Growth Myndset is happy to present this featured post in our Guest Writer's Series. Guest writers are diverse in their background and issues of focus, and the content below is neither edited nor altered by Growth Myndset in any way. The views expressed elsewhere on our website do not represent the views of our guest writers.
I remember the days when I would paint my nails red and white, put on temporary Canadian flag tattoos, and lay on my blanket out on my friend’s front lawn as her dad set off fireworks for all the neighbours to enjoy. However, as I grew older and became more exposed to the dark history of Canada’s relationship with the Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island, I felt conflicted about what the day represented. This discomfort heightened as I felt a deeper connection to my Kanienkeha:ha (Mohawk) ancestry. Something that I once loved became something that now leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
I understand why people want to celebrate Canada Day. For many, Canada has been a place of refuge, freedom, and new beginnings. I am happy for people who feel truly content in the country that they live in, no matter how long that has been. However, it is in my opinion, that no matter how proud or content someone is to call themself a Canadian, they need to do some serious reflecting on the impact the creation of this country has had on the people who have thrived on these lands for time immemorial.
I’m tired of people asking why we don’t just get over it. I’m tired of people telling me that I’m lucky that I can use my status card to get GST off my purchases without them unpacking the fact that I have to hold a card for the government to recognize my treaty rights. I’m tired of going to a school that sings God Save the Queen at Convocation and that toasts the Queen at alumni dinners.
It is in my opinion that if you are going to be celebrating Canada Day because you are proud of this country – a choice that is totally up to you and for no one else to judge – then you should at least take some time on this day to reflect on the people who now struggle as a result of the creation of your government, of your nation. Demand justice. If you think that Canadians truly stand united, then stand alongside the people whose history has been engrained in this land for thousand of years.
Every Canadian should understand this...
For myself, and for many other Indigenous people, Canada 150 represents 150 years of colonization. Residential schools. Indian Agents. Banned ceremonies. Racist legislation. Sixties Scoop. Missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, men and boys. Suicide Crises. Stolen lands. Contaminated waters. Broken promises.
Canada 150 celebrations are going to happen. We know this. To get through it, I know that many Indigenous peoples, including Indigenous leaders, are taking this day to represent the 150+ years of resiliency that Indigenous peoples have put up against colonial forces. Me? I will be thinking about people such as Shannen Koostachin, who used her voice to bring attention to the unequal educational experience of children and youth in remote First Nations communities in comparison to students attending off-reserve schools. Shannen is someone who inspires me every day, and although she was killed in a car accident a few years ago, her spirit lives on. This Canada Day I, along with many other Indigenous people, will be celebrating all those who have been resilient despite over a century of colonialism.
It’s another slap in the face to see articles that discuss the hundreds of millions of dollars that the Canadian government has been spending on this “celebration.” Why isn’t that money being used to provide mental health resources in First Nations and Inuit communities? Why isn’t that money being spent on cleaning the water in First Nations communities that are under boil water advisories? I don’t know how people can feel good about spending that kind of money when there is a population of people in our country living in what has been termed “fourth world” conditions.
I think it honestly astounds people that Indigenous communities and peoples don’t want to be absorbed into the body politic. Why don’t we just get rid of reserves? Why don’t we just get rid of the Indian Act if it causes so many problems? Something that people need to understand is that these Indigenous Nations were thriving and complex prior to colonization. Indigenous peoples will continue to fight for their autonomy because they are legitimate societies with their own social and government structures, philosophies, creation stories, economies, trade relationships, etc. Why would a Nation want to be absorbed into another when it was perfectly fine in the first place?
This past month my old high school had their first-ever First Nations, Metis, and Inuit Day for the grade 10 class and I was invited back to the school to speak. With the help from one of my former educators, I led two grade 10 classes through the KAIROS Blanket Exercise. After our sharing circle, I offered the students the chance to ask me questions anonymously, and as I am going through my own process of learning and unlearning, I said I would do my best to give them answers. Many of the students expressed it being their first time being exposed to this information and a few of their questions were asking what they could do to help other than educate themselves.
It is in my experience that this is a question that many settler-Canadians want the answer to. In my experience, people want to help, they just don’t know how. Heck, this is something that I struggled with and still struggle with. Identifying as both a settler and an Indigenous person, I dedicated the latter half of my undergraduate career to improving the experience of Indigenous students at Queen’s. All I did was ask “How can I help?”
Having come from a place of ignorance myself and because I feel that to have a positive Nation to Nation relationship we need to have a common ground of understanding and respect, I am going to provide the reader with suggestions that I feel are constructive first steps for settlers who want to foster a better relationship with Indigenous peoples.
I believe that posts like these are most helpful when a solution is brought forward because, I’m assuming, you are reading this article because you are genuinely curious and want to be sensitive to the needs and feelings of Indigenous people. Perhaps you are looking for guidance on how you can work toward a better relationship with Indigenous people. So, these are my suggestions as someone who has recently gone through my own process of unlearning:
I think before I begin with my suggestions I should make something clear: Indigenous peoples are not waiting around for the White man (or whatever walk of life you come from) to come save them. Many, but not all, Indigenous peoples wish to work with and alongside non-Indigenous communities. It is not your place as a settler to overpower, speak for, or assume what’s best for Indigenous people.
1. Pay Attention
In this day and age, with our addiction to our phones, tablets, and laptops, it’s hard to stay out of the loop. More and more I see people sharing posts about suicide crises in First Nations and Inuit communities, the thousands of girls and women who have been stolen from their families, the ongoing human rights tribunal, and so many more issues facing Indigenous communities all across what we now call Canada. Actually, in my Facebook newsfeed this past week, I have seen more posts about how problematic Canada 150 is more than I have seen celebratory posts – and mostly posted or shared by settler-allies!
It is important to pay attention to what Indigenous people say they need or want. No matter who you are, you cannot assume you know what is best for the other person. Listening to Indigenous peoples is not only the best way to understand the problem, but it is also the best way to understand your role in being part of the solution.
2. Educate Yourself
“Education is what got us into this mess, and education is what is going to get us out of it.” - Justice Murray Sinclair
I include this quote by Murray Sinclair because I too believe that education is key in mending this relationship. I think that for non-Indigenous peoples to fully respect and understand the concerns of Indigenous peoples, they need to be educated on the series of mistreatments that have taken place on behalf of their government. It is with education that stereotypes and biases begin to fade and people start to respect one another.
3. Educate Others
It can be as simple as sharing a post on Facebook, an article written from an Indigenous perspective. I usually try to share articles that force people to think critically about their own position and preconceptions about Indigenous peoples and Canadian history. I have had friends come up to me and thank me, saying that they had no idea about the events that took place or the impact it has had. I mean, you don’t have to fill people’s newsfeeds with articles but it helps to share an article every few days to keep people informed. Also, showing that you’re not afraid to have this conversation makes other people more comfortable engaging in the conversation as well.
4. Engage with the Indigenous Community
I’m not going to lie, this can be tricky. A lot of people get offended when they are turned away from an Indigenous person or community. But really, can you blame them? First, outsiders to their communities have been taking on paternalistic roles for centuries, thinking that they knew better – who am I kidding, the government still does this (I’m looking at you, Trudeau).
Second, you have to consider the series of events, the cultural and physical genocides, that settlers inflicted on Indigenous peoples for centuries. You have to understand the distrust and resentment that many Indigenous people have toward settlers and more profoundly, the Canadian government. If you still do not understand this, then I suggest you refer back to step number 2.
It is in my opinion that if you take a step back, allow Indigenous people to run the show, but let them know that you are there to offer support in any way that you can, then you will get positive feedback.