Every Now and Then
I remember my very first political protest. The premier of Québec said he was prepared to bulldoze the Cree into the modern age over some massive hydro-electric project that would divert entire rivers and flood areas of land bigger than some American states. The prime minister of Canada said Indians had no special rights and were simply historical might-have-beens. I joined a few hundred people marching down what was then Dorchester Boulevard (Blvd. Réné Levésque today) because I considered both men to be a pair of historical boobs.
Both men were concerned more with their own settler populations than with the Indigenous peoples who were here long before their ancestors ever dreamed of getting lost on the high seas. Nothing they did during the rest of their lives changed my opinion of them either, despite what their own judges forced them to do in the years after.
Our demonstrations failed to stop the bulldozers. Nor did they prevent huge areas of traditional Cree territory from being blasted or flooded. But those demonstrations helped awaken people across the country of all colours and backgrounds to begin to understand that some things done in the name of Canada were just plain wrong. Then they told those two to stop acting like a pair of ignorant boobs.
What brought me to these thoughts? A Facebook protest by one woman who saw something she considered offensive and decided to speak out online. Her name? Columba Bobb. Her profession? Artist, actor, human being. Her cause? A line of beer commercials produced for a Danish company called Carlsberg. Those Koff Beer commercials used Indigenous actors dressed in stereotypical Hollywood Indian costumes in commercials with stupid or non-existent story lines.
You can probably see from my description why Ms. Bobb was upset.
The latest bit of news is that a Carlsberg rep wrote her a letter to say they were pulling the ads. Victory for Ms. Bobb – for one voice in protest, for a set of principles that reminded the boobs at a beer company that they were dealing with real people and not inanimate objects. Perhaps more importantly to Ms. Bobb – the Indigenous actor – was the reminder to other actors that they have a responsibility to fight racism, debunk ugly and demeaning stereotypes on-stage or in front of the camera, and recognize the internalized racism that we have all experienced.
Ms. Bobb has said she’ll now pull her FB page. So hurry and view her page while you still can.