We went out to a movie on Friday night. I don’t do it all that often. I mostly enjoy it when I get there, but frankly the racket of the mall, the hassle of lineups for popcorn and drinks are things I love to avoid.
I don’t do that well in lineups. My patience, or lack of, for waiting is well-known in family circles.
Anyway, like I said, we went to a movie on Friday night. We went to see “The Butler,” the more or less life story of Cecil Gaines, a black American raised on a cotton farm in the early 1900s. Without writing a movie review, which I am ill-equipped to do, it is the story of his life, from his witnessing the farm owner shooting and killing his father after brutally raping his mother, through his departure from the farm, to his becoming a butler at a posh Washington hotel, to his life as a butler serving eight presidents in the White House.
It tells of the tragic loss of one of his sons fighting for his country in Vietnam, at a time that his other son was being beaten and jailed fighting for civil rights at home. It is a powerful movie, at least in my view.
There are so many things you can take away from “The Butler.”
We can be a terrible race, the human race, that is. The level of intolerance we are capable of knows no bounds. Yet, in the face of that, there are those, like Cecil, who can carry such grace, humility and quiet determination. It speaks to the destructiveness of paternalism and bigotry. Yet, in Cecil, who directly and symbolically bears the brunt of this, you see the indomitable power of the human spirit to rise above.
It is easy to look at this movie and shake your head at the U.S. and the people responsible for this type of treatment. How, in a modern nation — a world leader — can this possibly carry on? But before you get too judgmental, look around — or better still, look inside.
Before I go any further, let me point out that my other half is Inuk (for those who don’t know, that is the singular form of Inuit — you know, what we used to call Eskimos when we weren’t quite as politically correct as we are today).
The conditions found in aboriginal communities across this country are nothing short of shameful. They are more aptly compared to the living conditions of Third World countries than those found in the mainstream society of G-8 countries, of which we are one.
Who doesn’t look at the evening news stories of any number of problems coming out of these communities and roll their eyes, wondering what is their problem, with no understanding of how, as people, they arrived at this point?
It is so easy to point to the millions that have been spent to try to address the symptoms without addressing the problems. It is easy to say leave, move, get an education, smarten up. But like so many of our compatriots have found over the years, the transition with little or no formal education, from a rural hunter/gatherer/fisher based culture to an urban setting is not as easy as all that.
Today in our country, many aboriginal people live a life not terribly different from that of black Americans. Today in our country, many experience the same judgmental views and face the same hurdles to advancement as recent immigrants.
Just as there is something fundamentally wrong with the views many “up in Canada” have held towards Newfoundlanders, our attitudes towards aboriginal Canadians needs sober thought.
The story of Canada’s movement of Inuit from northern Quebec and parts of Nunavut to the high Arctic is partly told in a book called “The Long Exile.”
See “The Butler” if you get a chance, and read “The Long Exile.”
Trevor Taylor is a former cabinet minister under the Danny Williams administration. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.