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Indignant cries ignorant of facts

CNC's decision to fill certain positions in the future with an aboriginal-first hiring policy is long overdue.

CNC's decision to fill certain positions in the future with an aboriginal-first hiring policy is long overdue.

UNBC has had a similar policy in place for years, although it also includes visible minorities, women and people with disabilities under "designated groups" in the faculty association's contract.

Naturally, there are indignant cries of reverse racism across the community but those protests are ignorant of facts, history and basic human resources practices.

Hiring policies that include a person's race doesn't make skin colour the sole determination to someone getting a job. It's just one of a series of attributes an employer is looking for. If CNC is hiring a new history instructor and makes it an aboriginal-first position, that means that if there are two candidates -- one aboriginal and one non-aboriginal -- with equal education and instructional experience at the post-secondary level, the aboriginal person will be hired. If an aboriginal person with no teaching experience and a degree in commerce applies to teach that history position and there is a non-aboriginal candidate with a PhD in history and 20 years of post-secondary experience, the non-aboriginal candidate gets hired.

As any human resources professional will admit, employment practices, by their very nature, are discriminatory because certain traits are preferred over others, often without the knowledge of the people applying for the job. Connections always play a role in finding work but so does physical appearance, personality and chemistry between employer and job candidate. In other words, people in charge of hiring tend to choose people who look, think and behave as they do and, when in doubt, hire the prettiest candidate, regardless of sex.

Furthermore, there is a broad and growing recognition in academia about the power and depth of traditional knowledge. In the environmental sciences, traditional ecological knowledge has time and again demonstrated itself as an insightful tool when looking at ecosystem change. Climate change scientists drilling into ice cores to demonstrate how the Earth has been on a warming trend since the Industrial Revolution only confirmed what aboriginal elders have been saying for generations by recalling stories from generations past about subtle changes in the length of seasons, the habits of animals in their hunting range and other anecdotal knowledge passed through the ages.

Elders come into the classroom with a form of knowledge not based on the scientific method, often based on oral, not written, traditions, where spirituality and personal experience plays a significant component towards understanding. CNC and UNBC recognize that knowledge and wisdom are not the sole domain of the holders of post-secondary degrees, particularly when it comes to aboriginal society and the scope of recent environmental changes on their traditional lands.

The online reaction to The Citizen's story about the college's plans exposed an ugly truth that lies just below the polite surface of this community. Many non-native Prince George residents continue to hide their racism under huffy objections about excessive coddling of the aboriginal population, once again without considering fact and history.

Just because Ray Gerow, an aboriginal man, is the new college board chair doesn't mean this was his idea and even if it was, what difference should that make? Ideas stand or fall on their merit. Gerow is also only one vote on a board of trustees that sets policy at the college, often at the recommendation of the president and senior staff.

And there's history, which too few know and too many think doesn't apply to them. The reality is not complicated -- if you are a non-aboriginal person living in North and South America, you inhabit stolen lands, end of story. The people who conquered the American aboriginals over the last 500 years, from the Arctic islands to Tierra del Fuego, are long gone but today and future non-aboriginals are, and will be, beneficiaries of that theft. Don't look at providing government money each year for indigenous populations as a scam you shouldn't have to keep paying for. Rather, it's rent, paid to the descendants of people who were -- and continue to be -- victims of an invasion and a genocide. The amount of annual reparations can be debated but not the reason to pay it.

CNC's new policy regarding aboriginal hiring is not just about money, it's about respect for history, tradition and knowledge. Unfortunately, too many willfully ignorant residents still think aboriginals and their knowledge are worthless and their culture deserves nothing but scorn. Then, in the very next breath, these very same residents wonder why "those people" can't just accept the way things are and let the past go.

Neil Godbout is The Citizen's news editor.

ngodbout@pgcitizen.ca