Editor: I hope my story will help some to clarify why indigenous support for Canada 150 may seem lacking. Few dispute that it is a privilege to live in such a blessed and favoured country.
It is worth saying that indigenous people have every right to downplay or ignore a celebration of what has, since pre-Confederation and up to the present, been a continuing failure of governments, politicians and services to act or provide that which other Canadians take for granted.
Native communities across the north with massive clean water issues is only one in a litany of failing policies that continue.
Some could say native peoples are not the only ones who have faced political and judicial system failures in our storied but short history. They would be right. Japanese citizens forced to internment camps during the Second World War, Chinese citizens that faced many hardships and bigoted attitudes, the confiscation in Halifax of black citizens’ land in Africville without recompense, and the list goes on.
It is not a small list. Perhaps indiscretions against indigenous groups or newer Canadian citizenry can be justly laid at the feet of the first waves of European immigrants, callous, dismissive and arrogant, bringing an ancestry that spawned provincial and one-sided court systems bent to a continuation of favour toward Eurocentric values and a cold or even hostile appraisal of other ways of being in the world.
Then there are those feeling pushed to the side by incoming waves of new citizens, some that refuse to “Go Canadian” and hold onto their pre-Canadian value systems at any cost.
My Metis father flew 239 missions in Spitfires in WW2, in his undying belief that democracy was worth risking everything for. He was smart enough to downplay his Metis ancestry when he joined the war effort. It got him into flight school, whereas honesty about his Aboriginal roots would have likely put him on the front lines with a rifle.
I remember his difficulty with incoming Asian citizens in the ’80s and ’90s and his disapproval of my comment that his effort in the war helped pave the way to welcome new citizens. I remember his small touch of bigotry with an ironic smile.
He never fully celebrated or perhaps even understood the value of his Metis roots, for his grandmother and grandfather are mentioned in Hansard, no less, as being friends and co-conspirators of none other than Louis Riel, an as-yet nationally uncelebrated forefather of Confederation.
Canada is much bigger than an antiquated embodiment of 150 years with a supposed unified view. If it is big enough to provide citizenship and benefits to millions and if its future is rosy enough to generate belief in Canada as a beacon of hope to a world that appears to breed and feed on intrinsic degrees of despair, then it must also do whatever it can, spend whatever it takes, and continue to up its game every year to get to the next 150 with true democracy and fairness as its spiritual grounding.
We are not there yet. This is the reason to celebrate: that we can get there.
Thank you for reading and contemplating.
Eli Bryan Nelson,