• Jiwoo Jeong

Different Perspectives Regarding the Celebration of Canada 150


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Canada, a nation that is famed as an icon of multiculturalism, and a country able to thrive through the unity of plurality [1], was divided on its 150th birthday [2]. For some, it was an occasion that allowed them to parade their patriotism and for others, it was the symbol of marginalization and unhealed scars. The celebration of Canada 150 had evoked different perspectives from coast to coast.

For many Indigenous groups, Canada 150 was a reminder of the eradication of their history. Christi Belcourt, a member of the Métis community, found it insulting that “there are 10,000 or 20,000 years of history in this continent, yet Canadians [celebrated] their 150 completely erasing and ignoring the thousands of years of Indigenous experience”[3]. Other Indigenous groups had different rationales for boycotting the celebration. Vanessa Watts, the director of McMaster University's Indigenous studies program, claimed that Indigenous people could not be expected to celebrate the 150th anniversary as “there are all these histories and current circumstances that are still unjust or haven't been properly engaged with by the state”[4] It was the insurmountable grief imposed by the settlers, symbols of tyranny and colonial violence, and negligence of basic necessities such as “clean drinking water”[5] that made it impossible for the Indigenous people to celebrate the occasion.

To add fuel to the fire, the legacy of residential schools “where thousands of people died and others had their heritage ripped away”[6] still looms. The residential school system operated from 1883 to 1996. Just two decades have passed since the closing of the last operational facility. While this may seem like a lot time for university students, in perspective, the “jailhouse for little kids”[7] as described by Alex Janvier —a residential school survivor—was perpetuating unjust practices involving children when current third and fourth year McGillians were born. When our older siblings were celebrating their birthdays, children were “being beaten and strapped; some students were shackled to their beds; some had needles shoved in their tongues for speaking their native languages”[8]. These horrors, all too real for the children, were combined with the sexual, emotional, and physical abuses that took place [9]. Celebrating the 150th anniversary could be seen as a celebration of 113 years of the residential school system, and the imposition of “inferior power, inferior economic status, and problematic social conditions due to government actions over the 150 years”[10].

Pam Palmater, who is the chair of indigenous governance at Ryerson University claimed that the only reason Canada 150 could have been celebrated was due to “our genocide and the theft of lands and resources and the ongoing discriminatory laws, policies, exclusion from our territories” along with “[putting] us in jail, [and] our kids in foster care”[11]. The pain that had been inflicted on the indigenous groups led to the celebration of Canadian confederation is believed to be the celebration of “the beginning of an abusive relationship”[12] for some.

Within the university community, the topic of the Dalhousie University Student Union boycotting Canada 150 is not unfamiliar. The #Unlearn150 movement at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia was aimed at abstaining from Canada 150 celebrations, as they saw them as an act of “ongoing colonialism that glorifies continued theft from, and disenfranchisement of, the indigenous peoples of Turtle Island (Canada)”[113]. Masuma Khan, the figure at the forefront of this movement, claimed that she “being a settler to this land and being born in so-called Halifax in the land of the Mi'kmaq, [had] to stand in solidarity with them and ... bring these conversations to the table and work harder towards reconciliation"[14].

However, not all looked at the celebration of Canada 150 negatively. Chase Jarrett, a hip-hop artist from Six Nations, had a perspective that did not condemn the anniversary; rather advocated for it if people chose to celebrate it. Jarrett believed that “if Canadians want to be proud and celebrate their heritage, they should”[15]. He clearly acknowledged that there were complaints within the Indigenous community that were neglected, but he also realized that “there are many people here who had nothing to do with colonization, and they are blamed for the sins of their fathers”[16]. One important aspect that he stated was that the Indigenous community has to be very careful in saying that “white people can’t feel good about their culture”[17] as this “[shuts] down the conversation”[18] and becomes a hindrance to reconciliation.

It can be clearly seen that with such versatile perspectives regarding the celebration of Canada 150, the nation was divided on its birthday. With people having been brought up within different cultures, circumstances, and generations, it is hard to conclude which perspective is acceptable and which is not. The two perspectives discussed in this article each have their own validity. That being said, in times of such divided views regarding a topic, it is crucial to remain culturally sensitive and take into consideration your own values, ethics, and empathize with others before taking a stance.

[1] Semotiuk, Andy J. "Multiculturalism -- The Distinguishing Factor That Makes Canada Great." Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 19 Oct. 2017. Web. 20 Nov. 2017. <https://www.forbes.com/sites/andyjsemotiuk/2017/10/18/multiculturalism-the-distinguishing-factor-that-makes-canada-great/#5d20a6676b11>.

[2] D., M. "Why Is Canada's 150th Birthday Controversial?" The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, 29 June 2017. Web. 20 Nov. 2017. <https://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2017/06/economist-explains-24>.

[3] "ENCORE | What Does Canada 150 Mean for Indigenous Communities?" CBCnews. CBC/Radio Canada, 29 June 2017. Web. 16 Nov. 2017. <http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-june-26-2017-1.4175376/encore-what-does-canada-150-mean-for-indigenous-communities-1.4177801>.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Carter, Adam. "Is Canada 150 a National Party or a Celebration of Colonization?" CBCnews. CBC/Radio Canada, 26 June 2017. Web. 16 Nov. 2017. <http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/aboriginal-150-1.4178341>.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Puxley, Chinta. "Canada 150: For First Nations, No Reason to Celebrate." Times Colonist. N.p., 15 June 2017. Web. 16 Nov. 2017. <http://www.timescolonist.com/life/canada-150-for-first-nations-no-reason-to-celebrate-1.20599060>.

[8] Haig-Brown, Celia. Resistance and Renewal. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 1998. 16

[9] Young, Leslie. "Residential Schools Subjected Students to Disease, Abuse, Experiments: TRC Report." Global News. N.p., 15 Dec. 2015. Web. 20 Nov. 2017. <https://globalnews.ca/news/2402492/residential-schools-subjected-students-to-disease-abuse-experiments-trc-report/>.

[10] Puxley, Chinta. "Canada 150: For First Nations, No Reason to Celebrate." Times Colonist. N.p., 15 June 2017. Web. 16 Nov. 2017. <http://www.timescolonist.com/life/canada-150-for-first-nations-no-reason-to-celebrate-1.20599060>.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Rodriguez, Jeremiah. "Dalhousie Student Faces Backlash For Calling Out 'White Fragility'." HuffPost Canada. HuffPost, 22 Oct. 2017. Web. 16 Nov. 2017. <http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2017/10/21/dalhousie-student-masuma-khan-investigated-for-canada-150-comments_a_23251247/>.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Carter, Adam. "Is Canada 150 a National Party or a Celebration of Colonization?" CBCnews. CBC/Radio Canada, 26 June 2017. Web. 16 Nov. 2017. <http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/aboriginal-150-1.4178341>.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.


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