Canada entered confederation on July 1st in 1867. This is when the British Colonies of Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick united into a federation. Then the rest of the provinces followed one by one… and now the Canadian state is celebrating “Canada 150”: to the tune of $500 million dollars that aims to buy maple leaf, red and while patriotism and a giant rubber duck. Many people in the country will be celebrating “Canada Day”, but for Indigenous peoples – this is a bit more complicated.
Canada is essentially celebrating their sovereignty, their own self-governance as it relates to a geographic territory. Canada’s ability to be recognized as a state at an international level gives it certain benefits that our indigenous nations currently do not have. But as Indigenous peoples, we should be thinking about our own self-governance, and asserting sovereignty over our territories. How are we, as Indigenous people, going to conduct ourselves in a way that allows us to organize efficiently and effectively, in ensuring our rights and title are respected by the Canadian state? And how can our nations reaffirm and recognize other Indigenous nations as sovereign states?
Indigenous societies across this continent have been here for over 10,000 [thousand] years. So to celebrate the past 150 years as a feat of patriotism to the Canadian state, the social, economic, political structure that has displaced us from our traditional territories, is not what Indigenous peoples are celebrating. Our own political structures, legal systems, languages and knowledge systems have been decimated, to the best of the ability of the Canadian state. These celebrations are based on the ongoing removal and oppression of First Nations, Inuit and Metis people.
I’m not speaking my grandmother’s tongue of Sm’algyax, and we need to be critical as to why that is? What systems have been put in place by the Canadian state to ensure that we don’t live by our traditional laws and governance structures?
There is a lot of hurt that has happened in the past 150 years. The last residential school closed in 1996. Indian agents were enforcing the pass system, where we couldn’t freely leave the reserve from 1885 until in 1951. We saw the potlatch ban that lasted 66 years, and tried to prevent us from practicing our cultures, our ceremonies, and our legal and economic systems. Ultimately, the state tried to keep us from practicing who we are.
We need systemic change. And what I believe we need now, more than ever, is nation building. Not Canada as a nation, but rather our Indigenous Nations. That’s the only way we as Indigenous peoples are going to see transformative change. Our resilience is a testament to our strength and our unique knowledge systems. In many cases, we’re not fighting for special treatment. We’re fighting for basic human rights, clean drinking water, safe and affordable housing, food sovereignty in our traditional territories, educational opportunities for students on reserve, and a standard of living that doesn’t increase our youth suicide rates.
Now, I’d like to invite Ryan McMahon into the conversation to chat about today, as we are now entering Canada 150.