Canadians like to pride themselves on being one of the most tolerable and free countries in the world. Now while I believe we can be these things, Canadians tend to white wash our own not so perfect past. We forget (or ignore) residential schools, the forced relocation of First Nations peoples, and the treatment of Japanese immigrants during World War II, among other things. Our past is hardly perfect, and that’s alright. It’s not justified. But it’s alright. No country has a past that is perfect. But we need to recognise it. We need to stop ignoring it.
Idle No More protests in Victoria, BC.
Canadians in a very general sense do not take the Idle No More grassroots movement seriously. They are dismissive, borderline racist, and ignorant. They forget themselves, thinking that the injustices that went on in Canada are in fact, ancient history. They are wrong. (Injustices are still occurring, but I will get to that in a moment.)
A Sayisi Dene man holds a photograph of children that were forcibly removed from their homes during the Dene relocation to Churchill, Manitoba.
It was not so long ago, in 1956, that the Sayisi Dene of Duck Lake, Manitoba, were forcibly removed from their homes to Churchill, under the false pretence that they were impacting the Caribou population, an accusation that was in 2010 redacted by the Manitoba provincial government.
For a decade the Dene at Churchill lived in tents outside of the town, until finally the government set up a makeshift village for them, still separate from the original settlement. But the shift from their nomadic lifestyle at Duck Lake, into a forced, westernised Canadian lifestyle at Churchill was unsuccessful, and left a third of the population dead. This happened in 1967. My parents (who were living comfortable lives) were seven years old. Doesn’t sound like ancient history now, does it?
The last residential school, schools that were arguably attempts at a cultural genocide, closed in 1996. 1996. I was seven years old.
First Nations children attending a residential school. Source: http://www.mediaindigena.com
In a little over a century, over 150,000 First Nations peoples passed through the residential school system in Canada, and an estimated 4,000 of them died while doing so. Four thousand. At least. Forcibly removed from their families, subject to sexual and physical abuse, these children suffered.
I am not telling you about these things to shock you. I am telling you these things to bring it home for you. It is not ancient history. It happened in your lifetime. It is still happening. Even now, First Nations tribes are denied equal shares of profits on lands being used for mining, despite the fact that treaties signed by our government specify otherwise.
Idle No More is important because hundred of First Nations women go missing and nothing is done about it. Idle No More matters because people still treat First Nations peoples like second class citizens. And it matters because a group of people are still suffering, and still trying to heal from the fresh wounds inflicted by our government.
So before you dismiss railway protests as inconvenient to you and others, think about the inconvenience of residential schools. When you dismiss protests on Ottawa as stupid, think about how ridiculous it is that legal documents are being ignored. And when you think about the pre conceived stereotype you have in your head of First Nations peoples, think about how it became that way. It wasn’t organic. It happened because our government made it happen. Misuse of funds allocated to First Nations tribes happens, but that does not make what we are ignoring justifiable. It’s time to have a conversation, and it’s time for everyone to be involved.