Racism gets in the way of Romance, says new CBC poll

A poll commissioned by CBC News reveals people on the Prairies are less comfortable getting close to aboriginal people.

Half of people from the Prairies said they'd be OK with a romantic relationship with an aboriginal person

People on the Prairies are less comfortable getting close to aboriginal people, according to a poll commissioned by CBC News. 2:42

People on the Prairies are less comfortable getting close to aboriginal people, according to a poll commissioned by CBC News.

Only 50 per cent of people from Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta said they would be OK with a romantic relationship with an aboriginal person. That compares with the national average of 63 per cent.

Mark Grindey did not let racism get in the way of love when he proposed 38 years ago to Shirley McLean, a member of Pinaymootang First Nation. Falling in love was easy, but getting his family to accept his new wife took effort.

“My parents were somewhat guarded. I think stereotypical ideas about the idea of mixed marriages or marrying at that time an Indian,” said Grindey.

”So it was a little bit of a struggle for a while until they got to know Shirley.”

He said his mother’s attitude eventually changed but their love never wavered.

“Mark was always there for me. He was always standing up for me,” said Shirley. “ It showed me that he loved me and wanted me and I tried my best to cope with the challenges.”

Photographs from Mark and Shirley Grindey's wedding day (Michael Fazio/CBC)

Throughout the interview, Mark and Shirley sat side by side, his hand resting on her arm. They are proud parents who knew their daughters were raised in a family where two cultures lovingly co-existed.

This all changed once the girls hit school.

“You're growing up and these are your parents. You don't see really yourself as somebody different until people start to point it out," said Melanie Avery. At 34, she is the eldest. She is also the one who faced the most racial torment.

Avery’s face was gripped with pain as she recounted a day when a classmate hurled a racial slur before shoving her.

The daughters of Mark and Shirley Grindey (Michael Fazio/CBC)

“I was pushed down a flight of stairs in grade six and my ankle was sprained and I was on crutches for a long time but being called the name before they pushed me was what hurt most,”said Avery.

Avery’s youngest sister, Kelsey Lenaghan was harassed at school too. She recalled how racist remarks were spoken right to her face and how her first reaction was to fit in.

“Students would say certain jokes and right away they would say oh we don't mean you Kelsey we meant the other ones, like the other native people. And so I'd kind of laugh around with them because I didn't want to be ostracized from them,” said Lenaghan.

But once the words sunk in, her reaction changed.

“And so I started thinking though, like, what are the other ones? Is that my Mom and my uncles and aunts and my sisters?” said Lenaghan.

The family gathers around the table to look at photographs (Michael Fazio/CBC)

When asked about the CBC poll, the family reacted with sadness and shock.

“It's really frustrating that people wouldn't even consider dating somebody who is aboriginal because they have this notion that we're all, that we might be alcoholics or have these bigger issues,” said Lenaghan

These poll results reflect the history of racism in Canada, said Niigaan Sinclair, assistant professor at the University of Manitoba.

“We have inherited this legacy of taught injustice or taught racism from our school system manifesting itself through adulthood and mainstream values and now it is the fabric of the country,” said Sinclair.

“What it does illustrate to me is a profound ignorance; that Canadians do not understand what it is to be Canadian.” Sinclair said about the poll results which reveal Prairie people are less likely to be comfortable engaging with aboriginal Canadians.

“Most people, if you have been here for two or three generations you have an indigenous relative and you have indigenous genealogy,” said Sinclair.

Sinclair admitted he wished his daughter did not have to face racist attitudes but he remains optimistic.

”There are no more resilient people in this country than indigenous people.” Sinclair said. “I am not discouraged by seeing this because we have changed the tide in this country in the last three years since Idle no More.”

Despite the pain and injustice Shirley Grindey and her family endured, she refuses to be bitter. “I try to be a happy person because you have to. If you let these things dwell in your heart, they're going to fester.”

The CBC national online survey was conducted by Environics Research Group between Oct. 22 and 29. It comprised 1,500 adults aged 18 or older, including 260 people who were visible minorities.

The poll gauged the respondents' feelings on a range of issues and scenarios, from immigration and multiculturalism to their "comfort level" with people of different ethnic backgrounds living or working in their community.

With files from Gosia Sawicka


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