I came across this poster on Queen St. West in Toronto and I couldn’t look away. Posters such as these, strategically placed around the city are pushing people to question Canada’s dark, colonial history, as is the incredibly critical art being produced by Indigenous artists such as Kent Monkman and Rebecca Belmore. These artists, activists, thinkers and interventionists are destabilizing and dismantling biased, historical Canadian narratives.
In the decade or more of being in Canada, I have recently had the opportunity to establish close allyships with Indigenous friends. Through their research and lived experiences, I am learning about a side of Canada that I was not initially aware of. While the Canadian Citizenship book discusses our shameful history of residential schools, it presents a watered down version, summarized in undignified, short lines, mostly ending with, “Canada has since apologized.”
The abuse that was carried out on Indigenous children at these schools (the last residential school closed in 1996) was horrific and conveniently left out of textbooks. With more awareness around the topic, Canada’s internationally positive reputation is being challenged. Canada’s deputy minister of Indian Affairs Duncan Campbell Scott was quoted in 1920 to have said: “Our object is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic.”
While an apology by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is a start, it is not enough. After all, actions speak louder than words. Grave injustices have been committed against Indigenous people. Erasure of language, culture and customs so as to benefit and serve colonial systems of oppression, unsolved cases of thousands of missing, murdered Indigenous women, increased likelihood of sexual assault on Indigenous women, an alarmingly high suicide rate amongst Indigenous youth and deplorable living conditions in some parts of Canada where Indigenous people reside. By deplorable I mean run down schools and homes and no access to clean, drinking water. How can we justify this while being one of the wealthiest countries in the world with a global reputation for excellence in living standards and human rights?
Far too often I hear fellow immigrants from my own community refer to Indigenous people as “drunks” and “criminals.”
“Oh these natives, they’re such a menace to Canadian society.”
“They get so much funding from the government. All their schooling is paid for.”
“They should be grateful and move on from the past. Look at the state of poor people in the third world countries we come from.”
“These people don’t know the first thing about oppression. They take all the money the government gives them and waste it on drugs and alcohol.”
It is ironic to see new immigrants settle on Canadian land while demonizing and othering the original custodians of this land.
Indigenous people have been dealing with institutionalized racism, discriminatory legislation and federal under-funding for over 100 years. As we mark our 150th birthday as a nation today, I hope that we can work toward addressing these important and urgent issues. Indigenous people are bearing the brunt of genocidal, colonial policies while the rest of us immigrating to Canada are reaping immense benefits such as world class healthcare and education, services that many of our Indigenous communities lack full access to. Our indifference and lack of awareness around these pressing matters has dire consequences for First Nations, Metis and Inuit people of Canada.
Today, on Canada’s 150th, I am stating a land acknowledgment for the first time in all these years of living, working, giving to and taking from Canadian land.
***I wish to acknowledge this land on which I currently reside and work. For thousands of years it has been the traditional land of the Huron-Wendat, the Seneca, and most recently, the Mississaugas of the Credit River. Today, this meeting place is still the home to many Indigenous people and I am grateful to have the opportunity to work on this land. (Please correct me if I have stated this land acknowledgment inaccurately)
As a tribal daughter of the Indigenous Magsi clan in Balochistan, Pakistan, I stand in solidarity with my Indigenous brothers and sisters in Canada.
I wish you a safe, peaceful and more informed #Canada150 long weekend.