Happy Birthday, Canada. Sorry, We’re Still Here
Indigenous people weren’t supposed to be here and that’s just one reason we reject Canada 150.
At this point in the mind-blowing lead up to the $500-million-dollar birthday party Canada is throwing itself, you've heard about giant rubber ducks, hundreds of communities celebrating their settler roots and U2 headlining the Canada Day party in Ottawa. The giant duck confuses me, settlers confuse me, and a bunch of Irishmen headlining a Canada Day party in the nation's capital...well...confuses me.
As an Indigenous person in Canada, suffice to say, I'm pretty sick of hearing about #Canada150. I can't take a shit in this country without being confronted by Canada's sesquicentennial. Seriously. My brand of asswipe has stamped their packaging with a Happy Birthday, Canada message. Fuck you, two-ply Charmin.
On the flip side, I'm sure most Canadians that have heard about Indian Country rejecting Canada 150 as a celebration of the last 150 years are sick of hearing about that, too. I get it. By Indigenous Peoples rejecting and resisting the last 150 years, we aren't necessarily rejecting YOU personally. We're rejecting and resisting policy and ideologies that kill us—plain and simple. But I get it. It's annoying. Our bad.
The list of reasons we're rejecting the party is long. The #MMIW inquiry, drinking water, Jordan's Principle, Site C Dam, pipelines through our territories, underfunded education systems on reserve, high suicide rates, more kids in CFS care than at the height of residential school, dead kids in Thunder Bay, and more. Some people might go to the birthday party but you should expect some red wine spilled on the white carpet—we might not be the best guests.
The fact that half a billion dollars was found to throw the party is no surprise—however it does come as a shock to those communities without drinking water who have been historically told infrastructure is just too damn expensive in remote communities.
I'll admit to this much—many of us are angry. Angry beyond reproach. We throw around terms and words that can hurt or sting—you'll hear us say, "White People, Settlers, or Fuckin' White Settlers." These conversations are hard to have and they rarely happen in real life. They happen on social media and in comments sections—there are very few spaces for real life interactions around these issues. Something tells me, this may be what is needed most—a space where both sides can articulate itself and we can see if we can go from there?!
Here's the thing though. Canada 150 is just getting started.
On July 1st, 2017, it's actually Canada's 150th. I'm not a betting man but if I were I'd put good money on Canada being like one of those spoiled brat assholes that has "multiple day birthdays" or "birthday weekends" or "birthday months." I'm betting in Canada's case, we're in for a "birthday year."
WE REALLY NEED CANADIANS TO STEP UP
The solace in all of this is a few of us are having the hard conversation about what the fuck to do next in Canada? What should we focus on first? The inquiry into #MMIWG? The dead Native kids in Thunder Bay? UNDRIP? Jordan's Principle? What should the priority be?
This is where you come in, Canada. All of the above (and more) can be and should be priorities. We need you at the table though. We need you to connect the dots of the past and present and to stop telling us to get over it. In order to move forward, YOU need to catch up and do the work to understand the scope of the problem here in this country. The colonialism problem in Canada is a problem of the past AND present—we need Canadians to understand this very very very very very simple truth. Many of the policies, laws and legislation that created this country to give our Big White Daddy a leg up (and a headstart) in this country are simply called different things today—colonialism is still the foot on our throats.
This is part of a VICE Canada project on the future of protest. See more from the Canada 150 series:
- What the Next Generation of Canadian Activists are Facing
- 'Black Power Hour' Leads the Fight for Prisoners on the East Coast
- Here's What the Future of Pipeline Protest Looks Like
Some people point to the fact that curriculum is changing in Canada and therefore we'll all be OK, that a whole generation of kids are learning what the powwow is all about, that residential school was bad and that headdresses are not for them. However, when those kids go home, they sit with their racist Grandpa and hear about their Settler Colonial conquests.
So, do we just wait for the Old Stock Canadians to die off to be free of the entitlement, the racism, and the toxic ideologies that float around Canada, or do we continue to beg Canadians to see our humanity?
