Making Peace Vigil

Standing up for peace

CANADA’S 150th BIRTHDAY: WHAT ARE WE CELEBRATING?

Posted by strattof on January 5, 2017

The year-long celebrations of Canada’s 150th birthday have already begun. There were musical performances, cultural events, and fireworks displays in 19 cities, including Regina, across the country on New Year’s Eve.

According to the federal government’s Canada 150 website: “From local and community events to national celebrations in 2017, there will be plenty of ways to get involved and celebrate all that makes us who we are as a country.

What seem to be missing from the proceedings are events that acknowledge the process through which Canada became a nation: the colonization, displacement, oppression, and genocide of Indigenous peoples. This is the history that in large part “makes us who we are as a country.”

Many of us, especially those of us who have white privilege, don’t know this history. Let’s make Canada’s 150th birthday a time to learn it.

JOHN A. MACDONALD: FATHER OF THE NATION

We will hear a lot about John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister, during the year-long celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday. His legacy includes:

  • Negotiating Canadian Confederation in 1867.
  • Overseeing the completion of the transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885.

As a result of these accomplishments, Macdonald is often hailed as father of the Canadian nation.

GENOCIDE—MACDONALD’S OTHER LEGACY

They are not, however, Macdonald’s only legacy. Almost erased from history are his racist and genocidal policies against Indigenous peoples. 

CLEARING THE PLAINS

In 1878, Macdonald implemented a policy of starvation, with-holding food from First Nations living in Canada’s vast resource-rich prairie region until they moved onto reserves. In Macdonald’s words: “We are doing all we can by refusing food until the Indians are on the verge of starvation.”

The goal of the policy was to clear the plains of First Nations so as to make way for the transcontinental railroad and make the plains available for white settlement.

Thousands died as a result of this genocidal policy.

RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS

Macdonald was a passionate advocate for residential schools. In 1879, his government founded a publicly funded residential school system. In 1884, it made school attendance compulsory for all First Nations children. Thousands of children died from neglect, abuse, malnutrition, and disease while attending these schools.

Genocide, as defined by the United Nations, includes:

  • Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
  • Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group.

Canada’s residential schools, the last of which closed in 1996, constituted genocide.

COLONIALISM TODAY

Why bring up these disturbing truths about Canada’s founding when we are supposed to be celebrating?

We need to know our history because it forms the basis of on-going white settler privilege. In health, child welfare, education, housing, employment, the justice system—indeed, almost everywhere in Canadian society—whiteness is still an advantage and Indigenous identity a disadvantage. For example:

HEALTH

The health gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada, set-off by Macdonald’s starvation policy, persists.

39  Incidence rate of TB per 100,000 people on Saskatchewan First Nations, compared to 7.5 cases per 100,000 people in the province as a whole

52  Community Well-Being Index for Saskatchewan First Nations: Scores can range from a low of 0 to a high of 100. Most non-Indigenous Saskatchewan communities score above 80.

CHILD WELFARE

  • First Nations children on reserves receive 22% -34% less funding for child welfare services than non-Indigenous children receive for child welfare from the provinces.
  • The result: There are more First Nations children in care today than there were in residential schools in the 1950s.

In terms of policies toward Indigenous peoples, how different is Canada today from Macdonald’s 19th century Canada? 

TRUTH & RECONCILIATION

What Canada did, and continues to do, to Indigenous peoples is genocide. Hard as it is to accept, this is the truth. Knowing and accepting this truth is a first step toward reconciliation.

KAIROS BLANKET EXERCISE

The Kairos Blanket Exercise is a way of helping us to understand and accept this truth. “A tool to share the historic and contemporary relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada,” the Blanket Exercise would be a perfect way to mark Canada’s 150th birthday.

Learn about the Blanket Exercise: http://kairosblanketexercise.org/

TAKE ACTION

  1. Please use this pamphlet as a jumping off point for a conver-sation about colonialism, racism, and genocide in Canada.
  2. Let Prime Minister Trudeau, Premier Brad Wall, and Mayor Michael Fougere know you want them to mark Canada’s 150th birthday by sponsoring the Blanket Exercise in Regina. The Legislative lawn, Victoria Park, and the area around the Peace Fountain in front of City Hall would all be good locations. trudeau@parl.gc.ca or 613-995-0253; mayor@regina.ca or 306-777-7339; bradwallmla@sasktel.net or 306-787-9433
  3. Learn more about Canadian history.

The following books are available at Regina Public Library:

  • Clearing the Plains, James Daschuk (2013)
  • The Inconvenient Indian, Thomas King (2012)
  • Unsettling Canada: A National Wake-Up Call, Arthur

Manuel & Grand Chief Ronald M. Derrickson (2015)

  • The Comeback, John Ralston Saul (2014)

The following articles are available online:

  • “When Canada used hunger to clear the West,” James Daschuk, Globe and Mail, July 19, 2013.
  • “What Canada committed against First Nations was genocide,” Phil Fontaine and Bernie Farber, Globe and Mail, Oct 14, 2013.
  • “Old Macdonald,” Stephen Marche, Walrus, Jan – Feb 2015.
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