Today is Canada day. Allegedly, Canada is celebrating its 150th birthday, since that was the point when anything worth mentioning started happening here in this vast expanse of land. But what happened 150 years ago that was worth celebrating? What exact event took place? What was its context? What were the consequences of that event, and given those consequences, do we really want that event to define us as a nation?

As is commonly known, Europeans came to this land, and took it from its native inhabitants; some might say stole. The method of acquisition is a bit hazy, since most of British Columbia, large parts of Quebec and Atlantic Canada, and a number of other spots are areas of land that were never actually added to Canadian confederation. These are lands that were never signed away in treaty or annexed through conquest. Even beyond the ambiguities of treaties ceding ownership from a people who had no notion of land ownership in the first place, and the barbarity of stealing land from a murdered people via conquest, throughout a large portion of Canada, Europeans, now calling themselves Canadians, just “took” ownership of the land. The Canadian Supreme Court recently ruled that Aboriginal people in theory do still own the right to that land that they never actually gave up, which Canadian governments are now doing their utmost to circumvent. A most telling example is BC’s former-premier Christy Clark referring to the people “up there” (demarcating them as an Other from the predominantly non-indigenous southerners) as being the “forces of no” who are simply too unreasonable to blindly follow the economic fancies of the Liberal party’s oil and gas lobbyists. Ignoring the environmental concerns of a gas pipeline sullying First Nation’s traditional fishing grounds, what about simple respect for a sovereign people dictating their own affairs in their own land?

I don’t think most people would wish to celebrate 150 years of ongoing land theft, so what else has Canada been up to otherwise if we wish to only acknowledge 150 years? I mean, we all sort of know that white people used to be terrible to “Indians” back in the day, with terms casually thrown around like “genocide” without really appreciating that the term is one we commonly use in conjunction with atrocities like the holocaust: a great way to start the birth of a nation! However, we tend to ignore that. Stephen Harper infamously stated that Canada does not have a history of colonialism. If the Prime Minister of the country succumbs to the idea that Canada is just super polite and never does anything wrong, then I guess willful ignorance is one of those “Canadian Values” that people keep clamoring to demand of our immigrants.

Did you know that Aboriginal people did not get the vote in Canada until 1960? For comparison, black people in the United States, that horrible place with slavery and endless racism, got the vote in 1870 when the 15th amendment was added to the constitution (yes, voter suppression precluded black people from voting at the time, and is still ongoing). Women got the vote in 1918. What this all means is that if we want to celebrate 150 years of Canadian history, a good portion of that 150 years is an apartheid state.

Perhaps that is a bit extreme. Sure Canada isn’t actually Canadian land and we’ve excluded Aboriginal people from any kind of political participation, but we must have at least been polite about it! We’re Canadian, after all! Well, except that the head of Indian Affairs in the early 20th century said shit like this in regard to kids dying in Residential Schools:

“It is readily acknowledged that Indian children lose their natural resistance to illness by habitating so closely in these schools, and that they die at a much higher rate than in their villages. But this alone does not justify a change in the policy of this Department, which is being geared towards the final solution of our Indian Problem.” [emphasis added]

The emphasis wasn’t added by me, but by the source from where I got the quotation. I decided to keep it because as far as final solutions go to ethnic-based problems, there aren’t many positive comparisons, and me choosing to use the term ‘apartheid’ seems more reasonable over other options I could have chosen, now doesn’t it?

But yeah! Residential Schools! They sound so benign, but you gotta remember that they were places where Aboriginal children were raped and tortured until they acted as white as they possibly could. Children were abducted from their families to be placed in these (well, we’re avoiding a certain comparison so I won’t say death camps even though more than 3000 children died, so we’ll stick with school) schools from the 1830s to 1996. Have some graphic imagery:

Girls were sexually abused and raped. Boys were forced to masturbate while wearing plastic skirts and showering together. Children were stropped, beaten with all manner of objects and were put in the electric chair; for punishment, for no reason at all and for simple entertainment. Children were forced to eat their own days old vomit.

Canada also had Indian Hospitals, which served a similar function to the Residential Schools, where segregated health services were delivered to abducted Aboriginals of all ages. Again the goal was to eliminate their culture, more so than any physical disease. The natives would become “civilized” whether they wanted it or not.

Canada never actually got tired of abducting Aboriginal children, however. During the 1960s, Canada’s intrepid social workers would venture into the Reserves and take children; ‘scoop’ them up, as it were, and now we have the delightful term “Sixties Scoop” to refer to this time period. Rather than place them in frightful Residential Schools, the government placed the children into white foster homes for even more “civilizing” missions against these savage people. Foster care is of course marginally less abusive than the Residential School system, so at least some degree of progress was made on that front. Still though, it ain’t great even today and abuses were (and are) abundant.

When I said Canada never got tired of abducting Aboriginal children, it should be noted that there is now what is referred to as the “Millennium Scoop” since there are more Aboriginal children under government care today than there was during the height of the Residential School period. In 2011, 85% of children in Manitoba’s foster care were Aboriginal. Another “Canadian Value” ought to be persistence, since we haven’t given up on that Final Solution during our much-celebrated 150 years. Aboriginal communities live in Third World conditions in one of the wealthiest nations on the planet. Their drinking water is undrinkable. Their health, infant mortality rate, and life expectancy is comparatively abysmal. Suicide rates are described in epidemic terms.

I mean, I guess you could be racist and say that Aboriginal people are just biologically determined to live garbage lives, but their livelihood prior to those 150 years shows otherwise. We now use terms like “intergenerational trauma” to described the impact the last 150 years have had on Aboriginal people, and I mean if you really want to celebrate that, enjoy being a shit person, I guess.

Perhaps you’re wondering that someone could in theory celebrate other aspects of Canadian life this Canada Day. Not everything is terrible. Insulin was invented in Canada. That’s pretty neat! We also invented basketball and Trivial Pursuit. Hooray for us! But by labeling Canada 150 years old, what we’re doing is saying that the Aboriginal People who have lived here a lot longer than that don’t fall into the Canadian narrative. We’re saying that we’re just going to ignore the legacy of what started 150 years ago, that Final Solution, and pretend that we never participated in colonialism. If we’re going to mark our calendars for an acknowledgement of 150 years, it should not be a day of celebration, but one of remorse. You don’t celebrate the beginning of genocide.

Why not acknowledge that the First Peoples of this country helped found the nation that we now call Canada? Why not say that the history of Canada is a history of all Canadians? We’d be a lot older than 150 years if we did that! We would see that the tragedy of Aboriginal life is not a permanent fixture, and we would see that their sovereign power is a right imbued in the history of our vast and diverse nation.

I am a patriot. I love my country. I just see my country as a collection of its people, rather than the illusion created by the public narrative. I celebrate Canada by celebrating Canadians, every single one of them, which means I celebrate too those who have been here since time immemorial.


Party on, Canada!