Last month, Eric Russel Daniels was shot to death by the Winnipeg Police after refusing to release the machete he happened to be carrying. Also last month, just outside Pimicikamak Cree Nation, a Greyhound bus driver left 15 people stranded in order to pick up two passengers he left behind. These two incidents are two most recent examples of slights, both real and perceived, to First Nations peoples.
Daniels’ brother, Dallas Courchene, has said that he does not blame the police, as Daniels died as a result of his decisions. When facing two armed police officers, no matter how much you have been wronged or how right you are, you’re never going to come out on top just by carrying a machete, so just put it down.
The incident outside Pimicikamak is another example of people using racism as an excuse. The 16 people who were left stranded on the side of the road called their leadership, who called the event “morally and ethically wrong.” Well how about accusing the passengers of sheer idiocy? Rather than being thrown off for no good reason, they demanded to be taken off the bus rather than stay on the bus as it turned around to return to Wabowden. This is in the beginning of March, where in Northern Manitoba the weather is still cold enough to kill you if you don’t prepare yourself. Pick your battles and stay where it is warm.
Our First Nation leadership immediately demanded an apology. Eric Robinson and MKO Grand Chief David Harper denounced the incident as “inexcusable” and “callous” . There was even a remark made equating this incident to the Civil Rights movement in the U.S. in the 1960s. All of this was said without even mentioning that those 16 people demanded to be taken off the bus.
Everybody has choices to make and must suffer the consequences of the ones that are poorly thought out, just as they should benefit from the well-reasoned choices they made. Using racism as a crutch helps nobody. It takes away our choices, in the sense that it prevents us from being responsible for the consequences of our actions. Using racism as a crutch puts too much power in the hands of the perceived racists, and takes away the power of making choices in life, good or bad.
Racism is still alive, but is no excuse for bad decisions. It is possible that the bus driver that dropped those people off near Pimicikamak Cree Nation might well be a racist, just as the cops who shot down Eric Daniels might be racists too. The personal feelings — regardless of what they are — of the bus driver in question as well as the two police officers are irrelevant. The poor decisions made by the passengers who left the bus and by Eric Daniels are relevant, however, and accusations of racism are a poor excuse for the bad decisions they made.
Michael Kirkness is a student at the University of Manitoba.