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Stereotype of the Month Entry

From Indian Country Today, 6/13/01:

American Indians victimized at Canadian border

By Brenda Norrell
Today staff

Navajo filmmaker Arlene Bowman, photographed at Alcatraz, said she is often the victim of racism along Canada's border

TUCSON, Ariz. -- American Indians crossing the border from the United States into Canada say they are victims of racism and harassment by immigration officials based on the color of their skin and identity as Native people, as are Indigenous people crossing the southern border of Mexico into the United States.

"Everywhere in the world Indigenous people are being oppressed and suppressed when it comes to border crossings," said Long Standing Bear Chief, Blackfoot Nation educator, lecturer and writer.

Along the northern border, he said Canadian and American authorities violate American Indian rights by making Native people pay duty on items meant for the give away after each Sun Dance.

"Then there are those border guards who try to make us declare an American or Canadian nationality when we are traveling within our ancient homeland that is bisected by 'their borders.' They really are funny little white folks in this way. They want us to be like them."

"I was once threatened with being turned back to the United States by a Canadian border guard who was trying to make me declare American citizenship, but I refused. I said he might try, but he would be creating an international incident between his country and mine, the Blackfoot Nation."

Navajo filmmaker Arlene Bowman chose Vancouver, British Columbia, as her home after finding it a supportive environment for filmmakers.

But while crossing the Canadian border, she found the same constant racism that she experienced during 17 years in Los Angeles.

"Before I got permanent residence, whenever I traveled alone and drove through the Peace Arch or the truck crossing to return to Vancouver, I got stopped by Canadian customs and questioned by Immigration.

"I doubt that hassle will stop. I am 51 years old. I call it being targeted by Canadian customs, who are usually white men and a few women. There's very few people of color working as Canadian immigration officers."

Bowman said she understands that a primary reason people are targeted at Canada's border is because of marijuana and cocaine drug trafficking in the region. Marijuana is grown in British Columbia and sold in the United States.

But, unlike the average white border crosser, Bowman said she is constantly under suspicion because of her appearance and interrogated at length. The questions and demands are constant: "How much money do you have to live on in Canada? Show us the amount of money you have.

"Usually immigration officers act very defensive and seem rude, like control freaks, by the way they question and react to my answers."

Bowman says she tries to control her anger during the abusive treatment, but that is not always possible and she challenges the abuse.

Bowman is the independent filmmaker of "Navajo Talking Picture," shown at Japanese and European film festivals, and "Song Journey," shown on PBS. After traveling alone through South America, she gained a master's degree in filmmaking in Los Angeles, where she found racism common.

"The United States customs is not immune from racism at customs. Whenever I returned to Los Angeles from a flight internationally, I was targeted."

Sometimes the racism came from Latin American or African-American customs officials.

"Once a Latin woman questioned what I was. Because of my brown skin, she assumed I was Latin or Mexican. Sternly I said, 'I am Diné, American Indian' because I wanted to educate her. She forced me to get checked. In the rooms where I am forced to go, I look around to see who gets targeted."

And who gets targeted? "Usually ... other people of color. I abhor that the people of color whenever they get jobs of power like cops, they act like the Los Angeles Police Department. They start abusing the power by forcing people of color to serve them."

Comment:  The stereotypes here include the idea of minority people being less trustworthy and more likely to steal from or mooch off of Canadians. Not recognizing the special sovereign status of indigenous people as they cross borders is also a stereotype.

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