Like a party that’s held on the heels of a tragic event, it’s understandably difficult for all involved to don party hats and join the frivolity. Canada’s celebration of the last 150 years is a bit like that.
While many good people have been working hard to commemorate this anniversary and there are, no doubt, accomplishments worthy of celebration during those 15 decades, there’s a crucial chapter of the story missing.
For those people whose ancestors have lived on this land, not for hundreds of years but thousands, how could Canada 150 celebrations not make recent phrases such as truth and reconciliation ring hollow? The last 150 years were arguably the worst 150 years in the history of indigenous people across the country – people who have suffered immeasurably from government policies and still do to this day.
Arthur Manuel, a former Neskonlith chief who passed away Jan. 11 and is being mourned by many, was a strong advocate for indigenous land and human rights not only in this region but throughout the world. In an article published a week before his death, he wrote about Canada 150. Instead of honouring colonialism, he suggested, “Indigenous peoples and Canadians who believe in human rights need to look at Canada’s 150th Birthday Party as a period to undertake a commitment to decolonize Canada and recognize the right of Indigenous Peoples to self-determination.”
Manuel pointed out that Indian Reserves make up only 0.2 per cent of the land in Canada.
“You cannot have reconciliation under the colonial 0.2 per cent Indian Reserve System. It is impossible. Nothing can justify that kind of human degradation. The land issue must be addressed before reconciliation can begin.”
Current Neskonlith Chief Judy Wilson sees opportunities in Canada 150.
“We’re looking at turning it on its head – looking at a way we can respect that the indigenous people have been on the land for millennia, and that Canada, in celebrating its colonial birthday, its 150th birthday, can recognize that they have a lot of reconciliation work to catch up.”
She points to a local step in the right direction – when First Nations were included in welcoming the Syrian refugees.
“There was a lot of protocol in respecting that Secwepemc people were the rightful titleholders. They explained that to the refugees, so we shared our songs and our world view and they reciprocated. Those are the types of reconciliation things that make a difference in opening our eyes to a new relationship.”
It’s clear if we really want to celebrate Canada, this year would be the perfect year for putting things right. Then we’d all have something to celebrate.