to happen is exactly what you said, which is, we have to understand that we all benefit from what did happen, right now. We live in a benefit right this second. Even the fact that you and I are having this conversation is in some grotesque way connected to everything that happened. That the living embodiment of those things in the past is things like the police brutality now, right. Yes, we don’t have residential schools. Yes, we don’t do those things, but other things are happening that are actually just the same thing.

And so, I think, listen, number one. ‘Cause I’m often in situations where, and a lot of the feedback I get from non-brown people (or white people, I guess) is that they didn’t know that this happened. And that they didn’t think it would happen to me, because maybe I looked white enough that it wouldn’t happen to me, or they just didn’t know that this happened. They were never there to see it. And I think a lot of the challenges is, for the over-culture, as well, is we didn’t experience it so it didn’t happen. I think listening number one. Truth and reconciliation, a big part of that is just listening, because I don’t think we’re listened to in the same way. That’s even what strikes me about the Black Lives Matter at the Pride thing, is it’s just, like, we just need to listen a little bit and have empathy. Try to have some empathy. It’s hard to gain that if you’re not going to listen.

So, those things first, and then, you can’t settle. It can’t be ‘good enough.’ And to begin to understand that, for there to be equality, it’s going to feel like you’re going to lose something. But you’re not, you’re gaining. It just feels like you’re losing something.

What you’re losing is restrictions. They’re not the valuable things. And you’re going to gain so much more, and sort of coming to grips with, and not being afraid of that. I think so much is fear in all of this operation, because we live in a culture that there are genuine things to be afraid of, and there’s economic challenges and all those sorts of things that are very, very real for people, and we can’t discount those things, what the reaction they ultimately generate.

But, again, if equality for all people is really something people value, then you have to be prepared for your privilege to be challenged or to be eroded, and realize that that is part of what happens in equality and that that privilege is okay. That it’s, take it from us, being woke all the time, it’s okay. You can get through life like that.

And so, I think being able to witness all these things, while it’s challenging, it’s okay. It’s not normal, because the over-culture hasn’t had to do that for it the entire time. But I think we’re at a point where, if there’s an unwillingness to do that, then there’s just going to be discomfort, because we’re not going away. The voices aren’t going to stop. They are only amplified, right.

What has changed isn’t the violence, it’s the cameras. What has changed isn’t the spotlight, it’s people telling you about the spotlight. That’s what’s changed.

When that [incident] happened to me 20-whatever years ago, I was a cub reporter who’d just started his contract at CBC. There wasn’t an Indigenous media at the time, and there was no Huffington Post looking for me to write anything. That’s all changed and it isn’t going away. It isn’t.

So, we can either start the hard—and I hate to say, “Start the hard work,” because, my god, our people have seemingly starting hard work for decades now, centuries. But you do have to start that hard work, because the choice now is no longer to be asleep. I don’t actually think that’s viable anymore. It’s all gone.

So, in some ways, that privilege is already challenged. You’re already losing that, and that’s the discomfort we’re seeing right now, the first eyelid being opened to woke is where we’re seeing so much resistance, right. But we’re going to power through. We’re not going to be the ones that back down. That’s not how this is going to work.

So, I think the compromise has to happen, and so for allies—and I try to be one, I try to check my privilege constantly, because I’m privileged for sure, and I try to make sure to keep it in check. And I think what’s interesting is that sometimes the people most aware of those privileges are ones that are still marginalized somehow. I’m very aware that being a man gives me an incredible amount of privilege, and I try to check it all the time. I think we just need everyone to do that, and then we need, while you’re doing that, to realize the systemic inadequacies and go and fix them. And we do need their help because we’re not in the positions of power to do it without resorting to revolutionary tactics.

So if you want change from within you actually have to go change it. And what I worry, Rick, is that we still get a lot of talk, we don’t get a lot of action, and we need the action. The talking is louder now and it’s not going away.

Harp: Well, I think your talk will definitely inspire some action. And I know that this is very difficult terrain (and, clearly, I’m still in a bit of denial about how to approach it with my family), but I’m glad that you are able to go there and talk about it, and you’ve been very generous with your time and your insights and I want to thank you for coming on the show.

Wente: Thanks, Rick, it’s great talking to you.

Harp: Take care, Jesse.

Wente: Okay, thank you.

Harp: That’s Jesse Wente, well-known broadcaster and Director of Film Programmes at TIFF Bell Lightbox, home of the Toronto International Film Festival, and that’s where we reached him. You can find him on Twitter @jessewente. He’s also at facebook.com/jesse.wente.

Now, I hope his eloquent and emotional words will resonate with you like they have with me. I’m still processing it all to be honest, but I’m glad I have this record of our conversation to turn to as I will, no doubt, struggle to make sense of what life could be like down the road for my 10 year old as she grows up in a society that I know can be downright inhospitable, if not hostile, to Indigenous people.

Do you have stories to share about encounters with police? Has anything about Jesse’s story caught you off guard? What do you think non-Aboriginal people should do here? Email me your comments, rick[at]mediaindigena.com.

Alternatively, you can now post your thoughts inside our brand-new Facebook group, facebook.com/groups/mediaindigena. It’s a private group so you’ll need to request access, but it’s 100% free to join. If you heard our last episode, you know we’re trying to elicit more listener feedback and connections, so head over to facebook.com/groups/mediaindigena and let’s continue the conversation.

In other news, many thanks to our two newest monthly subscribers, Chris and Isabelle. They’ve helped us take two steps forward toward our immediate goal of 200 investors in our Patreon campaign. Go to mediaindigena.com/podcast for details on how you can join our crowdfunder. Remember, every dollar makes a difference and it helps keep independent Indigenous media sustainable.

That’s it for this week. I’m Rick Harp. Thanks for listening. Ekosi.

Our theme is nesting by Birocratic.

One thought on “Aboriginal Anxiety About The Police: Ep 19

  1. I wonder if the police problem differs from community to community. I have seen a lot of very caring and respectful treatment of First Nations and street people in River City (sic), from my perspective both as a white coded Metis, mouthy old lady who has no fear, and long since community reporter. I have heard stories of Saskatoon and PA that shock me, as they would anyone, but would like to think the worst would not happen here. I live in an area of River City (sic) where beat cops are on the walk. They are pretty respectful and helpful. I am not saying there’s no racism and bad behaviour. Just wondering about Saskatchewan. And Winnipeg. Is the RCMP the biggest problem?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.