This year Canada celebrates its 150th anniversary, but not everyone seems to feel invited to the birthday party.
Canada’s 150 celebrations
This year marks 150 years since the British parliament has approved the British North America Act, the milestone for uniting Canadian colonies. Consequently, all year long Canada is celebrating the 150th anniversary of Confederation nationwide, but not everyone decided to join the festivities.
“We don’t care where you’re from or what religion you practice, or whom you love – you are all welcome in Canada,” said in a characteristically reconciliatory tone the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the address on July 1 at Parliament Hill in Ottawa.
Among other attractions, the 25,000 partygoers enjoyed a citizenship ceremony welcoming new Canadians to the society, an impressive fireworks display, a concert by Bono, and performance of Cirque de Soleil.
Pages Torn from the History Book
While the prime minister strived for a unifying narrative, not all Canadians condone the celebrations. Undeniably, the signing of the British North America Act 150 years ago was important from the perspective of political relations between colonizers and Europe.
At the same time, however, it represented the beginning of an expansionist agenda that led to systemic discrimination, violence, and marginalization of First Nation groups.
Since then, the institutionalization of exclusion has found its embodiment in multiple policies, some of which, like the Indian Act, is still in force. Indigenous groups argue that the government replicates their coercive nature, absorbed with eradicating “the problem” of First Nations throughout the last 150 years.
In short, to say that Canada is 150 years old is to continue ignoring indigenous rights over the American territory.
Reconciliation is not an end destination, it must be weaved into the fabric of our society, it starts with the land #Resistance150
— Resistance 150 (@Resistance150) July 1, 2017
“Don’t get me wrong, many Inuit are proud Canadian,” said Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, an Inuit filmmaker. While she believes that indigenous groups can be – and frequently are – patriotic about Canada, she points to the necessity to remain critical about the process of decolonization. “Every single time I see a Canada 150 logo I want to take a sharpie and add a couple zeros at the end,” she continued, reminding us that the history of First Nation peoples preceded the arrival of colonizers by hundreds of years.
More Than Just a Logo
Along with the discriminatory symbolic meaning behind Canada 150, some members of First Nations have noticed that current governmental policies speak loudly to the ongoing discrimination of the indigenous peoples. Resistance 150, a movement initiated by Isaac Murdoch from Serpent River First Nation, Ontario channels this frustration and expectations for the state to finally assume accountability.
“I won’t be celebrating Canada Day because they’re celebrating resource extraction of our territories, the Indian Act is still in place,” said Murdoch in an interview.
In line with these accusations, Ottawa has destined half a billion dollars to the 150th anniversary spending budget, but at the same time, it hasn’t complied with the last year’s landmark ruling of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, according to which the underfunding of aboriginal child welfare and not providing with the safe access to water in nearly 90 First Nations communities constituted a racially motivated discrimination.
(Ironically, the Great Lakes, which Ontario shares with the United States contains 18% of global reserves of fresh surface water.)
Divided and Conquered
For those reasons, celebrating Canada’s independence becomes inescapably problematic because as much as one might be proud of its nation, by participating in Canada 150 festivities, we silently condone the perpetuation of governmental mistreatment.
“We’re saying you can’t do this to us anymore, your celebration stinks, it’s built on genocide,” said Isaac Murdoch. Indeed, celebrations meant to unite Canadians paradoxically only exacerbate the impression that Canada hasn’t fully critically recognized or corrected the divisive legacy of colonialism.
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