I was recently asked by Ethnic Aisle to write about the past, present, or the future of racism in Toronto. After posing the question to Facebook, the most recent and obvious racist incident was the Holy Chuck “Dirty Drunken Half-Breed” Burger incident. Below is an excerpt from the post at Ethnic Aisle, but please take a moment to read the full post here.
“Half-breed is an historic term used to describe anyone who is of mixed Native American (especially North American) and white European parentage. Métis is a more general French term for mixed race, which has generally referred to a person of descent from two different major ethnic groups, such as European and African, European and Native American, or European and Asian.”—Wikipedia, the first Google hit for “half-breed.”
Despite the fact that there are nearly 80,000 Aboriginal people in the GTA, Indigenous people are nearly invisible to the average Toronto resident. When Native people visit from cities like Edmonton and Winnipeg, where the Aboriginal population is highly visible, they are often confused as to where all the Native people are.
This invisibility often means that immigrants who come to Canada have little education about the history or current reality of Indigenous people whose land they are settling on. Outside of Canada, the North American “Indian” is usually known by tired stereotypes—like the Noble Savage, Pocahontas, or the Drunken, Dirty Half-breed.
For those who don’t know, the “Drunken, Dirty Half-breed” was, until last August, the name of a hamburger at Holy Chuck Burger, near Yonge and St. Clair. Also on the menu was a burger named the “Half-Breed,” and both had been menu staples since 2011.
After his racist burger caused a flurry of online outrage, Holy Chuck co-owner Bill Koutroubis swore to the Toronto Star that he never knew the term “half-breed” might have negative connotations. The names were chosen, Koutroubis said, because the patties were a mixture of two kinds of meat. “Drunken” came from the chili topping, which contains alcohol. And “dirty,” because hey, it’s a messy thing to eat.
“Racialized terms have been used historically as a means to market objects, such as food, with names like ‘Indian cornbread’ or ‘squaw bread’ or ‘Cherikee Red’ soda,” says Tannis Nielsen (Métis/Cree/Danish), a practicing professional Indigenous artist based in Toronto. “These derogatory terms are used to devalue the reality of our Indigeneity.”
Koutroubis said that as a Greek person, he’d never insult someone based on their ethnicity. A generous observer might blame the invisibility of Toronto Aboriginals for his lack of knowledge about the 73,605 Ontarians who identify as Métis—who were referred to as “half-breeds” by the Canadian government until as late as the early 20th century. “Because many people go through everyday without interacting with a Native person, the only representations of Indigenous people they see on a daily basis are stereotypes,” says Adrienne Keene, a PhD student at Harvard University who runs the blog Native Appropriations. “It’s no wonder that the store owner didn’t think twice about promoting a burger named after a racial slur.” Koutroubis told the Toronto Star that he “never meant to be malicious” with his “innocent play on words.”
But wait: when Holy Chuck Burgers first announced its Half-Breed burgers last December, one eagle-eyed Twitter user clearly alerted the burger joint of the potential minefield that they would be walking into.
Read more here.
The sandwich board Holy Chuck put up on September 15
Oh look my first comment! This Ryan guy sure seems awesome.
I’m sure he’s dressing up as an “Indian” this Halloween. Cool dewd.