This year our nation, the “True North” is celebrating its 150th birthday. Long before Canada was known as the “True North” it was and still is Turtle Island (North America). When did this birthday come about, and why are we celebrating it? Well, we all know Canada was here long before European settler came to explore – or colonize it – and call it their own. Rather for the Indigenous population in Canada, this 150th birthday celebration is actually a marker for 150 years and counting of settler colonialism.
The Indigenous peoples have been on this land long before Canada gained independence from Britain, 150 years ago. Prior to this exists a long history of settler communities trying to dismantle, destroy, and demolish Indigenous populations, cultures, and languages. The settler state, under different colonial rules has carried this out through a variety of methods such as the small pox blankets that were given to an Indigenous community as a chemical weapon, residential school that separated Indigenous children their families, cultures, communities, and languages, and the 60’s scoop in which the government allowed social workers to take newborn babies from Indigenous communities without consent from the family or bands and put them into foster homes and/or biracial families. These are but a few cases of what is known as cultural genocide that has led to Canada’s independence and celebration. However, this grim reality that has evolved throughout Canada’s past and present has not permeated the mainstream celebrations of the state’s 150th. For Indigenous peoples, this is not a celebration, but rather it is a marker of 150 years of colonization and lack of reconciliation with the Indigenous population.
Canada’s 150th is also about celebrating the confederation which it has become the backbone of our nation’s legislation. Contrastingly, Indigenous populations see the confederation as the ongoing racist and exclusionary document that has lead to today’s injustices that the Indigenous population faces. Much of the Indigenous population today faces third world level poverty, continued racism is the workplace and in the education and health system. Furthermore, as festivities are planned, thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women continue to face this racially motivated, gendered injustice with no clear end in site. The real history in regards to Canada’s legislation began with the treaty-making process, something that we do not acknowledge enough. These treaties include the Wampum belt, one of the oldest treaties and one of the first markers of legislation that demonstrated the desire for peace from the Indigenous population to the settlers. However, it is clear that such treaties are not known or acknowledged in today’s celebration. Rather laws such as ones that forced Indigenous children to go to residential school to be separated from their families, laws that forced women to loose their status if they married non-Indigenous, are the laws that continue to discriminate against Indigenous Peoples that have drastically shaped Indigenous realities for the past 150 years.
These laws are entrenched in the Indian Act which of 1867 – a legislation passed by British colonizers that continues to be the foundation of Settler-Indigenous relations. This document dictates what Indigenous people’s finances, land access and the parameters of self-governance. It actively limits and restricts most of the Indigenous people’s ability to practice self-determination, a right afforded to all Canadian citizens. Today this act, despite predating Canada’s independence in an era of active and blatant racism towards Indigenous peoples. Although the current government has committed to renewing Settler-Indigenous relations, there has been no mention of the Indian Act and the ways in which it has facilitated Indigenous erasure and cultural genocide, nor has there been any attempts to repeal and replace it. This is despite it being on the reconciliation strategies recommended in the TRC and in the human rights tribunal case filed by Dr. Cindy Blackstock.
Ottawa, where the celebration is set to occur will spend close to half a billion dollars on the festivities. Can this hefty price tag be justified? As evidenced by cases like the human rights tribunal filed by Dr. Cindy Blackstock – which she won against the federal government – there is a dire need for funding in Indigenous communities in order to establish a sustainable standard of living. The government has been providing inadequate child and family welfare to the Indigenous population contributing to widespread extreme poverty within Indigenous communities. The government has yet to fulfill its legally mandated payout to remedy this state-sponsored impoverishment.
In response to this celebration, cities such as Vancouver, that has the third highest ranking Indigenous population in Canada, is calling this event Canada 150+. The plus symbol represents the populations that preceded settler contact, that Canada did not emerge from a previously barren land its claims otherwise through legal documents such as “terra nullius”. Terra Nullius was used as a legal justification in order to colonize and claim Canada, as it translates to “nobody’s land”.
Comparatively, Canada has fared better in acknowledging and addressing its social responsibilities, especially considering today’s political climate and the international atrocities that are occurring daily. However, this does not excuse us from acknowledging and repairing the injustices that are woven into the fabric of this nation’s confederation. We cannot claim to be the country that prides itself on multiculturalism and humanitarianism when we continue to perpetuate the same injustices we have in the past.