This year Canada as a colonized country is 150 years old. And we’re going to celebrate. I imagine that on July 1 there will be a plethora of festivities, with flags and music and who knows what else.
Canada means different things to different people, for sure. You can read more about this in my blog post last Canada Day. But it has a particular meaning and history for our Indigenous Peoples.
Questions about our birthday celebrations
So I want to ask:
Who will be at those birthday celebrations and who will be missing?
What are we thinking about as we celebrate?
And what are we conveniently forgetting as we blow out the candles on the cake?
Whose 150-year history are we recognizing, and whose remains in the shadows?
There are certainly things to celebrate about Canada and what we stand for. But I wonder about a 150-year birthday celebration when there is so much pain that has come for Indigenous Peoples with the formation of artificial borders, the concept of ownership of the land, and new laws that have completely disregarded and discounted a way of being that has existed here for much longer than 150 years.
It’s another slap in the face.
If we are celebrating Canada, given who was here prior to colonization, and how they have been treated since (up to and including today), then we are also celebrating all of the ways Canada and Canadians have disregarded Indigenous Peoples and their lives. I don’t want to celebrate that.
Considerations re: Indigenous past and present in Canada
I’m not Indigenous. So as you read, please keep in mind that I’m offering a somewhat informed but still outside perspective and that there will likely be many, many other things that should be on this list. But here are a few things to consider about what Canada as a country has meant and continues to mean to our First Nations, Métis, and Inuit brothers and sisters:
- Borders, laws and ways of being that completely deny First Nations geography, and Indigenous ways of being, living on, and living with the land that existed long before 1867.
- Residential schools that took Indigenous children away from their families and communities, subjected them to horrible abuse, forced them to deny their culture and language. Many thousands of Indigenous died at these schools. The last one closed in 1996.
- The 60s Scoop that took Indigenous children away from their families and communities and put them into non-Indigenous foster families where many grew up not learning about their culture and identity.
- Current disproportionality of Indigenous children in the child welfare system.
- Loss of culture, identity, language and community due to the above 3 points.
- The reservation system which has “given” Indigenous peoples a fraction of the land they once lived on?
- The extreme poverty on many reserves, as well as overcrowded and substandard housing, unemployment.
- Lack of clean drinking water on many reserves.
- Lack of proper emergency fire services on many reserves.
- Treaties that have been ignored or are still being negotiated.
- Lack of respect for the land; mining and pipelines in general, but also specifically on or through Indigenous land.
- Negative stereotypes about Indigenous people.
- Lack of representation in every level of government.
- Lack of representation in the school curriculum (elementary, middle and high school). The result? Canadians don’t know the history of Indigenous people pre- and post-colonization.
- Lack of representation among educators.
- Lack of representation in the curriculum for new Immigrants.
- Lack of representation in higher education curriculum and faculty.
I could go on…but hopefully you get the idea.
The road to Reconciliation…?
In October I was at an Inclusion conference put on by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation. Chief Dr. Robert Joseph spoke about reconciliation, and how important it was in order to move forward as a country and as a collective people.
Is a birthday party for a system and way of doing things that has such a violent history against the people that were here first is a step forward in the process of reconciliation? Can we celebrate while also acknowledging our negative history and present?
What message is celebrating sending, and to whom?