One Day We Shall Overcome

November 6, 2003

Congregation Habonim, Toronto

By: Trisha Lynn Cowie

I felt a deep sense of loss in Poland; a loss in humanity for the sacredness of life. My faith in the human race deteriorated a little more with each death camp we visited. In my mind I was drawing parallels between many of the tragedies of the Shoah to what is happening in Canada. I was drawing parallels between the treatment of the Jews and the treatment of the Aboriginal peoples,. As an Irish-Ojibway woman my personal concern for this matter is paramount.

The Jews were made to appear as sub-human. They were parasites, obstacles to the betterment of society. Aboriginal peoples have been painted in a similar light, they are alcoholics and gas sniffers, they are a drain on taxpayers' money. Like the Jews, the aboriginal peoples have been demeaned to such a great extent that sensitivity toward their situation is diminished, and then when wrong is done to them others do not care. Throughout the 1930's the Jews were victimized. Actions that were considered wrong or criminal against the Aryan race were endorsed against the Jews. The Jews were not protected by the law enforcement. The aboriginal peoples on the East Coast of Canada experienced similar injustice. Non-native people violently attacked the aboriginal peoples fishing boats. They rammed into them at sea and set them on fire. The law enforcement did not penalize these criminals, they stood by and watched the violence against the aboriginal people unfold.

The Nazis attempted to eradicate the Jews. The Canadian State has eradicated entire nations of aboriginal people and is still attempting to be rid of us. The primary purpose of the Indian Act to assimilate us is proof, as is the 2002 resurrection of the White Paper of 1969, which proposed to legally extinct aboriginals peoples.

The Nazis fragmented the Jews and caused them to turn against one another. This made unity and resistance nearly impossible. The same has been done to the native peoples by the Canadian government. The native people have been divided physically to their reserves, which resemble some of the elements of the Jewish ghettos. There is poverty, death by suicide, and deplorable living conditions. But also they have been divided mentally; there is bickering over who is or is not identified as Indian as laid out the Indian Act. Aboriginal people have been turned against one another. When the Jews built up the strength and unity for an uprising it was severely crushed by the Nazi regime. The Oka Crisis in the early 1990's is an example of how the Canadian government used the military to crush the resistance of the aboriginal people. The government turned tanks and trained military against civilians. These revelations are the cornerstones of my deteriorated faith in humans. We have not learned. Our ill treatment of fellow human beings persists. And not just against aboriginal peoples, against everyone. Blacks, Whites, Indians, Asians, Hispanics..when will it stop? When will the people of this world be able to recognize, that regardless of our differences no individual is more human than the next; all people are equal in their humanity.

My deep sense of loss was accompanied by something greater; something that restored my faith. It was accompanied by hope. It is found in my fellow participants. Each of my companions has a gift of giving me the ability to attempt to make a difference. My strength to commit to this program and a better future is in them, I also find a deep sense of hope in each of you who are willing to listen and show support for our protest against intolerance. Change in the negative treatment of others begins with us. We must demonstrate understanding and compassion to those who are treated unfairly, we must demonstrate a capacity of caring in order for it to be reciprocated.

I would like to share one last reflection with each of you. When I was in Poland at Auschwitz, I recall looking around before we entered the camp. The grass was so green, as were the trees, the sky was a beautiful blue with whispering clouds. There were birds singing. I thought to myself…am I being mocked? This place that was once a place of horror and death, has disguised itself. Was the serenity of the natural environment attempting to mask the evils I know once existed here? But then, I was suddenly hit with a different concept. A place where horror and death once reigned was now replaced with beauty and new life. The camp that was once run by savage murders was now over come by people who condemned such acts of evil. This gave me hope that one day we shall overcome. I hope that it does the same for you.

Bart Bonikowski
Trisha Lynn Cowie
Thierry Kagubarispch
A. Siddiqua Chaudhry




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