Our home on Native land
The celebration of colonization in Canada
As people across Canada mark the 144th anniversary of Confederation on July 1st, I cannot find reason to celebrate alongside them.
Every Canada Day, I reflect on the continual theft of my land and resources, on broken treaties, on the genocide of my peoples and the refusal to recognize my sovereignty. I sit and wonder if the Palestinians could celebrate the settlement of Israel. Could the Irish celebrate England; the Tibetans, China; or the North Africans, France?
It would be strange indeed to celebrate the birth of a nation that stole my land, forced hardships on my peoples and won’t recognize my place in this nation or all that my ancestors lost and sacrificed for this home on my native land.
I know that there are other Indigenous Peoples who feel the same. I know that there are others, like me, who see this as a day of conquest and not a reason for fireworks. I also know there are non-Indigenous allies who feel the same and who understand my sorrow and pain.
Canada Day brings tears to my eyes and an ache in my heart.
As Canadians celebrate Confederation, I will be commemorating the sickness, starvation and death of my ancestors, as a result of colonization and greed, to make way Canadians to have all that they have today. They were sick, starving and dying as a result of the annihilation of the Buffalo (yes, it is capitalized because they are sacred). They were sick, starving and dying because of bioterrorism in the form of smallpox-infested blankets – an act sanctioned by the British Crown that wiped out 95 per cent of the First Nation population in some areas in Canada.
As Canada celebrates this day, I reflect on estimates that during the late 15th century in Canada, the Indigenous population was estimated at two million. However, as a result of outbreaks of infectious diseases, combined with loss of territory, forced relocation and repressive policies, the Indigenous population was diminished to 10,000. This adds to the final count of 14,700,000 Indigenous Peoples wiped out in the Americas since Christopher Columbus’ “discovery” of North America in 1492. These figures are denied and avoided. No one wants to acknowledge this genocide, nor do they want to admit that this genocide continues today in the form of resource extraction and downstream pollution, poverty, racism and lack of access to those things that most Canadians take for granted.
As Canada celebrates this day, I reflect on the idea that Canada would not exist if it were not for the Indigenous Peoples who fought alongside the Crown against the colonists south of the border, only to be treated worse than animals and herded into an ever-decreasing land base.
This Canada Day, I reach out to you all and appeal to your consciousness and ask you to reflect on what you are celebrating. I ask you to reflect on what this day means to Indigenous Peoples on the territory you are living on that has given you so much. I ask you to dig deep inside of yourself and think about how we can work together to rectify the colonial legacy of Canada. I ask you to walk with me and others to truly create a place that is worth celebrating. I ask you to stand up to create a Canada that acknowledges the wrongs of yesterday and today, and paves the way for dignity and respect for all peoples tomorrow and all the tomorrows that follow.
Readers like you keep Briarpatch alive and thriving. Subscribe today to support fiercely independent journalism.
I find this sentiment very disingenuous. What do you expect people to do? Instead of talking about stolen land, how about you request equality and the recognition of your culture. there are plenty of people who would side with you on that. I can’t hear the “stolen land” argument any longer. If my great great great grandparents had their house/land/whatever stolen, do I keep up the feud of the thieves descendants? off course not.
On top, the “stolen land” debate has no outcome. what do you expect? returning land and everyone who is Canadian today but whose ancestors are European have to leave? That would create even more victims and no winners. I am very aware of the terrible situation many first nations are in but this is a human rights debate and cultural and social justice right now, not a discussion about laws broken 300 years ago.
From not a canadian on Jul 1st, 2011 at 1:16pm
RE: “If my great great great grandparents had their house/land/whatever stolen, do I keep up the feud of the thieves descendants? off course not.”
No, but it’s important for non-Native people to acknowledge that we have what we have today because of what was taken from Indigenous peoples. We also have to acknowledge that Indigenous people continue to suffer even today from that theft. Open your eyes and look at what’s happening to Aboriginal communities even now. I live in Alberta, where the government is making billions of dollars off of the oil sands. However, that land rightfully belongs to the Indigenous people. They should be profiting from that money. Instead, their communities are polluted, their people are impoverished and displaced, and their treaties are ignored. When I lived in northern Alberta, including Fort MacMurray, people from all over the world arrived to make money working on the oil sands. However, most of the Native people I saw there were homeless. Surely this is not an “accident,” a “coincidence” or merely individuals making “bad decisions.” It’s clear that once again non-Natives are benefitting from the lions’ share of this country’s resources, while Native people are pushed aside to make way for “development.” So should you keep up the feud with the thieves descendants? If the descendants learned from their ancestors that stealing is ok, and they should continue to steal, then by all means, you should continue to defend yourself against their theft.
From Fatima in Calgary, Alberta on Jul 1st, 2011 at 2:45pm
You have more history than most. Be grateful. ‘We’ are only dealing with, or trying to make up for, that which we ‘took’. We in most cases have no clear history or ancestry…or benefit of anykind…so how are we, at this point, any different?
From kelly on Jul 1st, 2011 at 10:41pm
Holy crap, these comments. I live in a previously imperialist country on the other side of the world but at least I somewhat try to comprehend the damage that was done to indigenous peoples across the planet by Western Europe.
“Request equality”. That’s novel. If only they’d thought of that sooner! All that marginalized/discriminated/oppressed people need to do is request equality, and the majority in power will deign to bestow it upon them!
