One Day We Shall Overcome
November 6, 2003
Congregation Habonim, Toronto
By: Trisha Lynn Cowie
I felt a deep sense of loss in Poland;
a loss in humanity for the sacredness of life. My faith
in the human race deteriorated a little more with each death
camp we visited. In my mind I was drawing parallels between
many of the tragedies of the Shoah to what is happening
in Canada. I was drawing parallels between the treatment
of the Jews and the treatment of the Aboriginal peoples,.
As an Irish-Ojibway woman my personal concern for this matter
The Jews were made to appear as sub-human.
They were parasites, obstacles to the betterment of society.
Aboriginal peoples have been painted in a similar light,
they are alcoholics and gas sniffers, they are a drain on
taxpayers' money. Like the Jews, the aboriginal peoples
have been demeaned to such a great extent that sensitivity
toward their situation is diminished, and then when wrong
is done to them others do not care. Throughout the 1930's
the Jews were victimized. Actions that were considered wrong
or criminal against the Aryan race were endorsed against
the Jews. The Jews were not protected by the law enforcement.
The aboriginal peoples on the East Coast of Canada experienced
similar injustice. Non-native people violently attacked
the aboriginal peoples fishing boats. They rammed into them
at sea and set them on fire. The law enforcement did not
penalize these criminals, they stood by and watched the
violence against the aboriginal people unfold.
The Nazis attempted to eradicate the
Jews. The Canadian State has eradicated entire nations of
aboriginal people and is still attempting to be rid of us.
The primary purpose of the Indian Act to assimilate us is
proof, as is the 2002 resurrection of the White Paper of
1969, which proposed to legally extinct aboriginals peoples.
The Nazis fragmented the Jews and caused
them to turn against one another. This made unity and resistance
nearly impossible. The same has been done to the native
peoples by the Canadian government. The native people have
been divided physically to their reserves, which resemble
some of the elements of the Jewish ghettos. There is poverty,
death by suicide, and deplorable living conditions. But
also they have been divided mentally; there is bickering
over who is or is not identified as Indian as laid out the
Indian Act. Aboriginal people have been turned against one
another. When the Jews built up the strength and unity for
an uprising it was severely crushed by the Nazi regime.
The Oka Crisis in the early 1990's is an example of how
the Canadian government used the military to crush the resistance
of the aboriginal people. The government turned tanks and
trained military against civilians. These revelations are
the cornerstones of my deteriorated faith in humans. We
have not learned. Our ill treatment of fellow human beings
persists. And not just against aboriginal peoples, against
everyone. Blacks, Whites, Indians, Asians, Hispanics..when
will it stop? When will the people of this world be able
to recognize, that regardless of our differences no individual
is more human than the next; all people are equal in their
My deep sense of loss was accompanied
by something greater; something that restored my faith.
It was accompanied by hope. It is found in my fellow participants.
Each of my companions has a gift of giving me the ability
to attempt to make a difference. My strength to commit to
this program and a better future is in them, I also find
a deep sense of hope in each of you who are willing to listen
and show support for our protest against intolerance. Change
in the negative treatment of others begins with us. We must
demonstrate understanding and compassion to those who are
treated unfairly, we must demonstrate a capacity of caring
in order for it to be reciprocated.
I would like to share one last reflection
with each of you. When I was in Poland at Auschwitz, I recall
looking around before we entered the camp. The grass was
so green, as were the trees, the sky was a beautiful blue
with whispering clouds. There were birds singing. I thought
am I being mocked? This place that was once
a place of horror and death, has disguised itself. Was the
serenity of the natural environment attempting to mask the
evils I know once existed here? But then, I was suddenly
hit with a different concept. A place where horror and death
once reigned was now replaced with beauty and new life.
The camp that was once run by savage murders was now over
come by people who condemned such acts of evil. This gave
me hope that one day we shall overcome. I hope that it does
the same for you.