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Native Artists and the 150th birthday of Canada

IMG_3816 (1)By Elizabeth Doxtater

The media (even some native media) describe us as ‘Native Canadian’ or ‘Canadian First Nations’.

We are neither.

This Canadian adjective can cause confusion, but can be explained using treaties. Treaties can only be made between nations. Native vs. Canadian disagreements are not ‘domestic’, rather, they are international.

Native nations in North America have a solid claim to nationhood as we meet the five criteria for nationhood status: 1. Belief 2. Culture 3. Government 4. Land base 5. Language.

Multiculturalism does not facilitate a (1.) common belief nor does it represent a (2.) common culture. The Crown is formally the head of the Canadian State, therefore Canada is not a (3.) sovereign nation. The land base occupied by Canada is located on (4.) Native lands. Finally, Canada tried to eradicate our (5.) Indigenous languages through their residential school system all while knowing that there is no ‘Canadian’ language. Since before Confederation, Canada has continuously tried to forcibly assimilate Native people into their forged ‘mainstream Canadian’ society.

Sir John A. MacDonald stated in 1879: “When the school is on the reserve, the child lives with its parents, who are savages, and though he may learn to read and write, his habits and training mode of thought are Indian. He is simply a savage who can read and write. It has been strongly impressed upon myself, as head of the Department, that Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men.”

I n 1907 Dr. Peter Bryce released a report on residential schools that detailed the unbelievably high number of deaths and called the system ‘a national disgrace’. In 1920 Duncan Campbell Scott said: “I want to get rid of the Indian problem. Our object is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed. They are a weird and waning race…ready to break out at any moment in savage dances.” Scott continued to advocate for the genocidal system: “It is readily acknowledged that Indian children lose their natural resistance to illness by habituating so closely in the residential schools and that they die at a much higher rate than in their villages. But this does not justify a change in the policy of this Department which is geared towards a final solution of our Indian Problem.”

IMG_2755 (1)In 1969 Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau introduced the ‘Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy’ that became known as the ‘White Paper Act’. He said: “If you no longer speak your language and no longer practice your culture, then you have no right to demand aboriginal rights from us, because you are assimilated with the ruling power.” The White Paper was intended to eliminate the existence of ‘Indians’. Their argument was that because of their policy of forced relocation, legislative abuses — we no longer existed as sovereign nations. The 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report deemed their actions as ‘genocide’.

There have been many throughout the years. Recently on February 7, 2017 Steven Blaney, Quebec MP said during an interview (CBC Power and Politics) that by dismantling First Nations reserves, Indigenous people can move forward to become “fully Canadian”. Yes, that is what he said during this time of supposed Reconciliation. These kinds of messages are important.

They helped me to decide whether I will participate in events that commemorate the past 150 years. There are many things that have been hidden from mainstream that explain how their history was to our detriment. Now it’s done under the guise of reconciliation. However, it is hard to reconcile with someone when the other party is not aware of, continues to benefit from, and inevitably does not care about the outcomes of their actions.

Many Indigenous peoples are still grieving, healing, recovering from, remembering, and now reminding mainstream about their history — imposed on Indigenous peoples to form their country. They will celebrate what they (historically) have done; continue to do with little to no pause for conscience or humility or regret or truth.

Currently there is some discussion as to whether Native artists will participate in art shows that commemorate Canada’s 150th birthday. The 150-year timespan doesn’t mean anything to us. Our people have been here since time immemorial. But I will celebrate 150 years of Indigenous resistance and survival, despite so many attempts to assimilate, or eradicate. A line from a strange little song explains the reason they have been so adamant to assimilate us, and why they pretend that we don’t exist as sovereign nations. No matter what they do, “This land is our land!”

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