How Shall We Celebrate Canada 150?

By Bill Wall, approved by the All My Relations Network leadership team. 

As July 1st approaches, many of us are experiencing mixed emotions about how to celebrate the occasion, if we can celebrate it at all. An unprecedented number of Canadians are struggling with that dilemma as they ponder the historical realities of the past 150 years.

Some Indigenous people have decided to protest the celebrations, some will ignore them entirely, some will take advantage of the anniversary as an opportunity for education, and others will participate, along with Settlers, in the spirit of reconciliation.

 Derek Nepinak, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, will undertake a 120 km walk in June. In an interview Nepinak said, “We don’t have a lot to celebrate when it comes to 150 years of assimilation and genocide and marginalization.” His Walk of Remembrance is intended “to celebrate the resilience of Indigenous people in the face of what happened to them since Confederation.”

Metis artist Christi Belcourt, one of the four founding members of Resistance 150. (Credit: CBC News).

Photographer Nadya Kwandibens, from the Animakee Wa Zhing First Nation in northwestern Ontario is opting out. “As I see it”, she said, “these celebrations are a celebration of colonialism, and as an Indigenous person, I’m choosing not to celebrate colonialism.”

On the other hand, Kent Monkman, a Cree artist from northern Manitoba sees Canada 150 as a platform for education. His new travelling exhibit, “Shame and Prejudice”, depicts children being torn from their mother’s arms by police and priests to be sent to residential schools.

And the City of Vancouver decided months ago to use Canada 150 (“Canada 150+”) as an occasion for reconciliation. Native and non-native organizers have been planning events that will “reflect our shared history and inspire all Canadians to re-imagine our next 150 years.”

So, what about us? How will we respond to Canada 150, recognizing that the hype to get involved will be fairly intense?

Perhaps we can celebrate the event, and yet maintain our integrity, as long as we do so with awareness. July 1, 2017 should not be a day for overlooking our country’s tarnished past or ignoring the challenge to do better in the future. And so we could make the month between now and then a time of preparation, for example, by taking steps (more steps, that is) to educate ourselves about the real history of our nation.

A few good books come to mind: The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King, a unique blend of historical fact and humour; A Geography of Blood by Candace Savage reads like a novel but lays bare the pre-settlement history of Cypress Hills with great precision; Sarah’s Carter’s Capturing Women, about the impacts of the racist and sexist narratives surrounding the Frog Lake massacre; The Education of Augie Merasty, a brief but powerful account of one person’s efforts to cope with the legacy of residential schools; Clearing the Plains by James Daschuk, a detailed account of the Canadian government’s efforts to rid the Canadian prairies of our own “inconvenient Indians”; and J.R Miller’s Compact, Contact, Covenant, a history of Treaty Making in Canada.  And of course there are videos, plays, Blanket Exercises and other ways to enlighten ourselves about our past, our present, and our possible futures.

Each of us will decide what to do about Canada 150. Whatever that decision is, may it be one that’s thoughtfully made.

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