When the new Canadian flag was hoisted up the flagpole at my school for the first time in 1965, I was in Grade Eight. It was with a sense of intense patriotic joy that I witnessed the event. I was reminded of this a few years ago while reading one of the pieces in One Native Life, in which Richard Wagamese wrote about what the new Canadian flag meant to him as a young indigenous person separated from his roots. Richard’s recent passing may have brought my mixed feelings about “Canada 150” more strongly to the fore. He died at a relatively young age, almost certainly because of the toll his struggles over many years took on him, as a second generation residential school survivor.
All I knew about “Indians” back in Grade Eight was what I’d learned in Social Studies (they lived in wigwams and teepees) and at the “Indian Village” near our family cottage (they had longhouses too). It’s impossible to live in Canada now and not be aware (I hope) of how indigenous peoples have suffered at the hands of newcomers who began pouring into their territories centuries ago — through smallpox-infected blankets, decimation of food sources, broken treaty agreements, the poisoning of drinking water, the residential school system, to name just some of the ways. Yet I fear there are some Canadians who still don’t get it.
How many dollars are being spent on “Canada 150” — a celebration of a confederation that united only four provinces and ignored the fact other nations existed here long before the arrival of European settlers. How far would those dollars go if channeled toward addressing issues like the inequality of educational and health care opportunities, the high numbers of murdered and missing women, unsafe drinking water in native communities, and so on — toward implementing recommendations that emerged during the Truth and Reconciliation proceedings?
Now, wouldn’t that be something to celebrate!
One project that may tangentially help move us in the right direction on some of these things is Canada C3 — a 150-day three-oceans expedition from Toronto to Victoria via the Northwest Passage. Its aim is to “inspire a deeper understanding of our land, our peoples and our country.” Perhaps with “deeper understanding” will come an increased resolve among Canadians to get on with rectifying wrongs that continue to hurt Canada’s indigenous people today — and by extension all of us. For how can we stand as proud as I stood in Grade Eight as long as our first peoples continue to suffer?
Image courtesy of yodiyim at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Kathy Stinson is the author of the classic Red Is Best and the award-winning The Man with the Violin. Her wide range of titles includes picture books, non-fiction, young adult fiction, historical fiction, horror, biography, series books, and short stories. She has met with her readers in every province and territory of Canada, in the United States, Britain, Liberia, and Korea. She lives in a small town in Ontario.