George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police on May 25 has sparked a wave of protests in the United States, in Canada, and around the world.
Over the past two weeks, millions of demonstrators have taken to the streets. Coverage in the U.S. has focused largely on the massive displays of support in major cities, but demonstrations have also been held in smaller towns across the country.
The same has been true in Ontario: thousands have grouped, gathered, and marched in such major centres as Ottawa and Toronto to speak out against anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism. But events have also been held in Guelph, Thunder Bay, Niagara Falls — and the list goes on.
This week, TVO.org will talk to those involved in the movement in cities, towns, and other communities across the province about what they're fighting for — and where Ontario should go from here. Today, Tania Cameron, an Indigenous activist who helped organize the Moment of Silence for George Floyd in Kenora on June 8, and Katrina Osborne, who spoke at the vigil.
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TVO.org: Tania, what led you to organize this event?
Tania Cameron: It’s the whole death of George Floyd. I haven't even been able to watch that video, but the snippets that I have seen on the news — it's the moment when he called out for his mother — that did it. I cry just about every day since it's happened. I can't believe how he was murdered. These officers need to go to jail. They need to go to prison. It's been bothering me as someone that's Indigenous and someone that faces racism. And my children face racism; my parents face racism. It's just — this is ridiculous. It has to end. So I needed to do something.
TVO.org: Katrina, what inspired you to speak at the vigil?
Katrina Osborne: I'm originally from the States myself. I was born and raised in Washington, D.C., and just watching all these protests happen and all these Black people dying. Once Tania had posted [the event] on Facebook, I was in. She said I could speak if I wanted to, but, in the days leading up to this, I had mixed feelings about it, wondering, Does my opinion matter? But I had my kids with me, and I just did it. I knew it was something that I had to do for myself and for my children.
I talked about how I was born in the United States. My mom is Canadian. We moved here on July 1, Canada Day, 1998. I was 11 years old. We got into the school system, and then it all just started. There were only a few Black people in Kenora; I'd say a handful. It was fun at first — until you say the wrong thing to someone, or the way you say it, because I had a very strong accent when I came, and kids made fun of me because of my hair and were saying the N-word all the time.
I discussed this with Tania this afternoon. I said, I work right downtown in our town, and I still deal with it as an adult. It's pretty disgusting and sad to see that's still going on — and now with my own children. My son is 15. I had actually posted on Facebook. My purpose was to just show people what our kids are going through in school. This is what my son is going through: horrible things. [People] telling him that he should kill himself, that I should be dead — like, just things that kids shouldn't even be saying. He was on the volleyball team one year, and even his own teammates were calling my son the N-word.
TVO.org: What was attending the vigil like?
Osborne: It was really nice to see lots of people from our community show up. It really meant a lot to me. I know there are more Black people in this town. I would have liked to see more people come out. I would've liked to see more of our city police department down witnessing this so they get a feel on what we had to say or what issues we thought mattered in our community — but that didn't really happen.
TVO.org: We’ve seen reports of police brutality against Black people for a long time. What has sparked such a strong reaction from people across North America?
Cameron: It's enough, right? It's just enough. And I know it caused a strong reaction here in Kenora because we've — as Anishinaabe people — had negative experiences with the police, with the justice system here.
Osborne: I think people are tired. Like all our people in Black history that marched for civil rights — Martin Luther King, Malcolm X — they did all this to lead the way for us to have a better future. It’s still the same. And I really feel everybody is angry, and they're tired of this happening. And everyone just wants this to stop. I don't even think they care about COVID anymore. They just want to raise their issues out there and look for change.
TVO.org: Do you see anti-Indigenous racism fitting into the Black Lives Matter movement?
Osborne: Yes, absolutely. My kids are part First Nations, too, so I understand. I would say, if anything, out of all the races, the Black community and the First Nations community are close knit with this. Just moving here, I've learned lots about Indigenous community, and I love the teachings. I learn from my own kids. When I was younger, when we had people come in and talk about residential schools, I was in tears. I had no idea. It hurt me just as bad to hear all these stories. And I figure, Why not have them both, both colours, come together? We've all gone through the same thing, pretty much.
Cameron: Oh, yeah. I think we share a kinship, unfortunately — a bad kinship on that front. Me and Katrina, we’re talking about kids, even in the high school. If our kids have faced racism in their own schools today, that means moms and dads my age are passing down racist views to their children. And then those children take those views and feel that they can put it on my children: like, from my daughter being called a savage when she goes to play basketball; from my son, getting whispers from the other opposing team on the court, calling him a dirty Indian; from my youngest son, working at McDonald's, who's the darkest of us, for a customer to be calling him the N-word. That’s Kenora. That's all within the last couple of years — so it's awful.
TVO.org: When it comes to anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism, what would you like to see change locally and nationally?
Cameron: I wish these politicians and, like, [author and columnist] Rex Murphy, I wish they would stop thinking that they are any kind of expert on racism in Canada. Saying that there is no racism problem, that we don't have deep roots. We do. Talk to any Indigenous or Black person in this country and ask them what their experiences are today. Ask their parents or their grandparents what their experiences were in their day. It's very evident. It's still a lived and shared experience, and I wish white people would stop acting like we don't have a racism problem. We have to confront it. We have to eradicate it. We have to learn to be tolerant.
Osborne: I just want people to understand. I mean, it's hard to understand. It's hard to explain to someone when they're not your colour — you know what I'm saying? But even to just give advice. Don't hesitate to Google some of our Black historians. Even Viola Desmond, who is on the $10 bill — that made me so happy to see. I just want people to get more insight and understand what we're trying to accomplish here.
I think the police in our community should be more involved. They should be more involved in the community, with other things, even if it has nothing to do with policing. At the beginning of the school year, they do a health-and-safety night, or something like that. But, I mean, have a presence all through the community, even my community. I live in low-income housing. The neighborhood was bad with drugs and stuff, but it's nice to know that somebody cares about us — knowing that we're safe, that we can depend on them if something was to happen. Just stuff like that. Showing your presence around, letting us know that we don't need to be afraid of you. We should all be working together and knowing that we can trust them if something does happen.
This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled Katrina Osborne's surname. TVO.org regrets the error.
This is one in a series of stories about issues affecting northwestern Ontario. It's brought to you in partnership with Confederation College of Applied Arts and Technology. Views and opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the college.
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