I found a very disturbing story at the Race-Talk blog at AlterNet today. It was written by Valerie Taliman, a citizen of the Navajo Nation and president of Three Sisters Media in Albuquerque. She wrote about a hateful ad that has several First Nations groups calling for action:
Last week the Web site UsedWinnipeg.com ran an advertisement headlined “Native Extraction Service” with a photograph of three young Native boys. The service offered to round up and remove First Nations youth like wild animals, and “relocate them to their habitat.”
This online classified ad offered the free removal and relocation of aboriginal youth from parts of Winnipeg. CBC News has blurred the faces in the picture. The ad has since been pulled down. (UsedWinnipeg.com/CBC)
The text of the ad read: “Have you ever had the experience of getting home to find those pesky little buggers hanging outside your home, in the back alley or on the corner??? Well fear no more, with my service I will simply do a harmless relocation. With one phone call I will arrive and net the pest, load them in the containment unit (pickup truck) and then relocate them to their habit.”
As Taliman observes further:
The message is clear: Native people are like pests or vermin, and can be disposed of by simply calling a free service to have them “extracted.”
It was the cyberspace equivalent of a “Wanted” poster, reminiscent of bounties once paid for Indian scalps in the old West. And in my view, it’s a classic hate crime, carried out for the sole purpose of inciting racism and hate against indigenous peoples.
Who are the kids in the picture that was stolen from Longhouse Media? They are three young Swinomish film makers whose documentary, March Point, was released in 2007. They had wanted to make a gangster movie or rap video, but instead were persuaded to investigate how two oil refineries impacted their community. Here's the trailer:
Do these guys look like kids who should be "wanted" for anything besides inspiring their peers and inheriting the Earth from corporate land barons and other clueless adults who perpetuate exploitation of people and nature?
In following some links in Taliman's article, I also found a press release from Longhouse that condemns the ad as a hate crime. A statement on their home page says:
We hope this advertisement was taken down before any violent crimes occurred; in any case damage was inflicted on indigenous youth in the form of threat and intimidation. The Criminal Code of Canada says, “a hate crime is committed to intimidate, harm or terrify not only a person, but an entire group of people to which the victim belongs. The victims are targeted for who they are, not because of anything they have done. Hate crimes involve intimidation, harassment, physical force or threat of physical force against a person, a family or a property.” -- Section 319(1): Public Incitement of Hatred, Criminal Code of Canada
Longhouse, along with others, is calling for the perpetrators to be found and brought to justice.
When stories like this pop into my life -- stories that induce such a wide range of thoughts and feelings -- I like to widen my view a little to the background of my day. What was up before I found this article?
I spent this past weekend with a bunch of white and black folks who are trying to dismantle racism in their communities. Within that context I especially connected with a man who was sharing his experience of being young and black in America. This exchange stayed with me all the way back home and into this week. I decided, as my colleague had suggested, to spend some time listening to several young, black, male poets sharing their take on life via YouTube.
This morning -- just before I found Taliman's article -- I had listened to the crew on Morning Joe talking about America's school systems and the inspiring success of Geoffrey Canada's charter school and neighborhood project, Harlem Children's Zone (HCZ). I found myself a little irritated with their conversation. I was glad to hear the recognition that something amazing has happened in Harlem, but I didn't hear much discussion about what the HCZ team had done and why it worked. Not just surface stuff, but some depth about their work in relation to larger issues of poverty, racism, family and community.
After I saw Morning Joe, I fished out my copy of Whatever It Takes, Paul Tough's book on Geoff Canada and HCZ. I decided to read it again and maybe do some blogging on it. When I then found Taliman's article on the racist attack on the Swinomish teens, it kind of brought my whole past week of thinking about racism in America into more coherent connection. It has left me inspired to dig deeper into what's happening here, and to reflect more on how and why we, as a national village, need to come together as one heart on behalf of our children.
Racist hatred directed toward anyone is ugly, but -- at the moment, for me -- hatred directed at the youngest of Earth's citizens feels like the ugliest and most heartbreaking.