On January 11, Prime Minister Stephen Harper led Canada in a celebration of Sir John A. Macdonald, saying, “Without Sir. John A. Macdonald, Canada as we know it — the best country in the world – simply would not exist.”
I never in my life thought I’d be saying this, but I kind of agree with Harper. Not in regards to Canada being “the best country in the world”; only the very privileged or the very naïve would say that. (I’d explain why such a statement smacks of delusion, but considering Canada’s declining world standings on basically every major issue, it’s an argument that makes itself.)
However, the rest of the statement is true: without Sir John A. Macdonald Canada as we know it wouldn’t exist. This is, after all, the man whose genocidal policies laid the groundwork for the way Canada would interact with indigenous people all the way from confederation to the present.
This is the man who founded Canada on stolen land and, with the signing of the British North America Act of 1867, took on a paternal, condescending role towards our people by accepting responsibility from the Crown for “Indians and Indian lands.” Of course, none of us were consulted about this, setting the national precedent for non-consultation of indigenous peoples we’ve seen every year since.
This is the man who strategically starved our indigenous brothers and sisters out west so he could build a railroad. That’s a direct precursor to the way mining and oil companies have poisoned countless reserves, causing cancer, diabetes and untold illnesses all in pursuit of the almighty buck.
This is the man who not only promoted residential schools, but vocally supported moving them off reserves so that each child could be removed from “parental influence” and become more than “simply a savage who can read and write.” I hardly need to explain how these policies have affected and continue to affect all of our communities across Turtle Island.
This is the man who outlawed Potlatch and other indigenous ceremonies, using the racist Indian Act to make indigenous culture and identity a punishable crime.
This is the man who created the North West Mounted Police (now known as the RCMP) specifically to quell indigenous resistance and prevent Indian furs from being sold by anyone but the Hudson Bay Company, which they ludicrously claimed as their sole right. Canada’s claims to the contrary – that they actually created the mounted police to “protect” Indians on newly-created reserves from “lawlessness” – is a classic example of the insidious way Canadian colonization and genocide works and has worked: pretend you’re just trying to help, while actually administering monumental human rights abuses and mass murders.
And, of course, this is the man who violently crushed the North West Rebellion of 1885, hung Métis leader Louis Riel, imprisoned Cree Chief Poundmaker and arranged for the largest mass execution in Canadian history, saying the spectacle of Cree men being murdered in front of their families “ought to convince the Red Man that the White Man governs.” A very clear line can be drawn from the imprisonment and execution of those indigenous dissidents from the past to today, when the Globe and Mail claims, “Canadian Forces spent virtually all of 2013 watching Idle No More protesters.”
So yes, I agree with Prime Minister Harper. Without Sir John A. Macdonald, we wouldn’t have Canada as we know it – a country currently represented by an individual who apologizes for residential schools one year, than claims it has no history of colonialism the next, then pulls all support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples the next, then says our missing and murdered women isn’t a priority…
While I will never celebrate Sir John A. Macdonald on any January 11th, nor do I expect any indigenous person to, I will celebrate our peoples’ continued perseverance in spite of Canada as we know it.
Their forces that have continually tried – and continually failed – to take us down. We’ve made it through every genocidal practice Canada has thrown our way since that old drunk took office. Let’s celebrate that.