#Canada150: What Exactly Are We Celebrating?

Written by Zanab J.S. 

Patriotism is a strange elixir mixed into the proverbial nourishment we receive as residents of any country.

There is an implicit (nowadays explicit) understanding you do not insult your country, bring insult to your country, or allow someone else to insult your country. 

But is understanding the history of your country an insult? Is bringing light to injustices in your country an insult? 

Today, July 1st, will mark 150 years since the confederation of the British Colonies, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick into what was then the Dominion of Canada. 

It will also mark 150 years of colonization, genocide, displacement and destruction of First Nations, Inuit and Metis people of this nation. 

It is undoubtable the very fabric of what we refer to as "Canadian" society exists only as a product of longstanding, and arguably continuous, genocide of indigenous peoples. From the early poaching of indigenous tribes and their lands 400 years ago, to the abduction and torture of indigenous children in the 19th and 20th centuries, to the horrific mistreatment of indigenous people in 2017, the systemic volatility towards Indigenous citizens has persevered through government changes, treaties and legislative requirements. For whatever reason, we have not been able to honour our promises or provide indigenous people with their full and unconditional rights. 

For many Canadian citizens, Canada's 150th birthday will only be marked by the following: 

140+ Water Advisories and Suicide Epidemics Plague First Nations 

There are currently 100+ Water Advisories in effect throughout Canada on First Nations reserves alone, with some having remained without safe drinking water for decades. 

In 2016, the Canadian government pledged 1.8 billion dollars to repair water safety in these communities within 5 years, but is reportedly not on track to complete their pledge. 

In Quebec, the community of Kitigan Zibi has been without safe water since 1993. While similar pledges have come and gone, and with it the campaigning points of several politicians, there are many reserves like Kitigan Zibi who have been without water for 10+ years. 

In the case of this particular community, uranium was discovered in the tap water approximately 24 years ago, but it was not until 1999 that the government finally declared the tap water unsafe for drinking following reports of residents getting cancer.

Similarly, in Ontario, Neskantaga has remained without drinking water for 23 years. The Huffington Post cited testimony from an 18 year old girl who said showering at home left her body with blisters.

In addition to these physical dangers, Neskantaga, like so many other reserves in Canada, have faced the unthinkable reality of suicide epidemics in their communities. The leader of Neskantaga declared a state of emergency in 2013 when several members of their 300-strong community committed suicide. This is a likely reality for several First Nations, many of whom are also in states of emergency due to lack of medicine, food, water and holistic support for physical and mental health. 

Food Insecurity, Lack of Medical Support Continuous in Indigenous Communities 

Paying 105 dollars for a case of water bottles, or 30 dollars for a head of lettuce may be unthinkable for most, but is the reality faced by Inuit people in Nunavut. 

SRC

With Inuit communities making tens of thousands below the average income for non-Indigenous households, food insecurity will remain rampant unless there is active subsidies provided by the government. 

While the Federal government spends 500 million dollars on Canada Day celebrations, indigenous people across Canada are still struggling to feed their family. 

The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal declared that Canada discriminates against indigenous children, particularly those living on reserves. 

It was reported by the CBC that First Nations children receive nearly 40% less funding for welfare than their non-indigenous counterparts. 

The tribunal proceeded to describe the result of government neglect towards indigenous communities as dire and dangerous as the residential school system. 

The tribunal ordered the federal government to immediately cease this discriminatory practice of welfare distribution, and remodel the child welfare system to ensure equality for indigenous children.

500+ days have passed since this decision; no legislative changes have yet been made. 

The situation is so notably severe, the United Nations has declared that Canada's treatment of indigenous people is a violation of international human rights. 

Canada's Involvement In Crimes Against Humanity

Canada's 150th birthday will also mark the anniversary of the Liberal Government's decision to sell 15 billion dollars worth of arms to Saudi Arabia, arguably the worst human rights defender in the world, and the leader of the current assault on Yemen.

Though the Trudeau government promised there would be no deal, the decision was granted almost immediately following his election. 

Since then, Saudi Arabia's aerial and ground assault on Yemen has created the worst humanitarian crisis on earth--using weapons supplied by Canada. 

So...What exactly are we celebrating today? 

To those who argue "progress", it may be worthwhile to refer to any one of these examples and ask "how?" 

Can we celebrate progress when reserves in Ontario and Quebec have been without clean water for 24 years? Can we celebrate change and moving forward when our legislation fails to commit to providing sound human rights to the indigenous population of this country? Can we celebrate our rumoured kindness when we contribute to crimes against humanity abroad? 

Like all complicated relationships, our connection to Canada must carry a level of nuance where we can recognize the irreparable harm the birth of this nation has caused, and continues to cause, while remaining vigilant in refraining from celebrating progress before actually progressing. 

As millions of Canadians celebrate with their loved ones the birth of this nation, and the country they love, it is important to remember there are just as many, if not more, Canadians who have every right to dread this day and everything it stands for. 


For inquiries regarding this article, contact Zanab J.S. @zanabism.