Our Home on Native Land
Originally published in Applied Arts Magazine, 2017
3 MINUTE READ
Now that Canada 150 is over, the real work begins
As Canada 150 winds up, it behooves us to reflect on what it has done for the nation’s brand.
These kinds of celebrations are designed to fill our chests with pride, encouraging us to revel in what we have achieved as a nation and inspiring us to believe in an even brighter future.
Indeed, there is much to celebrate. Along with only a handful of other nations, we are lucky to live in one of the few truly liberal democracies left in the world. We are protected by a considerable social safety net. Unlike our neighbours to the south, we’re smart enough to understand that having a gun doesn’t protect you, resulting in far fewer homicides (USA: 5 per capita; Canada: 2) and much safer streets. We are well educated, more open to immigration, and generally more worldly. If you’re a Canadian, you have a lot to be thankful for.
I should qualify that. You have a lot to be thankful for as long as you’re not an Indigenous Canadian. If one thing was different about this July 1st aside from its sesquicentennial status, it was that message.
We were reminded by Indigenous artists and activists that Canada may be 150 years old, but Kanata is 15,000. And given the mistreatment of Indigenous people since 1867, it would be an understatement to say the last 150 years have been, for them, nothing to celebrate.
As shameful as non-indigenous Canadians may feel to acknowledge that, it is encouraging to note that the majority of us (80 per cent in a recent Environics poll) have, according to a recent Globe and Mail editorial, “let go the tired canards that Indigenous people are a drain on government resources, or the authors of their own misery,” and believe that “all Canadians have a role to play in helping to bring about reconciliation.” That 20 per cent of us don’t agree shows how much work there is to do.
We were reminded by J. Edward Chamberlin, U of T professor emeritus and officer of the Order of Canada, that despite the “cultural mustard gas” of the residential schools and the institutionalized racism and social engineering of the Indian Act, Canada 150 “provides an opportunity to reconcile the (broken) promises of the past with the possibilities of a future in which first peoples and new peoples can trust each other and believe in each other.”
I was personally reminded of those broken promises by the fiery performance of Indigenous hip-hop duo Mob Bounce, and Iraqi-Canadian rapper Narcy brought to Toronto by Our Home on Native Land—a festival-within-the- festival dedicated to using the platform of Canada 150 as the impetus for “de-colonizing the next 150.”
These are just a few examples of the heightened visibility of Indigenous issues that marked Canada 150. As Professor Chamberlin points out, we are all treaty people. The fact that most Canadians are ready to hear that message can only be good for the brand. Now it’s time to act on it, for actions always speak louder than words. wn