You’re missing a point there – in order to create equality, resources and power must be redistributed more evenly across all groups, and that means that those who currently hoard all the power and resources have to give some up. If you have 95% of the power and wealth you’re not going to give up 45% of it to create equality. Instead, you post on blogs saying the people who want to lay claim to their share should ‘stop whining’.
And just because your great-great-great-great-grandfathers did massive damage to an entire people and their culture, enough to warrant naming this genocide, just because this happened hundreds of years ago does not excuse you from trying to improve things in the present. It’s not just about blaming you for the sins of your ancestors; it’s about blaming you for not doing anything about it now.
Don’t even get me started on expecting an oppressed group to emancipate themselves whilst you lazily sit back and let society as it is work for you, because everything already works in your favor – so why the hell should you bother changing anything, right?
From Danielle in The Netherlands on Jul 2nd, 2011 at 3:45pm
I think that native peoples have a lot of crap dumped on them and some how, a five year old stumbling about with a bottle of rye in his hand does not scream out, “college bound” to me. This is one of a frightening number of social problems that beset the native population that no amount of free college and tax credits will fix. In fact, those things could make it worse.
All that aside, what I find truly ridiculous about this article is the condescension and forcibly engendered victim hood expressed within. For instance:
“This adds to the final count of 14,700,000 Indigenous Peoples wiped out in the Americas since Christopher Columbus’ “discovery” of North America in 1492. These figures are denied and avoided.”
I’m sorry but I am hard pressed to find anyone with even a cursory knowledge of history in denial about the genocide suffered by the native population in North America. This type of assertion greatly reduces the quality of this type of conversation. I hold and express my own opinions in regard to what I think is a very contentious issue here (native sovereign rights) and certainly do not appreciate being told I don’t value important parts of the argument. This is akin to calling a non-racist a racist and does nothing to reach any sort of common ground. In fact, it does the exact opposite and for this type of hyperbole, the author should be ashamed.
This type of article could very well be a great opportunity to talk about treaties, what was bargained for and why those legal negotiations are supposed to apply today. So many people have no idea what the treaties are about, what they contain or why they were signed by the people who signed them and that is so bloody important to understanding this issue. Unfortunately, instead of attempts at education, I see so often, this type of drivel. Activists and advocates, lashing out and using hyperbolic appeals to victim hood.
Do your readers even know what was negotiated in treaty 6 for example? No, probably not.
From Ethan Erkiletian in Saskatoon, SK on Jul 2nd, 2011 at 6:34pm
I find the comments of “White Devil” to be completely reprehensible. I find myself trying to imagine what life experience you must have had to arrive at your stand point and, regretfully, find myself at a loss. The author of this article isn’t asking anyone to move out of their house or become a refugee in Europe; she is merely requesting that we allow a moment to reflect on the impacts that the development of Canada has had on the First Nations. Surely to God you have enough emotional intelligence to recognize that, given our history, some may choose to see Canada Day as a reflection point vice a celebration? In order to understand your country, you might try understanding all of those who live in it. Lecture complete, you may now continue working on your PhD. Or washing your McDonald’s uniform – whichever seems more likely.
From Thinking, Always thinking. in Canada on Jul 3rd, 2011 at 1:30pm
Hmmm. White Devil, how well you know me. Right down to the sandals on my feet. Or maybe you don’t and you just decided to throw as many social issues as you could into a single sentence. Let’s see if I can dial you in as easily as you believe you’ve managed to categorize me, shall we? You are a Caucasian in your late 20’s, early 30s. You live in a smaller city in a Prairie province and frequent cheap hotel bars. You graduated high school but have never challenged the world of post-secondary education. You use Google to find “articles” to support your position, mistaking this for being well-read and informed. You work with your hands (when you work) and have held several jobs, although none for very long due to the lack of dependability borne of alcohol misuse. Although you live with someone, you’re not married and spend lazy afternoons having domestic disputes on the front lawn. Disappointed at where you’ve ended up, you spend your EI-funded sabbaticals conducting social comparisons between yourself and everyone else not holding a can of cheap beer in their hand before 10AM. You do this because it’s the only way you can make sense of how poorly you have grappled with your own life. Right now, you’re peering at this post through bloodshot eyes while running your hands through hair that hasn’t seen soap in four days.
One of two things is the case here: either I lucked out and painted a better picture of you than your last mugshot at your local RCMP station or I’ve managed to make the point that making baseless assumptions rarely hits anywhere near the truth.
Go in peace White Devil. Your local beer drive through closes at 11 PM…
From Thinking, Always thinking. in Canada on Jul 3rd, 2011 at 6:46pm
Is White Devil an actual real person? Or is he just a mechanized troll that collects every single right-wing talking point from every corner of the internet and tries to shove them all into as few sentences as possible?
Try picking up a book every now and then, Rush.
Thank you for this post.
From L on Jul 4th, 2011 at 4:11pm
Where is the moderator? White Devil’s comments should be deleted ASAP, they are disgusting and intolerant.
Susana Deranger’s post is well-written, heartfelt and an excellent post for Canada Day. She raises a series of points that should be on all of our minds today.
From Barret in Edmonton on Jul 5th, 2011 at 8:29am
If you consider genocide an abstract political concept in which self-indulgent personal “reflection” and dinner-table discussion constitute actual reparations for both historical and present-day crimes against indigenous peoples — your white privilege is showing. And your anemic apologies and crocodile tears are an insult to those whom genocide is a concrete, everyday reality.
From Angry in Occupied Native North America on Jul 17th, 2011 at 12:20pm