Dear Minister Brian Kenny and the people of New Brunswick,
A doctor in Miramichi has recently been put into the spotlight because of a note on his reception desk that stated, “ATTN NATIVE PATIENTS, PLEASE DON’T ASK FOR TRANQUILIZER OR PAIN MEDICATION.” A picture of the note spread quite rapidly across social media. Many people are offended by how disrespectful and insensitive it is to the Mi’kmaq people of the area and the addiction problems that they are facing. I am one of these people.
I am sure that by the time this open letter is published, some cabinet member will have released a statement that says this sort of cultural insensitivity is not what New Brunswick represents, and how this sort of behaviour has no place in our province. Despite statements of the sort, however, this kind of mindset continues to be prominent not only in New Brunswick, but in much of Canada. The thoughts that were going through this doctor’s head when he put up this note are extremely common thoughts amongst the people of New Brunswick. As far as many New Brunswick citizens are concerned, native people are just brown Canadians with overdeveloped senses of entitlement that sit around and do drugs all day with their tax dollars.
There are a variety of reasons why the stigma around native residents persists, reasons that would be hard to condense here, but there is one core source of all these beliefs that I would like to address. I doubt that this humble Miramichi doctor was aware of the complex and socially delicate variables that have led to drug addiction amongst native communities. Additionally, I’m uncertain as to whether or not many Brunswick residents are very educated on this topic. As the Minister of Education, you should consider this a failure. You and your fellow cabinet members have no right to scratch your heads and wonder why these opinions exist so prominently in New Brunswick when the public-school curriculum contains nothing on the source of the problems for native people, and nothing on the intended purpose or accomplished outcome of residential schools or how this effects native communities today.
The same can be said for the topic of the Acadian population of New Brunswick in English schools. Throughout my entire time spent in the Anglophone education system in New Brunswick (K to twelve), not once have I ever even heard the word “Acadian” in a classroom, much less anything about the Acadian expulsion or the threats to their culture from the New Brunswick/British government over the last 300 years. Yet the New Brunswick government wonders why its English-speaking residents were so up in arms against French and English students riding on separate buses.
The cultural insensitivity and racist attitudes in New Brunswick are the result of poor education around these issues. The curriculum for this province needs a serious overall in native history, and local history for that matter, if these attitudes are ever to change. These two issues may seem separate, but ignorance is bred from lack of knowledge. Considering that it is your job to see that the education in this province is satisfactory, it is you, and the New Brunswick government, that let these attitudes exist.
If, Mr. Kenny, you plan to respond to this letter with rhetoric regarding the provincial governments financial struggles, I suggest that you not respond at all, because I, like many New Brunswickers, am sick of hearing this as an excuse for issue after issue. If the provincial government wants money, then it should check with the fifth most wealthy family in Canada that lives in our back yard, because something tells me that they are not keeping their money in Bermuda for the sake of keeping it warm.
This next part is more directed at the average person reading this. Bearing all of this in mind, it is important to remember that the provincial government has an incredible incentive not to educate the public on the complexities of native issues. If the public understood the ins and outs of neocolonialism, then how would corporations be allowed to build pipelines and frack for gas on what little land the Wabanaki have left? Even worse, what if people start advocating that the provincial government help the First Nations of the region? What if their drug problems disappeared and they started asking for rights and independence? These are not things that our government wants to happen.
For the citizens of New Brunswick who are against these racist, stereotypical attitudes and want anything to be done about them, they have two options. They can either pressure the government to give the people of this province the education they deserve, or they can educate themselves, and work to spread the knowledge that they gain without giving the government a chance to run it through their filters.
As for Mr. Kenny, if the Liberal party, or any party for that matter, wants my vote, then it has some serious work to do with the province’s schools.
Nathan Gullison is a native studies student at St. Thomas University.