Tormented history and harrowing experiences of Indigenous nations in Canada is filled with unimaginable pain and sorrow; abuse and rape; a state-sanctioned child abduction; neglect and the attack on relationships. This continuing abuse and neglect of the aboriginal peoples is one of the historic crimes of Canadian capitalism.
The totality of policies toward these people amounted to cultural, biological and physical genocide. Stealing a moment out of this hype-prone historic event, especially, let’s remember all of those children ‘who grew up without birthdays in the residential schools. In less than a month’s time, on July 1, Canadians are going to; the 150th anniversary of its creation, the combining of four provinces into a dominion back in 1867. Pancake breakfasts, parades, carnivals, and candles will be lit and fireworks will grace the sky all across the country, highlighting important people, places and events in Canadian history.
The federal government is spending half a billion dollars to commemorate this event. The previous Conservative government wanted celebrations to emphasize Canada as “strong, proud and free,” while the Liberals focus has been on diversity, reconciliation with indigenous peoples, the environment and youth.
But with all of the mainstream hype about Canada 150th anniversary of confederation, it no surprise that so many Native people are describing it as “colonialism”. For Priscilla Augur, whom I met in Edmonton last week, “It would be both an injustice and an insult to all First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples to suggest that we should celebrate; the last 150 years of Canada's history. We lost our connection to the land, our culture, and our history. The only ray of hope has been that against injustices aboriginal people are now fighting for their rights. During the last 15 years or so, residential school survivors have filed almost 13,000 lawsuits against Canada and the churches for abuse. So, how can I be in good conscience participate in a celebration in the face of continued denial of our treaty claims and basic human rights?” Auger, who belongs to the Bigstone Cree
Nation band, grievously echoed pain of the First Nations who feel extremely offended.
Indeed, particularly the devastating legacy of Residential Schools caused multi- generational trauma in Canada’s Indigenous communities. “The schools may have closed but the system still exists. You can see it in the nation, (with) poverty, violence and colonialism and the entire systemic racism still there,” said Katherine Swampy, a Samson Cree Nation Councillor, in an interview at a smudge walk, in Edmonton on June 2 Metis artist Christi Belcourt, Cree activist and advocate Tanya Kappo, Métis elder and author Maria Campbell and a teacher and storyteller Isaac Murdoch, along with several other artists, litterateurs and intellectuals wonder if they should join in the birthday bash. These men and women of wisdom are also raising much awareness on social media in the form of #Resistance150. An organized loot and well-thought of torture of the Natives through the colonial policy of enslavement and exploitation is the theme for the dissenters.
Christi Belcourt who is not at all enthusiastic about the celebration, says “We knew were going to hear about Canada all year long — and not only that, but the spending for Canada 150. That;s half a billion dollars to celebrate Canada birthday. Meanwhile, over100 First Nations still are without potable drinking water. Our languages only get $5 million a year; the child welfare funding gaps are there, and perhaps most importantly, the Indian Act itself. At the same time, we wanted to showcase the good things that are happening in our nations that we should really be celebrating. We wanted to feature examples of history, of resistance, resilience and resurgence. All the restoration work being done on the grassroots level is inspiring.” Belcourt has written a poem – Canada, I Can Cite For You 150. An award-winning playwright and novelist, Drew Hayden Taylor, from Curve Lake First Nation near Peterborough, feels, “while there are certainly many memorable moments in our Canadian history, but ours is also a history of imperialism, colonialism and cultural superiority. Canadians tend to overlook the fact that this country was born out of treaties with Indigenous peoples. It because the Canadian government has failed to live up to the commitments in these original covenants that we find ourselves faced with a dark legacy in respect to Indigenous peoples.”
Likewise, artist Chippewar has posted a satirical version of the Canada 150 logo on his Instagram. His versions—also available as free sticker packs through the Chippewar website—read “Canada 150 Years of Genocide,” “Canada 150 Years of Assimilation” and “Canada 150 Years of Broken Treaties,” and are posted with similar hashtags. While, poetess May wants to see a change through her poem ‘I am not a number’. She rejects the Canadian state and the oppressive laws of the Indian Act. These laws have been used to displace Indigenous people of their lands so there could be free-for- all resource extraction.
These artists are sharing their art work that is featured as part of the project. They write from their rage—their anger, their fears and their hurts. This way, they connect to their spirit. They feel that basically all of the First Nations, Métis Nations and Inuit people that have been here for 15,000 years are being continuously ignored. Indian policy was based on acquiring Indigenous lands and resources and reducing financial obligations to Indigenous peoples. The primary methodology was either assimilation or elimination. These acts included confining Indigenous peoples to tiny reserves and forbidding them to hunt, fish or provide for their families, forcing them to live on unhealthy and insufficient rations that caused ill health and starvation. “Other genocidal acts included the forced sterilization of Indigenous women and little girls and many of whom were physically and sexually assaulted, experimented on, tortured and starved at residential schools – leading to the deaths of thousands,” says Pamela Palmate ,a Mi kmaw citizen member of Eel River Bar First Nation and currently an associate professor and the Chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University..
With the release of the final report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (15 December, 2015) and now Canada's 150th Birthday, there's been a lot of talk about reconciliation; but not a lot of action. The First Nations people don't believe that reconciliation is even possible, because the entire premise of Canada rests on the dispossession of Indigenous people of their lands. As they are erased from the landscape, their connection to the lands has been severed. It affects their whole being. Until the theft of lands is looked at, till that reconciliation with the Canadian state doesn’t look possible.
To indigenous Canadians, the 150 years include residential schools, the Sixties Scoop, Grassy Narrows, murdered and missing women, unfair policing, unequal health care, education and child-welfare systems and exploitation of resources. Not to mention, of course, the virtual absence of aboriginal history from school history curricula. These people don’t just want money. They want access to their traditional pursuits of hunting and fishing, control over their vast natural resources, and title to their own land. They want a place where they can grow, expand, and live like they used to; free of the colonial chains of oppression and control.
Canada’s sesquicentennial provides a historic opportunity to confront the grave injustices and colonial oppression. We can begin by committing to meet our legal, financial and moral obligations to indigenous peoples. We can demand that politicians honour the treaties and court decisions, and work with indigenous peoples to address substantial deficits in education, housing, health care and other socio-political opportunities. This could be a profoundly meaningful and inspiring sesquicentennial challenge.