One of the curses of being Canadian is our neighbour to the south. It’s easy to look at the United States, with regular mass shootings and rising overt white supremacy and think that quiet sleepy Canada isn’t nearly as bad as that so we’re “good”. But this isn’t the truth, and we don’t have to look all that far to find terrible actions taken by the Canadian Government.

History may well be a series of stories we tell about the past, but the stories are not just any stories. They’re not chosen by chance. By and large the stories are about famous men and celebrated events. We throw in a couple of exceptional women every now and then, not out of any need to recognize female eminence, but out of embarrassment. – The Inconvenient Indian Page 3

We Don’t Hold to Treaties

In Canada we have a number of treaties with the First Nations in the country. For many years I knew this and then wondered why we still saw First Nations protesting uses of the land, which I figured they freely gave up. Sure maybe their ancestors made a bad deal, but the land was still traded away.

But that’s not what happened.

Sometimes the Canadian Government just decided that First Nations didn’t have title to their land and assumed it was government land. This has lead to hundreds of millions of dollars spent in court cases for First Nations to get back stolen land.

Many times treaties were signed and then the Canadian Government simply took the land, and then didn’t bother recognizing any of the rights that the First Nations had in outlined in the treaties.

On the East Coast of Canada, in Nova Scotia, we have indigenous fishermen being trapped by white fishermen. The standoff ended when the RCMP forced the indigenous people leave, only for them to watch their lobster catch be taken by the white people. Then there was a mysterious fire that burned the entire building to the ground a few days later.

This is a member post I made available to all today. You can become a member and get my weekly posts and all my courses on taking notes.

This goes back 250 years to a treaty that says the First Nations have fishing rights in the area. This treaty was largely ignored until 1999 when the Supreme Court of Canada acknowledged First Nations fishing rights in the treaty and told the government to come up with some rules around it. Unfortunately, the Government still hasn’t come up with those specific rules, so the First Nations stopped waiting and started exercising their rights.

In the face of this the Department of Fisheries arrests First Nations because there are no clear rules when they exercise their fishing rights.

Overall, it’s another among many examples of how the Canadian Government continues to break the promises made in treaties with First Nations and simply expects them to take the abuse.

Coming closer to home, in fact 20km outside of Prince George where I live, the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation doesn’t have clean drinking water, which should be provided according to treaty agreements with Canada. For a few years it work, but the 2019 water filtration systems failed and they still don’t have clean drinking water. Sure the government has reasons it hasn’t happened, the pandemic slowed things down, but I can’t help but see this as a treaty unfulfilled. Are First Nations able to have their land back until the treaty is fulfilled?

Residential Schools and Sacred Ceremonies

Then we come to the generations of abused at the hands of government representatives in the form of Residential Schools. Canadian told themselves that these schools were improving the lives of First Nations as we graciously brought them education and improved their “savage” lives. But the truth was that Canadian sanctioned agents worked to take away First Nations languages from them in favour of English1.

When First Nations children returned home, they didn’t speak the same languages as their parents and grandparents, thus severing generational ties and shared family history2. Children were beaten if they spoke their native language.

In addition to the abused received at speaking their language, many were just straight up sexual and physically abused by the clergy running these schools3.

Then on the home-front this cultural genocide continued with First Nations not being allowed to continue with their sacred ceremonies. Of course you could do it in a circus, because it was a spectacle that white people could view and profit off of. You simply couldn’t do it for your own cultural heritage.

At this point I can’t help but think that Canada spent generations abusing First Nations in Residential Schools, and at home, and maybe we should spend those same generations making good on the treaties. Maybe until we’ve helped the last victim of multi-generational trauma overcome the affects of that abuse we need to keep working.

Racism is Alive in Canada Today

For most of this I’ve talked about the past but Canadians are still active in racism. One report showed just how much Canadians are involved in problematic online racist speech. It put Canadians among the most active users for this type of content. Don’t fool yourself, organized hate groups are alive and thriving in Canada.

While I’m not directly responsible for any of the things above, if I say nothing I become responsible for the acts committed today. If we want to truly be exceptional, then we need to stand alongside the First Nations around us and make the Canadian Government fulfill it’s treaty commitments to First Nations. When we hear about a far-right rally, we need to go counter-protest naming and shaming the racists around us.

Yeah it feels risky given that these racist groups have shown they’re not afraid of a little violence, but if I’m not willing to stand up to them, who is.

Further Reading

  1. Words Have a Past Page 67 
  2. See this video on the lost Ojibwe language