UNKNOWN TERRITORY TV show asks: Will white prejudice survive trip into Indigenous Canada

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MOST OF US ARE LIKE COLUMBUS BEFORE 1492. Most of us have not yet made first contact. We have no idea what the Indigenous people who live here are really like.

Our Indigenous people keep trying to change that. They alerted us to Orange Shirt Day on September 30th. The Sisters in Spirit Vigils for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls took place across Canada on October 4th. Yet most of us remain unconnected and unconcerned. Comfortable with all the ugly, unkind and untrue stereotypes about our Indigenous people.

First Contact is a TV show designed to change that. It is a three-part documentary of a 28-day voyage of discovery with six everyday white Canadians into the world of Indigenous life in Canada.

A world unknown to whites
First Contact aired on Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) beginning September 11. The all-white cast all have strong—and mostly negative—opinions about Indigenous people.

They visit a number of Indigenous communities from Winnipeg to Nunavut, from the coast of British Columbia to Calgary. They have to confront what they thought they knew about Indigenous people face to face, in a world, they never expected they would ever see.

White people are the primary audience for First Contact. The producers deliberately highlight common stereotypes and misconceptions whites believe to be true about all “indians.” The hope is that testing the validity of these stereotypes head-on will educate and change attitudes.

The show’s participants have no filter when sharing their views on Indigenous Canadians. It can be painful to watch. But also essential to get down to the real truth of things.

Each racist thought a participant has represents the thoughts of thousands (millions?) of Canadians. First Contact deals with that reality. It’s clear what the participants see and hear makes them think. Whether it smashes stereotypes is not.

Survivors more than victims
The real value in First Contact is how it presents important positive aspects of Indigenous life that are often overlooked. The big takeaway is that Indigenous Canadians are, more than anything else, survivors—not victims.

Important topics discussed in the show include:

residential schools

  • the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls crisis,
  • boil water advisories,
  • over representation in foster care and prisons,
  • barriers to success,
  • hunting rights,
  • the Indian Act, and
  • homelessness.

How will we handle the truth?
First Contact was not created to demonize white Canadians for the sins of our ancestors. It was created to have us face up to a truth as real as the Rocky Mountains: the truth that we have not, and do not, treat our Indigenous people well.

We can—must—do better. How much better will be the final measure of how well we live up to what we believe to be best about ourselves.

You can watch all three episodes of First Contact on their website.


This article was originally published by The Canadian Labour Institute.  

Reprinted with permission for CALM Members use.