A complaint has been filed with the hate crimes unit of the Ottawa police over notes slipped to an Ojibway woman.
Since late August, Sharon Land Fisher, who lives in a YMCA women’s shelter in Ottawa, has received two notes.
“Indians are disgusting,” says one, the other accusing her of being a “Stupid, dirty, Inian.”
Tanya Schryer, coordinator of the TRY Housing Program for Women at the YMCA, filed the complaint.
“I contacted the OPS to have them come in and provide us with a seminar, which will be mandatory for all the TRY clients to attend, in hopes for people to understand the impact that racism has.”
Schryer admitted this was the most glaring testimony of racism she has heard about while at YMCA.
“It’s right in your face.”
Land Fisher has been living in subsidized housing for two years and says these are by far the most shocking and blatant signs of racism she has experienced since she first walked through the doors.
“I cried,” she said,” because it reminded me of growing up when it was quite legal to have signs that said ‘No Indians Allowed.’”
The first note was discovered when she was in the washroom. The other note, however, was slid beneath her door.
“The first note didn’t affect me as much as the second,” she said. “Having it put under my door brought it into my space.”
Land Fisher was part of the “Sixties Scoop”, the apprehension of Indigenous children during a period between 1960 and 1985.
Initially from Wabaseemong, near Kenora, Ontario, she was adopted by an Ottawa family where she was subjected to vehement forms of racism and intolerance at a young age.
“I grew up during that time when I faced a lot of racism because I was the only dark person in that area,” she said. “I got called everything, from squaw to wagon burner, tripped and shoved in lockers.
“I didn’t actually have any friends growing up because a lot of people who weren’t racist were afraid to stand up for what they believed in,” she said. “I was very alone. It was very hard.”
Land Fisher is skeptical of certain social interactions now.
“I’ve met a lot of nice people here, I’ve made a lot of good friends,” she said. “It was hard for me because now I take a second look at everybody, asking myself, ‘Are you the one who wrote that note?’”
Land Fisher does not show the tell-tale signs of someone who experienced a hate crime – she is giddy and shares her story openly. She took to Facebook, too.
“Part of it was to show this wasn’t going to hold me back,” she said. “When I was young I did. I kept a lot of pain inside, a lot of hurt, but this time no, it’s going to push me to continue spreading cultural awareness. It proves to me how much more this is needed.”
Land Fisher says many women who come to the shelter still call her “Indian,” explaining to them that she is, in fact, First Nations.
“People are not going to see my age, or my gender, they’re going to see the colour of my skin first when I walk through the door,” she said. “It’s still out there, and I’m not dirty, I’m not disgusting and I’m definitely not stupid.”
Land Fisher has been spreading cultural tolerance and sensitivity in the city since 2000. She worked as an Indigenous cultural speaker and teacher at public and private institutions for twelve years. For two years she has served as the chairperson of the Ottawa Aboriginal Parade Committee, a non-profit organization promoting Indigenous culture on National Aboriginal Day.