I couldn’t help but realize Canada will soon be turning 150 years old this year. But as a young Indigenous person, I can’t help but ask: how do we celebrate 150 years of Canada? I just want to share my opinion of the one aspect that wasn’t shown or taught to most Canadians in school—the process of colonization and the deliberate attempts of assimilation that was done against my ancestors, such as the legacy of the residential schools and the impact it made on not only the survivors, but their families, communities, and the generations of today.
We still see the ongoing issues which have stemmed from the Indian Act, which is also turning 140 years old this year. This government document was not created by First Nations for First Nations, nor was it created to “protect” the rights and interests of the Indigenous people. It was specifically created to destroy our identity and our way of living.
As a people, our movements were restricted; we couldn’t protest, or leave the reserve without notifying and receiving permission from a government Indian agent. We weren’t allowed to practice our beliefs and conduct our ceremonies because it was illegal. It introduced disenfranchisement (loss of status); so if an Indigenous person (mainly First Nations women) married outside of their band/race, they would automatically lose their status because of it, along with many other reasons that caused loss of status for both men and women. Part of this government document also introduced the residential school system, and forced many young Indigenous children to be put in these schools miles away from their communities.
We, First Nations people, do not abide by the Indian Act because there was never any consultation made, nor did we give our consent for this piece of legislature. We still do not abide by this document.
During the pre-contact era before there were any active bodies of government, legislatures, or laws, our ancestors relied on strong relationships between nation-to-nation for the basic necessities of life and survival. We had our own education and language system, where we did not need to rely on institutions and classrooms. Our teachings were taught through the oral traditions of our people, so everything that was taught was through the stories of our teachers, Elders, families, and our communities.
Following the contact with our European neighbours, our rights and natural laws were soon replaced by Euro-influenced policies and procedures that we were not familiar with. Then our formal agreements (treaties) with the federal government were not being fulfilled and honoured (still an ongoing issue), as a result of that, our people started to suffer. Our rights were taken away. Our ceremonial/cultural beliefs were outlawed and became illegal for us to practice, and sadly, we weren’t considered as human beings or Canadians citizens in the eyes of both the federal government and the Crown at that time.
In 1920, Duncan Campbell Scott, who is recognized as a devoted writer and poet, but what most Canadians do not know about him, was that he was the Deputy Superintendent of the Indian Affairs. He stood in front of the House of Commons and presented a bill that was created as an extension to the Indian Act. A bill that was implemented to forcibly take young First Nation children, as young as five-to-six-years-old, away from the care and influences of their families, communities and their culture. Then they were placed into institutions where they were taught that they were inferior and that being who they were as human beings was evil.
The overall result of the residential school experience caused a great deal of pain, sadness, and misery in their lives ahead of them. Over 150,000 Indigenous children attended these schools across Canada and there was a tremendous rate of abuse that was inflicted.
A large number of those children who lost their lives in these schools were buried in unmarked sites, and to this day, their grave sites have yet to be located.
As a grandson of residential school survivors, it’s still clear that assimilation is still around and that it’s instilled in our education system today.
I have witnessed and experienced this on a daily basis when I used to attend one of the inner city schools. I often felt left out because of the curriculum and that’s a very common thing today with our youth. That’s why there’s a high number of our youth dropping out of school because they feel that they’re not being included in the education system. The reason for that is, that youth are not being taught about who they are and where they come from.
In the culture, we’re all taught from a young age about those things from our family and our Elders. We’re all taught that we’re all equal and that’s how the education system should be instead of having teachers who possess that matriarch/patriarch dominance over their students and it isn’t only Indigenous students who are being affected by this issue, it’s non-Indigenous students who are also being affected by this because they were never taught about the real history of First Nations people growing up. They were never taught about the importance of the treaty agreements and the difference between what was said and how we interpreted those treaties to be, as well as the legacy of the residential school system and the long line of trauma it made on the survivors and their families, and how that trauma was passed down from generation to generation.
Today we still see some of the residual after effects in our youth.
That’s where I see reconciliation through education coming into play because it matters. It matters because education is key today, mainly for our youth. We have to empower our youth to make them feel that they matter and that they play a big role in our culture, because they’re the ones who we will look up to for leadership, because they are our future as First Nations people.
In my experience with reconciliation through education, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be a graduate of the Community and Justice Services Program at Canadore College, or a graduate of Nbisiing Secondary School. With reconciliation, it’s something more than forgiveness, even though forgiveness is a part of reconciliation.
It’s more than just having two people sitting down with each other and making their amends. To reconcile with others, first we must reconcile with ourselves because we carried the grief, the sadness, the anger, and the trauma that was inflicted upon our ancestors.
The other part of reconciliation is about working together; First Nations and Canadians working together because that relationship is more important than what happened in the past and we can’t forget about that.
We can’t forget about our history and most importantly; we cannot forget who we are and where we come from. Because knowing that makes up who we were intended to be. We all carry stories of those things and that is something that we should always carry with us.
The main reason why we must work together in making reconciliation a reality is to ensure that we don’t make the same mistakes again and let history repeat itself. To ensure that we keep fighting not only for ourselves and where we are today, but fighting to protect the future of our younger generation and those who are not here yet.Because today, we are the generation that the Indian Act failed to get rid of.
To answer my question: How do we celebrate 150 years of Canada?
July 1, Canada Day, shouldn’t only be a day of celebration of this country, but a day of remembrance.
Remembering that we are and always have been the people who have strived and surpassed the European conquest of colonization and assimilation.
Remembering and honouring not only those who survived the residential school system, but remembering those who didn’t.
Remembering our ancestors and their teachings that has kept us from never forgetting who we are and who we were intended to be.