Depending on how vigorously you observe nationalistic celebrations, you might still be nursing a Canada Day hangover. We Canucks are justifiably proud of what is, in many ways, a beautiful and accepting country salted with money and opportunity.
Hell, let’s raise a glass to that.
But some would be justified in being a bit reserved, excuse the terrible pun, on July 1; mistreatment of First Nations people by the Canadian government is older than Confederation and continues today.
What does Canada Day mean to a people who have endured generations of attempted assimilation and termination, who had their children stolen and brainwashed with the full blessing of the law and who were forced onto marginal land to make way for European settlers? It’s 2014—surely our political leaders have learned from this embarrassing history and now treat First Nations with respect.
Not so much. Thomas King argues in his book The Inconvenient Indian that the Harper government seems to be inspired by the first prime ministers, men whose relations with “Indians” was a matter of getting them off desired land—treaties and ethics be damned. Today, King says, is “the worst time [for First Nations] since the ’50s and Termination, before that the 1800s and Allotment.”
The aggressive expansion of the oilsands and the approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline have been rammed through the clear and sustained objections from First Nations. The Idle No More movement was formed out of the frustration of a people ignored—considered a problem, even—by the government that swore to protect them in numerous treaties.
Throw in the Conservatives’ lack of real action for missing or murdered aboriginal women, the staggering over-representation of native people in the prison system, and the lingering poison of the residential schools and you’ll understand why not everyone waves the flag on Canada Day.