This year is Canada’s 150th “birthday”, “anniversary”, or whatever why you want to say it joined together under British rule to become a country.
For the past 2 years I have worked in First Nation community schools. To clarify before I start writing. I’m White. I am from Scottish and English blood. My parents are Canadian and American and my family didn’t come over to Canada/the United States until the 1920s/1930s. So no my family wasn’t apart of the colonization that originally started. So being a White person, it may seem odd that I am having issues with Canada being “150”, and the celebrations surrounding it. I’ll also add that I’m a teacher in a First Nation school.
Canada as a country has been around for 150 years, yes. Officially on paper signed by a bunch of old white guys, but it was a nation long before that. There were a bunch of smaller nations, who would from time to time, bind together to help each other out. Isn’t that truly what nationhood is? Where the collective works as one to help each other? Yes there were points where not all the nations of the First Nations agreed, but do the provinces currently all get along all the time? No. They have disagreements and don’t always see eye to eye because their priorities are different. I did have a boy actually ask me how come Canada was 150 years old and not older? Fortunately his sister immediately answered, “it is older.”
When Canada became a country, these nations were thrown a curve ball bigger than anyone could have ever expected. It’s the part of Canada’s history that I never learned about in school and am very disappointed that we never did. Then again, who would openly discuss parts of your history that was shameful and had a lot of wrong doing? I didn’t even discuss it when I was in Canadian History classes in university at Lakehead. Confederation was more focused on in that class. These wrong doings are only coming out of the woodwork and being more openly discussed now. That is the violations of the Treaties, Residential schools, the 60s scoop and the major issue of the misappropriation of funds on reserves and the high lack of mental health services for youth. Now some of these are major headlines and you are probably thinking, well they did it to themselves, they could just leave the reserve, they need to keep their Chiefs accountable. However, as an outsider, you aren’t seeing the true picture you are only painting it from what you have seen on the news and your general assumptions. These shameful acts have all happened in that 150 years, so why are we celebrating it? I feel that I can’t especially with my students.
Treaties were something that was signed before Canada had Confederation. Agreements that were intentionally broken. These white men thought that these First Nation peoples were too dumb to understand it, and that they wouldn’t get caught taking First Nation peoples off their traditional lands and putting them on a reserve, often being less than ideal conditions. Treaties were meant as an agreement to last forever, as a way of appropriately sharing the land. We today are seeing the effects of the violations of Treaties, because who is going to live in a good situation when where you have been placed by foreigners in an area that says, “live here.” So as a teacher, how can I celebrate Canada Day, especially its 150th, when it is a mark of saying that my people came to your land and took you off of your land and broke trust?
Residential schools are one of the worst things in Canadian history. Worst part is, it isn’t something that stopped early on in our “150” years/time since Confederation/since those white guys sat down to make sign something. The last residential school closed in Saskatchewan in 1996! That was 21 years ago. It may seem a long ways away, but being that it is within the last 20 or so years and I was around during that time, it isn’t that long ago. Residential schools were made to “get the Indian out of child.” Kids weren’t allowed to speak their language, they were abused and made to feel worthless. It was the biggest way of saying, “Hey we came here, we are the foreigners, you conform to us…” (odd to say we have this mentality as Canadians to those who immigrate to Canada now…kind of backwards thinking). A lot of children died in residential schools because of suicide, abuse, starvation or terrible conditions. They stayed in these schools and didn’t go home daily to visit their parents and often they were far away from their homes. The missionaries would often go into communities to find these kids, the kids were rounded up and loaded onto a train and sent to these schools far away from everything they knew. Where I currently am, residential schools have had some effect on some of the Elders, but it is such a hush hush thing, not many talk about it. It is like soldiers coming back from war, they often don’t talk about those experiences either. We know terrible things happened, but we don’t ask. After Residential schools were decommissioned these schools were handed into the First Nation band’s hands for them to do with as they pleased. Mostly they were turned into band operated/federally funded schools, but in most cases where the government still had a hand in the school’s running, it left a sour taste in a lot of people’s mouths. Why wouldn’t it? The government just ruined a lot of lives through education, why couldn’t it happen again in these schools? Come present day, a lot of First Nation schools are band operated, or operated by an Education Authority run by a collective of First Nations, with federal funding to help keep them open. A lot of their teachers in these First Nations schools are white or non-First Nation. That is where I am. I love where I teach, and I am not here to force assimilation, but rather I’m interested in their culture, their ways, their teachings. But, because of Residential schools, I can’t celebrate 150 years of torture, abuse and attempts at assimilation through education. That isn’t what education is meant for. Most of these schools are teaching their culture, language and ways in these schools because residential schools made a generation of people feel shameful about their ways, meaning it wasn’t being fully passed on; it started to die. How am I supposed to be all cheery and excited and teach First Nation kids about it, especially in a school setting, after all of this?
The 60s scoop as a secondary way of assimilating First Nation kids and getting rid of “the Indian” (man writing that seems so derogatory), but through removing them from their “toxic, abusive, neglectful” homes. Often these children weren’t, but when you take social workers from downtown Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg, wherever and throw them onto a reserve it is like culture shock. My goodness, I came from a small town, but when I went north last year, I had culture shock, but didn’t try to change their ways. They saw things that they believed were neglectful, and actually weren’t. So they took these children out of their homes and put them in white homes or the foster care system where they were abused and made to believe being First Nation was bad. Sometimes they were placed in homes across the border, their names were changed and further loss of language and culture all at the hands of foreigners. (Yes we are foreigners). Seems difficult to say hey let’s celebrate us continuing the assimilation up to 30 years ago.
I’m not going to get into the keeping leaders in check, because as non-First Nation people we can’t even do that. However, I am going to state that yes, it is nice to celebrate that we live in a free country, free from war, free from a lot of terrible things that are currently happening, but we need to look on ourselves as Canadians come this 150. I work with First Nation kids who I love working with. I love learning the culture, the language and their ways. This year it was hard celebrating 150 years of Canada existing because I know in my heart it existed much longer than that and the “official time stamp” only marks the beginning of problems that we caused. The geography hasn’t changed, and nations existed long before it was made a country. During this time though it hasn’t been free from discrimination and violence. This is where I am struggling. I couldn’t teach my Grade 4s about Canada Day this year, because it didn’t seem appropriate, heck it wasn’t appropriate. Let’s teach you about how my people signed your land into a country, then decided you weren’t worthy living here for that whole time. Let’s force a celebration of something that is only showing the good parts of being a proud Canadian? Yes Canadians can be proud for lots of things, but you can’t be a true Canadian if you can’t acknowledge all of the history and realize that you need to take it in stride and move forward with it.
We need to look at this 150 years and how we as outsiders have done things. We need to take it as a note and move forward towards reconciliation and ensuring this upcoming generation has a solid basis to go forward on.