Selectively celebrating Canada's 150th

 

As we enter 2017, there is a lot to reflect upon, question and celebrate as Canadians. Something that encompasses these feelings is that of the 150th year anniversary of our country.

There is so much to celebrate from coast to coast but it is crucial to keep in mind that the mainstream narrative of Canadian history tends to be exclusionary. When reflecting on our country and how we have gotten to where we are, there tends to be a focus placed on the settler side of Canadian history, which disregards the entire story that came before confederation. The main reason behind this lack of acknowledgement tends to be miseducation, ignorance, perhaps even guilt or a simple lack of care.

 Students at the Cross Lake Indian Residential school. Photo courtesy of cbc.ca

Students at the Cross Lake Indian Residential school. Photo courtesy of cbc.ca

I sought out to write this piece as a non-indigenous, daughter of an immigrant, Canadian university student because I myself am questioning why it has taken me 20 years to engage with the idea that a whole part of my country’s history has been left out. I am questioning why I haven’t been taught in depth the trials and tribulations that this country’s indigenous ancestors have had to face in order for my life to be the way it is right now.

As someone who is coming from a place of curiosity rather than lived experience I had the privilege of speaking with students Jasmine LaBillois and Kashya Young as well as political science professor Dr. Lavinia Stan, who specializes in transitional justice, about the importance of acknowledgement, truth, and reconciliation as we enter the sesquicentennial.

I am to highlight that we as Canadians, especially as young university students, are actually presented with a major opportunity to move forward in authentic reconciliation. We are in the best time there has been yet to capitalize on mainstream attention of the notions of truth and reconciliation, post the establishment of the TRC, and use the voices that we have, to keep the push back strong against the erasure of the indigenous narrative that occurs through the actions of the government, school administration and general societal conversation.

Both Jasmine and Kashya had spoken to reconciliation, mentioning that it has perhaps turned into a term that many may not fully grasp and use out of context. This is an important platform to build off from as we enter 2017 celebrations. What does reconciliation entail? What are Canadians willing to do in terms of righting the injustices of the past to heal communities from lasting colonial effects?

First I think it is important to admit to what the plight of indigenous people was. It was a cultural genocide; our country was built on cultural genocide and although certain aspects such as the Indian residential schools have technically been rectified in the eyes of the government through the shutting down of these schools and offering official apologies and compensation packages, the effects are still seen heavily. So, what would Canadians like to see as reconciliation moving forward?

A topic that came up with Jasmine and Kashya was that of community versus the individual. As we fleshed out the actions from the government in the past, the main way of reconciliation was through the government throwing money at indigenous people who were survivors of the Indian residential schools. This was seen as an act of getting individual people to stop talking, implying that since they were awarded money the injustices were paid off. What this process excluded was building communities back up to heal them, not only economically, but socially as well.

Something Dr. Stan mentioned that has stuck out is that sometimes, symbolic measures are just as powerful as those of judicial or monetary. Symbolic action lives beyond natural biology. While people continue to grow old and die, and we as a country move further and further away from our past, we have to ask ourselves, are we ok moving forward as this country that aims to be the shining example of democracy, community, acceptance and home without authentic reconciliation of our past? Will we refuse to speak of, teach our children and heal from the legacies of residential schools, broken treaty relationships, and stolen land?

The establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission offers something to be proud of, but not settle with. We need to implement actions that focus on bringing truth to the teachings of history and to move away from the minimalist view on reconciliation. There needs to continually be space for the stories of indigenous people, settlers and immigrants to be shared rather than reducing the history of Canada down to 150 years- that fails to recognize the diversity of lived experiences that has made Canada the country that it is today.

In the nature of celebration, it will be easy to focus on all of the good aspects of Canada, of which there are many, but it also allows an opportunity for this country to accept responsibility for the past, address inequities within society, and authentically implement reconciliation.

We are so lucky to live in a time and place where the government aims to have our best interests in mind; we can push for civil society and the government to work together and listen to citizens; we can go to school and open our eyes and minds and recognize that the land that we are learning, living and loving on belongs to us all. We need to remember and respect those who had to forcefully sacrifice their land and lives for us to be able to sit here today and have these conversations.

Through our conversations, Jasmine and Kashya mentioned the Red Road, your path to your dreams and goals. Everyone’s Red Road may be different, but upon entering the celebrations for this year let’s all aim to make our collective Red Road to take this opportunity of a historic year, embody a sense of national nobility and pride in our history, and work to move to a point of authentic acceptance of previous ignorance, genuine apologies through actions and continued conversations of our 150+ years of Canada.

I wrote this article sitting in the library that resides on unceded Mi’kmaq territory.