When Indigenous Peoples reject Canada 150 and bring up the reality in Canada, it's risky business. "Whiteness," its power structures and its roots are alive and well in Canada today. To truly create the systemic change necessary in Canada, we have to address the roots of the problem: we weren't supposed to survive the last 150 years. Sir John A. MacDonald's whole vision was one of assimilation. Successive founding governments never relented in this vision. In fact, up until Stephen Harper of all people, this has (mostly) been the long standing argument, "Assimilate, goddammit."
The truth is, some of us have assimilated, many of us have not.
I embarrass myself every week in Canadian media begging for Canadians to see our humanity, value our diversity, and to hear our voices. This is truly the quickest way to change the country —change the hearts and minds of the people. This is likely the bad news—most people don't want their hearts and minds changed. I can assure you though, we want the same things you do—we want our kids to have good lives, be safe and accomplish their dreams. We want to explore the world, eat good foods and discover the world's secrets. Fuck, most Native people I know want a white house with a picket fence—we're not so different than other Canadians, I promise.
In this journey of trying to change peoples' minds, I've come across three main archetypes among Canada. I appreciate them all, uniquely.
THE "SHAME-FILLED RECONCILIATION WARRIOR" CANADIAN: We meet the odd Canadian who will be patient and listen to our claims, understanding that there is much they don't know—these people are an open-minded bunch willing to take the lumps on our way to Reconciliation Land. I'm running into more and more of these people throughout Canada.
THE "OH FUCK BUDDY, COME ON, I MEAN I'M NOT RACIST, BUT, GET OVER IT" CANADIAN: This is the Canadian I meet the most. I travel around North America about 250 days a year—this is who I meet in airports, restaurants, shows and bars. Too bad for them, I look white, and being White Coded allows me to hear all the shit I'm not really supposed to. Of course, I end up on the verge of fights, arguments, and rants on the weekly. How Joe Canada can argue or be willing to argue the truth in Canada is beyond me. One of the most accomplished thinkers of our time, Senator Murray Sinclair, deemed what happened here in Canada is a genocide. Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin identified residential schools as an attempt at cultural genocide against Indigenous Peoples. Statistics don't lie. We have a MASSIVE mountain to climb in this country. The legacy of the last 150 years is impossible to get over—the legacy is still being written today.
THE DO YOU WANNA FUCKIN' GO CANADIAN: Seriously. Don't even deny it. You've met this person. You may even be this person, though, I doubt it. This paragraph is pretty far down the article and I doubt this guy does 1,500 word deep dives. BUT. If you ARE that guy and you DO do 1,500 word deep dives into Indigenous issues, good on ya. And. Ya, I kinda do "wanna fuckin' go."
THE ONLY THING I KNOW TO BE TRUE IN LIFE IS WHAT GOES AROUND COMES AROUND
Here's my offer to Canadians on Canada 150.
I am a hardcore Anishinaabe Nationalist. I want to live in my homeland, free and unencumbered, as my relatives imagined and agreed to at the time of signing Treaty #3.
In order to get to this place however, we need YOU, Joe Canada, to understand some shit. You need to get your shit together. Seriously. We are NOT a conquered people.
We lived in close relationship to the land, through our governance systems and our understanding of Manito Aki Inakonigaawin, which is the sum of the Anishinaabemowin words: Manito, or Spirit; Aki, or Land; and Inakonigaawin or Law.
Manito Aki Inakonigaawin is my people's understanding of life—an intimate relationship to land that generally says, "what goes around comes around," or, "what you put in is what you'll get out," or, as it relates to land, "when you take care of the land, the land takes care of you." Our lives and our spirits are connected to land and the reciprocal nature of our relationship to the land is central to our existence.
Our inherent understanding of spirit, land, and law informs our ways of life through millennia.
We can connect the traumas of the past and our dispossession from our home territories to our current state of affairs in Canada. If Indigenous people can't access all that keeps us well — medicine, food, water and our cultural and religious freedoms—via the land, how healthy and well can we possibly be?
This proves my point that programs and services will not bring us reconciliation. Programs and services will not decolonize this country. The only answer left to me is systemic change and land.
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