A message to non-Indigenous Canadians
In a couple of days, millions of people across this country will celebrate Canada 150. But many Indigenous leaders and citizens won’t, and I stand with them.
Before I explain the reasons why, I want to start by saying that this isn’t about making non-Indigenous people feel angry or guilty about celebrating Canada Day. Canadians have a lot to be proud of and there is much to be celebrated.
I see this as an opportunity to educate Canadians about our country’s true history and why Indigenous people have little to celebrate.
This is about encouraging people to challenge what they know about Indigenous history and experiences, and to learn more about what they don’t know about the relationship between Canada and its First Peoples.
The 150th anniversary of Confederation is a reminder to Indigenous people of the cruel colonial legacy of the past, and of the policies and legislation that allow systemic discrimination towards Indigenous people to persist to this day.
We are often criticized for complaining about the past and what was done to our ancestors. We are told to “get over it”, “we are all Canadians” and “these things happened a long time ago,” when in fact many injustices are still happening today. First Nations are still controlled by the same archaic, colonial legislation that was created in 1876 to eliminate us – the Indian Act.
For Indigenous people, Canada’s 150th birthday represents the beginning of the government’s attempts to legislate us out of existence – to strip us of our culture, our language, our children, our lands and resources, and our rights. We weren’t allowed to vote or obtain a post-secondary education until 1960, and the last residential school closed in 1996, so we aren’t talking about ancient history.
Despite so much adversity, we are still here, but we still face barriers to accessing the same basic human rights and freedoms as non-Indigenous Canadians. The darkest chapter in Canada’s history may be behind us, but the trauma of colonialism has had intergenerational effects that are still present today and that must be addressed through meaningful actions and efforts at reconciliation.
So when you are celebrating this Saturday, ask yourself why many Indigenous people are not there. Better yet, ask how you can inform yourself about the inequities we face and help create a brighter future for all people who call Canada home.
When I am asked by non-Indigenous friends how they can help, I recommend that they read the Truth and Reconciliation Report – if not in its entirety, then at least the summary and the 94 Calls to Action. I also recommend that people read the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which sets the standard for the treatment of Indigenous people and is intended to serve as a tool to help eliminate discrimination and human rights violations.
These documents provide a good summary of the key issues and a framework for what needs to happen to start making things right. But it must be noted that Canada was the last country in the world to add its name to the list of signatories to the UNDRIP, and that the federal government is not only failing to comply with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations, but has also spent considerable time and money fighting the rulings of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT). Yes, even more than they’re spending on Canada 150 celebrations.
The CHRT ruled in January 2016 that Canada discriminates against First Nations children by failing to provide services that are comparable to those offered to non-Indigenous children by the provincial system. Ottawa has spent over $700,000 in legal fees since then to fight this CHRT decision that protects Indigenous children, and has announced its intention to appeal after the CHRT ruled again that Canada has not complied with previous orders to implement Jodan’s Principle (a child-first principle used to ensure First Nations children receive essential services within 48 hours and don’t get caught in provincial and federal jurisdictional disputes about payment for government services).
The federal government is responsible for providing basic services to all Canadians, Indigenous or not. Yet, First Nations children are consistently discriminated against through inadequate funding for education, health care and child welfare services. Our children living on reserve receive at least 30% less funding for their education than non-Indigenous children. And while First Nations are responsible for managing their own core services, we receive at least half the annual funding increases that most Canadians enjoy through provincial transfer systems, and it is subject to changing annual reporting requirements and timelines that seem to make it deliberately difficult to access critical funding.
The socio-economic gap in the quality of life between First Nations people and Canada was created by the Indian Act, and continues to widen as a result of the lack of predictable and sustained funding that is needed to provide basic necessities such as housing and clean water, and to remedy serious issues around health care, education and child welfare – the very same issues created by the government through their discriminatory legislation and the imposition of Residential Schools on our people.
Canada’s failure to live up to its obligations is not consistent with the spirit of the nation-to-nation relationship that we entered into through the treaties, nor does it reflect the mutual recognition and respect that is needed to rebuild this relationship and finally move towards reconciliation.
Whether or not people choose to celebrate Canada Day is a matter of choice. What really matters is that non-Indigenous Canadians understand the role of Indigenous people in our country’s history, and more importantly, its future.
Let’s create a Canada where we all have something to celebrate together.
Chief Scott McLeod, Nipissing First Nation