My wish for Canada 150 is that it marks a true and revolutionary change in the way we live with the Indigenous people of this country. My wish is that each one of us celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday takes a moment to appreciate that this country is actually thousands of years older.
In a recent column in the Globe and Mail newspaper, Elizabeth Renzetti wrote that there will be substantial parts in this country where July 1 will not be considered a day of celebration. “For those parts of the country, what happened 150 years ago was not the birth of something wonderful, but the end of something even more wonderful – the end of a way of life. And the beginning of a new reality that was grim, painful and murderous.”
We’re older and wiser now, and we know better. It’s time to do better.
It’s time for Canada to act its age. We cannot continue to bask in the glory of our niceness and peacemaking while the original citizens of this country are denied their legitimate role in our national identity.
It’s time to let go of the past, to let go of the conquer-and-colonize mindset of the Europeans who arrived here in 1604, to let go of the toxic “us versus them” attitude that infuses our talk about First Nations.
It’s time to end the fear and ignorance that “they” will take our land. It’s time to rewrite the misinformation that “those people” have it better than we do. It’s time to stop denying their nation within a nation. It’s time to demand our federal government enter fully and completely into right relations with our Indigenous people.
We know better. It’s time to do better.
The seeds of this particular column were planted in 2011 when I drove by the newly-erected sign on the highway just east of Amherst, a sign that declares “Land of the Mi’kmaq”.
I looked at that sign and said, “Yes.”
The sign makes me proud of our Indigenous heritage, but also aware that a highway sign has provided me with my only concrete connection with the people who once lived on the land I call home.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I cannot count a single Indigenous person among my acquaintances, not by conscious choice, but simply the result of the invisible blinders I wear, as did my parents and their parents. Then, as now, our First Nations lived on reserves apart from “the rest of us” so they were not part of the world in which I grew up. We assumed they were taken care of; we were wrong.
Now that I am older, wiser and know better, I recognize we have more to gain as a nation and as human beings by living in partnership with a people whose culture informs so much of our language and our customs – whether we want to acknowledge that or not.
Now that I know better, I’m going to do better. I’m attending National Aboriginal Day in Amherst today because it’s time to “Catch the Spirit and Share the Celebration”, it’s time to move beyond a painted sign on the side of a highway and witness my first pow wow. It’s time to stand on the land with those who first settled it.