Saturday, July 01, 2017

Happy 150th Canada Day - unless you are indigenous

Well, happy birthday Canada, for what it's worth. It is just the sesquicentennial after all, not really a "big" significant birthday (although Montreal recently celebrated their 375th with a great deal of pomp and circumstance, and that's not even divisible by ten...) And 1867 is, after all, just a date when four provinces entered into a confederation to become something called the Dominion of Canada, still nominally under the control of the United Kingdom (Canada only became fully independent in 1982!) Be all that as it may, most European countries would see 150 years as just a drop in the bucket anyway. Hell, even the Americans have a century's jump on us.
But most Canadians seem content to think that there is something worth celebrating today. There's a giant rubber duck in Toronto harbour, Peter Mansbridge is gearing up for his final CBC anchor assignment, and people are being advised to take their places for Ottawa's fireworks display from nine in the morning (it's difficult to believe that anyone would actually do that, and basically waste the whole of the rest of the day, but what do I know?)
Most people are definitely treating it as not-just-another-Canada-Day. Unless, that is, they are indigenous. A teepee has been set up on Parliament's front lawn, and the rhetoric coming out of it is far from celebratory, along the lines of, "How dare you celebrate 150 years of shame and colonialism, marked by genocide, residential schools and subjugation? And 150 years? We've been here for 15,000 years! So there!"
Now, I get it. The First Nations of this country have been given a really raw deal, beginning a lot more than 150 years ago. And yes, they do need to drive this message home, and what better time to do so than when everyone else is celebrating the very agency of their oppression? I do get it.
But I still can't help but feel it a mite mean-spirited and curmudgeonly. I can't help but feel that, if Canada's First Nations were to be celebrating some significant date, we immigrants would be happy enough to join in, much like we are happy to encourage Eid celebrations or Diwali or Chinese New Year. But their culture happens not to have such an inclusive or galvanizing occasion to celebrate (the establishment of the Assembly of First Nations in 1982, perhaps?)
And I can't help but feel that an agreement by the indigenous community to help these pesky "new kids in the block" celebrate their silly little anniversary - always with the firm intention and commitment to getting right back to protesting and negotiating and rectifying some of the wrongs we have done each other over the centuries, and arguably continue to do today - might not foster more goodwill and be a more positive approach than blank-faced, and sometimes aggressive, denial.
But I do get it. Honest.

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