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Reclaiming the next 150 years

Canada 150 in contention with indigenous nations

An illustration, Canada's 150th celebration is being seen as an insult to numerous indigenous communities.

An illustration, Canada’s 150th celebration is being seen as an insult to numerous indigenous communities.

On July 1, Canada will be celebrating 150 years of Confederation, but for many indigenous people, the event marks over a century of colonialism.

“The indigenous community is not celebrating the past 150 years,” said Jean Dube, an indigenous student advisor at SAIT.

Canada Day is approaching, but Dube will not be participating.

Some members of the indigenous community are using Canada 150 to raise awareness and draw attention to the indigenous experience of violent colonial history.

“We are acknowledging the future 150 years,” said Dube, adding that the last 150 years have not been kind to indigenous communities, but there is hope that the next 150 years will be better.

Dube said that she recognizes that it can be difficult for Canadians to discuss the country’s problematic past of indigenous assimilation and suppression. However, Dube encourages people to interact with First Nations communities to try and gain an understanding.

“SAIT as a whole needs to gain more awareness of who we are and gain an understanding of the struggles of intergenerational trauma,” said Dube.

“Understand our culture, understand our tradition.

“Canada 150 offers an opportunity for people to act on what they learn about Canada’s history as a whole, and take action in aiding indigenous people in movements like #Resist150”, said Dube.

The hashtag #Resist150 has arisen to raise awareness that Canada’s 150th birthday represents years of oppression and assimilation for the country’s indigenous communities.

“Show, don’t tell,” said Dube, describing how people can use their curiosity to act on and raise awareness about the current systemic issues facing indigenous people.

Dube said that she also doesn’t believe young non-indigenous people should carry guilt over the past; instead, they should work to create a better future.

“Bring awareness and be accepting of our culture and unaccepting of the issues still facing indigenous today,” said Dube.

Dube cited systemic contemporary issues facing First Nation communities, such as the disproportionate representation within Canada’s federal prison system, as a call to action.

According to Canada’s correctional investigator, aboriginals represent four per cent of the Canadian population, yet they represent 23.3 per cent of the federal inmate population.

“We’re still fighting,” said Sykes Powderface, a Stoney Nakoda Elder visiting Chinook Lodge.

Powderface said that Canada 150 is misleading because it only celebrates Canadian Confederation, and fails to acknowledge that indigenous people were in the country first.

For Powderface, the event represents colonial rule and the breaking of a partnership between the First Nations and Europeans.

“They forget we were here first, we were supposed to be equal partners,” said Powderface.

The elder said countless treaties have been broken across multiple indigenous communities spanning Canadian history both before and after Confederation.

Powderface said he wants to see Canada 150 lead to a new relationship between the Canadian government and the indigenous people that is not one-sided.

He says there has been progress. One of the major steps forward was the acknowledgement of the suffering faced in the past through century-long colonial practices such as residential schools.

However, Powderface says these small steps are only the beginning of a long healing process.

The goal of #Resist150 is to raise awareness of these issues on social media, and help Canadians see Canada 150 through an indigenous cultural lens.

Canada Day celebrations can be a launching point to raise awareness to recognize and reaffirm the rights of indigenous people under the original Constitution.

“It means a new totally different era,” said Powderface.

“The next 150 will be on our terms of what treaty was about, to share the land and co-exist.”

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