Relationship status: It’s complicated.
If you live in Canada, the events and hype surrounding #Canada150 are impossible to avoid. Everywhere you look and listen, from garbage cans to national and international media networks, Canada’s commemoration of its founding as a nation through the Dominion Act of 1867 is being celebrated. Sales of Canadian flags and Canada 150 merchandise are booming; a neighbourhood in southeast Edmonton is trying to put a Canadian flag on every house by July 1.
Perhaps they don’t see the irony of plastering the colonial flag of the nation on lands which were supposed to be set aside for my ancestors, the Papaschase First Nation, but were “surrendered” under suspicious circumstances in 1888.
I was raised celebrating Canada Day and learning to be proud of my nation. After all, we were better than our neighbours to the south; we never had a revolution, slavery, or a civil war. But I, like many Canadians, was lied to by the educational system and the history books. We were taught about the Fathers of Confederation who founded this nation and their great vision for a country that reached from sea to sea. Those lands and waters envisioned by the Fathers of Confederation as a new nation, however, had been home to Indigenous nations for thousands and thousands of years. We never learned about how the Canadian nation we are celebrating was founded on stolen lands, broken promises, and cultural genocide. Only through dispossession, starvation, and disease could the lands be claimed as a new, colonial nation. For the first 125 years after Confederation, the nation of Canada acted to try to destroy Indigenous peoples, languages, and culture through assimilationist policies such as residential schools, the pass system, the Inuit number system, Métis scrip, treaties, and government legislation. The language of the relationship between Indigenous peoples and Canada has shifted in the past 25 years, where reconciliation and nation-to-nation relationships now dominate the discourse. And yet, education is underfunded on reserves, Indigenous women and girls are murdered or go missing at alarming rates, Indigenous children are much more likely to end up in the child welfare system, and reserves are without clean drinking water.
Many Indigenous peoples are engaging in #Resistance150, a movement which calls out the ongoing dispossession of Indigenous peoples. A group of Indigenous people were met with police force when they attempted to erect a tipi on unceded Algonquin territory in Ottawa. There are many responses to #Canada150, such as this, this, and this, that help me and others learn about why this day is problematic for many people.
I can only speak to my own standpoint on #Canada150 and for me it is deeply fraught. My mother’s family on both sides is British and came to Canada in the first decades of the 20th century. My father’s family (on the only side we’ll ever know) has been Métis for at least 7 generations and is related to the Papaschase First Nation, but as I have written about elsewhere, my father was placed in foster care at birth. Where does that leave me? I was raised without knowing my father’s community as a direct result of the colonial policies of Canada, ones upheld by the other side of my family who I dearly love. The violence of the Canadian state reverberates through the generations of my family and when I see the commemoration of #Canada150, I feel the pain echo in my bones in a way now that I never have before.
Instead of celebrating Canada’s past on July 1, 2017, I instead want to imagine a better future. We must know the history of this place to be able to move forward in imagining a just, equitable future for all Canadians (including women, LBGTQ-2S, BIPOC, people with disabilities, and all the intersections between these groups) and the occupied Indigenous nations on whose lands and waters this country is built. Truth first.
As a mother of a daughter who is Canadian of German, Dutch, and British descent and Métis, I must work to create a future where she can thrive in an ethical way, not at the expense of her other Indigenous cousins. I cannot do it alone, and I also firmly believe that while Indigenous nations need to be self-determining and self-governing, they cannot make the necessary changes in our country to move forward in a good way without the work of all Canadians, especially those with power given by the setter-colonial and heteropatriarchal society in which we live. So to my family, friends, and colleagues who are celebrating tomorrow, I ask you to learn more deeply about the history of this colonial country and the suffering that has been perpetrated on Indigenous bodies, lands, and waters. Learn about the resilience and resurgence of Indigenous communities in the wake of ongoing oppression and injustice. Read Indigenous authors (and no, Joseph Boyden doesn’t count).
Don’t learn to feel guilty; learn so you can understand the deep roots of the injustices faced by many Indigenous communities today and help make a change. Learn so you can undo your own beliefs and prejudices toward Indigenous peoples. Learn so you can stand up and call for a more just, more equitable nation.
On #Canada150, learn about the past so we can change the future.
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