“Oh Canada, Our Home (ON) Native Land…”
When I hear the Canadian Anthem, I realize that there is much for which to be grateful as a citizen of this vast and varied country.
Thus every July 1st when Canada Day rolls around, I feel happy and grateful—but also sad.
I am sad because as a citizen it is helpful and awake not just to look from under a sunhat through rose-colored maple-leaf shades, but instead to look clearly and honestly at this country’s history.
Recently the Truth and Reconciliation Commission acknowledged that Canada’s aboriginals were victims of cultural genocide. This acknowledgement is a first step and it was a long time coming. The Commission acknowledged that the structures and practices that allowed aboriginals to continue as cultures were purposely destroyed in an organized and deliberate way in an attempt to erase their cultures, values, identity, and languages.
But more awareness, study, justice, and remedial action are needed.
How can anyone forgive and forget that at least 6,000 children died in the residential school system?
This was a system designed and established to “take the Indian out of the child.”
More than 150,000 First Nations, Inuit, and Metis children were taken from their families and forced to attend these schools over much of the 20th century. These schools were so crowded, poorly ventilated, and unsanitary that children died from smallpox, measles, influenza, and tuberculosis—so much so that graveyards sprang up around the schools more often than playgrounds!
Those that died were often buried in unmarked graves or listed as “missing” or “discharged.” In many cases parents never found out what happened to them.
Survivors of the residential schools have testified in graphic detail the rampant sexual and physical abuse they endured in these government schools. And the legacy of their treatment is evident today in their high poverty rate, hundreds of missing and murdered aboriginal women, so many aboriginal children in foster care, and a disproportionate number of aboriginals in jail.
The theft of their land and resources, the history of broken treaties, and the outright genocide of the past, combined with the refusal to recognize these people’s place in our nation and the ongoing injustices inflicted on them by poverty and racism—these are not something to celebrate on Canada Day, July 1st.
The resistance of First Nations to pipelines invading their lands has been heroic, and finally the government is beginning to recognize that maybe it should consult these people!
As long as the atrocities and oppression of racism continues, I cannot celebrate.
Canada was not alone in being founded on lies and the dispossession of indigenous ancestors. But anyone who has benefitted from past colonialism should own some responsibility and at least desire to see that proper housing, clean water, food, and schooling are rights for all.
This will begin to reverse the political design to “assimilate” aboriginals, with its accompanying trauma and legacy of poverty. This will begin to answer the need to repair our relations with First Nations. We should listen more to these peoples who love the natural land and do not want to see it strip-mined or turned into an even larger tar sands. Like environmental activists, they do not understand why Canada has been tearing up green treaties and rejecting green targets in the global battle against climate change. Like environmentalists they do not understand why Canada is an obstacle.
These are the people who have always considered future generations.
The relationship between Canada and its indigenous peoples remains broken. Thus in my more quiet way of celebrating Canada Day this July 1st I will be commemorating the lives lost, reflecting on this land taken from a people that has given so many like me so much.
If more Canadians joined me in contemplating how to remedy the colonial legacy, and value the natural land as intrinsically valuable, Canada would be so much more a country worthy of being celebrated by all.
Author: Linda Lewis
Editor: Renée P.
Image: beaumontpete at Flickr