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Racism & Discrimination

Racism and discrimination can come in many forms, individual, systemic or ideological. Although there are many serious and multifaceted issues facing Aboriginal youth, racism and discrimination was by far the overwhelming response in this study. Racism is a form of discrimination. It is prejudice, plus the backup of institutional power, used to the advantage of one group and to the disadvantage of another group (Alberta Community Development, 1997).

People accuse me of going to be a bad mother, not even knowing who I am or what I'm all about. They just judge me by the cover. They think that because some Natives live downtown, drunk all the time that that's the way we all live.
Aboriginal female - 16 yrs

In March of 2000, the City of Calgary, Community & Neighborhood Services undertook a consultation to identify priority areas of concern to Aboriginal youth. The results identified the general lack of understanding of Aboriginal culture as well as a pressing need for the general population and service agencies to gain a better understanding of concerns faced by Aboriginal youth as a result of pervasive racism. At the Your Choice, Your Voice Aboriginal Youth Conference in Edmonton, youth also identified racism and discrimination as a key issue. Many of the youth at the conference spoke of personal experiences with racism. In many cases stereotyping, labeling and lack of understanding of the realities faced by Aboriginal communities played a large role in the daily experiences of young people.

White kids say go back to your reserves. There's a lot of racism and discrimination against the Aboriginal kids. I've had to fight with people because they want to be mean to you. They want to be racist
Aboriginal male - 14 yrs

Although racism and discrimination has been identified as a separate issue, it was evident throughout the focus groups that racism, prejudice and stereotyping are a large part of the everyday experience of Aboriginal youth. Racist attitudes and comments in the schools, shopping malls, and interactions with other youth and adults, all spoke to the pervasiveness at all levels of society. Youth spoke about the "look" that they get when they enter public facilities and how they feel that they are being watched; being prejudged or accused of criminal behavior solely because they are Aboriginal. Aboriginal youth also spoke of "the fear" that they feel they instill in other youth, in particular when they are in small groups and how this is often the precursor to threats of physical violence and confrontation. Youth spoke in particular about negative encounters with the justice system and how this constant reinforcement of negative perceptions and expectations of them affects their sense of self-esteem, self worth, and cultural identity.

One time I walked into the store. The staff ignored me. They wouldn't even serve me. I felt it was my skin color. Because I was Native.
Aboriginal female - 19 yrs
Some people just start at you like they've never seen a Native before.
Aboriginal female - 13 yrs

Under constant threat of personal, cultural and societal reinforcement of negative attitudes, it becomes difficult for young people to construct a positive image. This can be supported in the research. Removing Barriers: A Listening Circle found that although the focus groups did not specifically include human rights as a separate domain, that the overarching themes in every domain were discrimination, racism and prejudice (Removing Barriers, 1999). Participants in this study recognized that they were facing negative attitudes at all levels but were hopeful that the next generation would be more supportive and accepting of all people. These issues were identified as areas for service development. Recommendations will be discussed further in section three.