Fraser Forum

Indigenous peoples should embrace Canada 150

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For anyone reading or watching the news, it’s no surprise that many within the indigenous community are expressing ambivalence or outright opposition to celebrating Canada’s 150th anniversary. The common refrain is “why should I celebrate 150 years of colonialism?”

But, it’s critical to remember that Canada 150 is about celebrating the present and the future, not just the unfortunate past.

However, there are many reasons why First Nations and other aboriginal peoples should celebrate this Canada Day.

Of course, there’s no other group in Canada that has earned the right to be more ambivalent about their place within Canada. Status “Indians” were only given the vote in 1960. Also, there’s no disputing that Canada’s indigenous peoples were excluded from Confederation. The social and economic indicators for aboriginal peoples is still not anywhere where they need to be. First Nations are much more likely than other Canadians to be entangled in the criminal justice system or have their children taken away in the child welfare system. However, historic investments are being made into indigenous communities and average life expectancy on reserves keeps improving.

First, there are two misunderstandings that need clarifying. Celebrating 150 years of Canada is not about ignoring that indigenous peoples have lived here for thousands of years. Canada Day should be about celebrating the indigenous presence and contribution to Canada. Also, Canada 150 is not about ignoring or whitewashing Canada’s mistreatment and injustice towards its indigenous peoples.

Lastly, the history of Canada as it has unfolded until the present day has been about moving away from colonialism. Back in 1867, the issue was when the Indian problem would disappear forever. Now, the discussions are about aboriginal self-government and helping First Nations escape the colonial-era Indian Act. First Nations now possess several tools to remove themselves from parts of the Indian Act. Many indigenous communities have now signed self-government agreements with the Canadian state that feature wide-ranging powers for the First Nation.

The fact that Canada is the only advanced industrial country to have enshrined aboriginal and treaty rights in their constitution is a major cause for celebration. For instance, there’s a debate in the United States on whether Congress could, by statute, abrogate the provisions of an Indian treaty, which is not possible in Canada. Rightly or wrongly, a First Nation man in the Manitoba legislature stopped the passage of a major constitutional amendment. And the recent Idle No More movement proved that indigenous peoples are here to stay and are a big part of the constitutional conversation.
Since then, indigenous peoples have made major advances in land and resource rights to their territories. Politicians routinely acknowledge the indigenous territory they sit on and smudging is done in legislative buildings. These are things unimaginable generations ago.

Bill Gallagher, a former federal government negotiator, documented in his book Resource Rulers, Fortune And Folly on Canada’s Road to Resources, that First Nations have won 170 legal victories over resource development. This means the arc of Canadian history in terms of control over resources favours the indigenous side. The Fraser Institute, in a 2013 study, documented how over the next decade, more than 650 projects worth $650 billion will benefit First Nation communities. The Fraser Institute also showed how positive relationships between aboriginal communities and resource companies are greatly improving these communities.

Looking at where they have come from, indigenous peoples should enthusiastically embrace Canada 150.


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