Roxanne Tellier – Our Flag is Red and White

Canadians … we love our country, but that’s never stopped us from having our beefs with how it’s run. Unlike many other countries, we feel free to speak up about what angers us. For all our reputation of being a polite and respectful people, we reserve the right to disagree with those who would impose their will upon the nation.

We love our healthcare, but are aware it needs tweaking to be all that it should be. We know that it is not ‘greedy’ or ‘entitled’ to demand that the healthcare that we pay for with our taxes, works for every Canadian.

We love our democracy, but want to ensure that we remain democratic, which calls for electoral reform. We don`t want to run the risk of any party taking control of the system and bending it to it`s favour – we won’t accept trickery or gerrymandering in our elections.

Many were angry at the direction we took in the last decade, under the Conservative prime minister . We now have a Liberal prime minister, and likely just as many have issues with his party. In our Canadian way, we will protest against what we dislike, and in due course, vote for the direction we would like to have in the future.

Because this is not a “my country – love it or leave it’ place, we can and will criticize those in power, and insist upon our right to do so.

On July 1, we honoured the establishment of Confederation in 1867. But the interesting thing about the adoption of the July 1867 date is that, at that time, Canada consisted of only four provinces; Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. While Canada Day acknowledges an important national milestone, it’s not really celebrating all of the country we now call Canada.

Nor does the concept of Canada Day include the indigenous peoples who were here before the settlers came from Europe.  Even our national anthem ignores the fact that this is not our native land. Instead, we live ON native land, 89% of which is Crown Land administered by Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, and still in dispute, hundreds of years after the first treaties were written.

The First Nations people have been here for over 13,000 years, and for many, the celebration of Canada Day amounts to ” celebrating resource extraction of our territories. The Indian Act is still in place. The government is not allowing First Nations to have a voice. So why would I ever celebrate?”” – Anishinaabe traditional storyteller and teacher Isaac Murdoch.

The #Resistance150 movement was created nearly eight months ago by Murdoch, Michif visual artist Christi Belcourt, Cree activist Tanya Kappo and Métis author Maria Campbell, as the group discussed the festivities planned by the Liberal government for Canada 150.  They found it increasingly difficult to accept that the government, while giving lip service to plans of reconciliation, continued to ignore the ongoing fraught relationships between native Canadians and the rest of Canada.

Their resistance movement was developed to inspire other indigenous people to reclaim what they lost during colonization; their land, language and traditional ways.

The group created a camp for indigenous children and youth to attend called Nimkii Aazhibikong on Ompa Lake, located about 20 kilometres north of Elliott Lake, Ont. this year. Here the children can immerse themselves in traditional languages, explore their culture, and discover their environment under the tutelage of visiting local elders.

“Beyond attention to culture, Murdoch`s group also wishes to send a strong message on the negative effects of climate change and the First Nations longstanding dispute with the government over land ownership.

“All over the country there’s this free-for-all in resource extraction that’s happening,” he said. “First Nations people are screaming and saying, ‘No’ and Canada just keeps saying, ‘Yes.’”

On top of sounding the alarm over how resource extraction and pollution is hurting the environment, Murdoch said the #Resistance150 movement is also calling for the abolition of the Indian Act, which was first introduced in 1857 by the British colonial government, and reads very much like a treatise from the Southern Baptist religionists banning dancing in the 1984 film Footloose. Cruel, vindictive and petty, the Act aimed to crush the people and their culture, by any means available.

” Over the next hundred years the Indian Act was amended a number of times but each time was aimed at a more efficient means of assimilating First Nations into white society. The Act was amended to ban the “Sun Dance” an important ritual among the Lakota and other Plains aboriginal cultures. On the west coast the “Pot Latch”, an elaborate ceremony of feasting and gift giving was also banned. With an eye to forced assimilation, the Act authorized the forced removal of children to Residential Schools and stripped any Indian who obtained a University Education or Ordination of his rights under the Act.

The act vested title to reserve land to the Crown represented by the Minister of Indian Affairs deeming it “Crown Land set aside for the use of a Band of Indians.”

The 1876 act also made it illegal for an Indian to sell or produce goods without the written permission of the local Indian Agent, who became the de-facto ruler of Indians on reserve. (this includes fruits, vegetables, and farming, to this day.) Indian Agents had to give written permission for Indians who wanted to leave the reserve for any reason.  

Status Indians were not allowed to vote until 1961.”

When I speak with many middle aged to older Canadians about the past, present and future of our First Nations people, whether status or non, it’s clear there is a confusion in what is believed to be true and what is fact. Sadly, the contents of the Truth and Reconciliation documents mean little if you’ve already made a pre-judgment on the nature of a people.

However, fairness and justice is what we should be working towards, for all Canadians. There are specific problems that need to be addressed amongst indigenous people. Some of these problems are brought about by where the reserves are located. There are currently about 150 long-term and short-term drinking water advisories in First Nations communities that are difficult to reach in good weather, and impossible to reach in winter.

In some of these far flung communities, suicide rates, especially among the young, are five to seven times higher than the national average.

First Nations and Metis are 2-3 times higher at risk for diabetes than the non-Aboriginal population, while tuberculosis – almost nonexistent among non-Aboriginals, is 26.4 times more prevalent in First Nations Canadians.
I am proud of my country, but I know that my country has to include ALL of it’s people – those who came before us, and those who will join us in the future – to be strong and united.  As a country, we can do so much better. And I have faith that we will work towards being a better, stronger, fairer country in the coming years.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during Canada 150 celebrations on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Saturday, July 1, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Adrian Wyld

In an article on what it means to be a Canadian, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, ” “This is something we are able to do in this country, because we define a Canadian not by a skin colour or a language or a religion or a background, but by a set of values, aspirations, hopes and dreams that not just Canadians but people and the world share.”

And as writer Mike MacNeil responded to those concerned that the Canada Day150 celebrations ignored Canadian history and absolved us of our crimes against the First Nations people,  ” It”s not the pilfering and genocide that’s being celebrated. It’s instead – and finally – the recognition that something positive is being done to correct decades of misuse and mistreatment. It’s slow, granted. It’s imperceptible, granted. The pace of change could be infinitely faster, granted. But the change – however it’s characterized – is there.”

And that’s Canadian, eh.

=RT=

Roxanne’s column appears here every week

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

dbawis-button7Roxanne Tellier has been singing since she was 10 months old … no, really. Not like she’s telling anyone else how to live their lives, because she’s not judgmental, and most 10 month olds need a little more time to figure out how to hold a microphone. She has also been a vocalist with many acts, including Tangents, Lady, Performer, Mambo Jimi, and Delta Tango. In 2013 she co-hosted Bob Segarini’s podcast, The Bobcast, and, along with Bobert, will continue to seek out and destroy the people who cancelled ‘Bunheads’. 

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