As Canada marks its 150th birthday on July 1, 2017, the backlash among Indigenous Peoples is intense. Major indigenous groups are outright rejecting the notion of celebrating, especially given that more than 150 indigenous communities are under water-boil advisories, at least one of them for nearly 20 years.
“For First Nations in Ontario the 150th anniversary of Confederation is little cause for celebration, as it represents 150 years of assimilation, genocide, neglect and marginalization. Ultimately this makes it very difficult for us to come out and celebrate and embrace these last 150 years of colonization,” wrote Assembly of First Nations Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day in a statement published in Net News Ledger. “We share a history that is painful and is filled with raw memories, which remain in our communities from our elders through to our youth that must never be forgotten, downplayed or misrepresented.”
The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) declared in a resolution that the day “is not representative of the history of our lands and territories, or of our present realities as Indigenous Peoples,” according to a statement.
“We, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, cannot, in all good conscience, participate in, and will not celebrate, the federal government’s colonial notions of our indigenous histories,” the UBCIC said. “A history which reflects 150 years of genocidal policies in an attempt to eradicate our cultural, spiritual, and political systems, alongside our universal fundamental human rights to exist as Indigenous Peoples. We invite and encourage all Canadians to recognize, celebrate and uphold unromanticized indigenous histories, and the continual sovereignty of our Nations while participating in ‘Canada150’ events.”
Likewise, the Dene Nation in the Northwest Territories found no reason to celebrate either, given that the birthday only recognizes “the French and the English as founding members of this country. That is the problem,” Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus said in a statement.
“In the Northwest Territories, the Dene are being denied the human right to govern themselves,” he said. “We do not have Dene government. Public government is being forced upon us, or no government at all.”
The number 150 is especially ironic given that 153 indigenous communities are under water-boil advisories, Metro News reported.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he understood why many people don’t find anything to celebrate on this day.
“We recognize that over the past decades, generations, indeed centuries Canada has failed Indigenous Peoples,” he said at a news conference on June 30, according to the Canadian Press.
The Bawaating Water Protectors, a group of indigenous people from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, initially butted heads with police as they erected a tipi on Parliament Hill. Police arrested nine people but then released them hours later as a compromise was reached, the Canadian Press reported. The tipi was moved to a more prominent place, near the Peace Tower and just to the left of the main stage, and cordoned off from the rest of the site being prepared for Canada Day festivities.
During the course of the day, Trudeau visited the tipi and spent at least 30 minutes speaking with the water protectors inside the tipi, CBC News reported. The Prime Minister emerged saying only that he was there “out of respect and reconciliation.”
Afterward, the Canadian Press reported, Trudeau sent out a series of tweets about the day’s events and the lack of voice that Indigenous Peoples have had for centuries.
“The painful fact behind this protest is that for too long, there’s simply been no space for Indigenous Peoples to be heard in Ottawa,” Trudeau tweeted. “Our government is committed & dedicated to moving forward on reconciliation—myself & everyone in cabinet. And we have a lot of work to do.”
In his statement released on July 1 to commemorate Canada Day, Trudeau built on this message.
“As we mark Canada 150, we also recognize that for many, today is not an occasion for celebration,” he said. “Indigenous Peoples in this country have faced oppression for centuries. As a society, we must acknowledge and apologize for past wrongs, and chart a path forward for the next 150 years—one in which we continue to build our nation-to-nation, Inuit-Crown, and government-to-government relationship with the First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation.”