Last week, new Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps refused to swear allegiance to the Queen in her Oath of Office, sparking a fierce local debate.
By way of explanation, Helps cited that she felt it ran counter to her work with local First Nations. Writing even more strongly on the issue, Councillor Ben Isitt stated:
“As a historian, I know that imperialism by Britain and other European states has caused tremendous suffering and dislocation for indigenous people, here on Vancouver Island and around the world, including the families of many friends. The impacts of the ongoing processes of imperialism and colonization continue to hold back our communities. This is not an indictment of Elizabeth II as an individual, but of the system her family currently symbolizes.”
But now the discussion has shifted to the response by Times Colonist editorial cartoonist Adrian Raeside, which several people (including myself) read as saying First Nations’ loss of traditional territories is as serious an issue as some bugs getting squished.
Which is to say, not serious.
The Times Colonist, which has published Raeside cartoons for over 35 years, started out by defending him on Twitter, suggesting those who were offended “might want to take another look.”
Those tweets were subsequently deleted as it seems the paper realized the cartoon maybe was offensive. Not long after, Raeside released his apology. Here’s an excerpt:
The cartoon is about the empty mouthing of a mantra that appeases the non-indigenous conscience without any meaningful effort to make things better. It is a perfunctory statement not backed by action.
Why not mention the deplorable living conditions some have to endure on nearby reserves? Why not do something about the high suicide rates among young people in some reserves?
It’s easy to say we acknowledge First Nations territory. It’s not so easy to address issues that are ongoing and deplorable in the 21st century. It’s not so easy to make a real difference. We, as a society, can do better and we should.
A cartoonist has to walk a fine line on sensitive issues. Sometimes a cartoon misses its mark. I had no idea the cartoon would be taken the way it was. I never meant to imply anything negative about First Nations people.
This morning, Times Colonist editor Dave Obee also released a statement, outlining all the great things he feels his paper has done for First Nations people, condemning the “no-holds-barred social-media attack” on the TC and Raeside and defending Raeside as “one of the best cartoonists in North America”:
Subtle cartoons will be ignored.
Why do we run cartoons? To get people to think about issues. To inspire dialogue. To push and prod to make things better.
If a cartoon does not offend at least one person, it’s not doing its job; at the same time, there is no sense in publishing a cartoon that is blatantly offensive.
It’s definitely a fair point that politicians should be doing more to back up their platitudes about First Nations’ land rights. And I truly believe that Raeside means well and doesn’t realize why his work is problematic.
But Raeside and the Times Colonist still fail at Checking Your Privilege/Allyship 101.
If you’re a person (or mainstream media outlet) with privilege and you’re called out by people with less privilege for offending them, the first thing you do is listen. The second thing you do is accept responsibility. The third thing you do is say how you’re going to do better in the future.
You do not try to deflect from the bad thing by saying, “But look at all these good things I did for you guys!” You do not police the people calling you out for their tone.
Most of all, you don’t just forget about all the racist cartoons you’ve drawn/published in the past.
Although I don’t doubt their sincerity, I find it really hard to buy the Times Colonist and Raeside’s claim that they’re working to help First Nations people, when this is far from the first blatantly offensive cartoon about First Nations that Raeside has drawn and the TC has published (h/t to @sugarsh0t on Twitter for collecting the examples).
Dave Obee, If there is “no sense in publishing a cartoon that is blatantly offensive,” can you explain publishing these ones?
Adrian Raeside, can you explain, if “a cartoonist must walk a fine line on sensitive issues” or if you “never meant to imply anything negative about First Nations people” why you have repeatedly chosen to draw cartoons in which First Nations people are racist caricatures in warpaint and feather headbands, embodying the “Casino Indian” corrupt thug stereotype, bent on taking “our” tax dollars, denying white people our democratic rights, and slaughtering innocent animals?
If you do truly mean well and you want to use your platform to help First Nations people instead of belittling their concerns and spreading vicious stereotypes about them, you can.
But I’ve gotta be honest: there’s a lot of ground to make up.
Both Raeside and the Times Colonist are going to have to do a way better job at listening, showing they understand why these cartoons are blatantly offensive, taking responsibility for that, and actually doing better starting now. Because decades is way too long for your readers to put up with this stuff.