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Canada’s 150 Year Celebrations Is Joyous For “White Canadians” But Not So Much Fun For Indigenous Canadians

By Bhupinder Singh Liddar

Canada, this year, is celebrating 150 years of becoming a unified country, forming of a confederation, in 1867. There is regret in the history of this country, much to celebrate now, and a lot to look forward to!

The Confederation is the result of three conferences: in Charlottetown and Quebec City, both in 1864, which produced 70 resolution to give Canada a Constitution and finally in London, England, where British North America Act of Union was passed. The delegates to these conferences were all men and all White. In fact, at these conferences political leaders spoke unashamedly of Canada as “a white man’s country”. No indigenous person was invited, although they had been here, long before the European (French and English) settlers came, and women were absent altogether. Women were granted the right to vote, only in 1918, and the Indigenous people were not allowed to vote until much later, in federal election of 1970!

Most White Canadians (for lack of any other term) are geared up for “150 Years of Celebration”, on July 1. The indigenous people, however, frown upon this celebration, and consider it continuing colonialism, as they were forced off resource-rich and arable land and herded off onto reservations. Many would prefer not to “acknowledge” Canada’s existence for 150 years. According to one Manitoba indigenous leader, Derek Nepinak: “We don’t have a lot to celebrate when it comes to 150 years of assimilation and genocide and marginalization.”

Canada’s Supreme Court Justice Beverley McLachlin acknowledges Canada attempted to commit “cultural genocide” against indigenous peoples, in what she calls the worst stain on Canada’s human rights record.

However, Canada, to its credit, has acknowledged and apologised publicly to various communities to redress wrongs of the past. And, former Prime Minister, Stephen Harper offered a public apology in Canadian Parliament to Indigenous peoples for historic wrongs.

As for the rest of the Canadian population, its largely unaware of history of conquest, and exploitation of indigenous peoples, and of racism against other communities, including Acadians, Chinese, East Indians, Germans, Japanese, and Ukrainians, as it is hardly taught in schools.

In marking Indigenous National Day this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau removed the name “Langevin” from the building housing the Prime Minister’s Office, from across Parliament Buildings, in Ottawa. The reason: Sir Hector-Louis Langevin was associated with forced removal of indigenous children from their families and sending them to Christian residential schools. Such progressive and thoughtful moves are bound to encourage reconciliation and harmony. During 2010 Whistler Winter Olympics, Indigenous names were written alongside English names on many sites and roads leading to the venue. In the same vein, foreign names, such as “British Columbia”, associated with colonial heritage need to be considered for change, in the remaking of a new and forward-looking Canada.

However, there is much to celebrate about 150 years of a Canada’s existence as a confederation! Other than the original indigenous peoples, who have lived here for time immemorial, Canada is a country populated by immigrants from around the world, who come seeking refuge from all forms of persecution, economic opportunities, and a promise of a better life. It has become an experiment on how diverse communities can play an equal role in shaping and developing a country. Almost 40,000 Syrian refugees have been settled in Canada since November 2015, when Prime Minister announced Canada will welcome them when most countries were closing doors to them.

The future looks bright and hopeful for a resource-rich country, with a small population of 36 million, a vast land mass country. It is literally a social experiment. It is attempting to create harmony out of diversity by offering equal opportunities to all regardless of race, religion or socio-economic background. Members of all communities are today represented at every level of government, private enterprises and in every other field. Canada is an exemplary country and envy of the world.

Happy celebrations Canada for what you have overcome and achieved, and promise you hold for many in the future!

Bhupinder S. Liddar, is a retired Canadian diplomat and former editor/publisher of “Diplomat & International Canada” magazine. www.liddar.ca

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