Canada 150: celebration or new beginning?

Kevin Joseph

Special to the Herald

As luck would have it, it is my turn to write on the week of Canada’s 150th birthday. This isn’t an easy one for me. I have much I can write regarding this time of “celebration”, too much to fit in one column, but I will attempt to make sense of my conflicting thoughts and emotions.

To begin with, as a Cree man, my ancestors have inhabited this land for over 10,000 years. You already knew that. At least I hope you do. So, with that starting point, the idea of celebrating 150 years of “existence” seems silly at best.

As a Cree man, my Canadian experience is different from that of the non-Indigenous Canadian. In the past month alone, I have witnessed some truly horrific comments from some “old-stock” Canadians on social media. One man celebrated the death of an Indigenous woman by saying that any attempt at a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women inquiry was a waste of his tax dollars, and that her death was saving him money somehow. He was from Ontario.

Another man, this time from Manitoba, spoke of how he feels “Indians” are like the “spoiled children” of Canada who don’t want to work and want everything for free which means that “the good kids” (those good old-stock Canadians) have to work twice as hard.
And from my own backyard of Prince Albert, when a man had a quad stolen from his yard, one of his friends felt that it was time for law enforcement to start shooting more “Indians” to prevent crime.

This is my Canada. And even if you consider yourself above such intolerance and ignorance, this is your Canada as well.

We pride ourselves on being some of the nicest people in the world. Sure enough, in all my international travels, I am always greeted by someone from another country who lets me know how nice Canadians are.

In my international travels, I have also been greeted with amazement on more than one occasion when a foreigner realized that not only are “Indians” still alive in Canada, but they are talking with one in the flesh. That, if nothing else, illustrates that the history that Canada has sold to the rest of the world only includes my ancestors in an anthropological context.

The story that Canada has sold to the rest of the world is that we are the kindest people in the world. But that is not my story. It is not true kindness if you smile at someone to their face but talk about them behind their backs.

But I still celebrate. I still love my home. I know that those hateful voices do not represent all. I know that the Canada of 2017 is a much better place than it was when I was born here 40 years ago.

I am not celebrating a birthday. I am celebrating that I can breathe Canadian air without having to wear a mask like I have witnessed others do in some of the world’s largest cities. I am celebrating that I can write these words without fear of persecution or government interference like I have witnessed in China. I am celebrating the fresh Canadian air that I took for granted until I struggled to breathe in Beijing. I am celebrating the forests and lakes of my homeland because I have witnessed that in London, England, only the wealthy can afford to “own” actual property where they can grow trees.

I am celebrating that my son’s elementary school has new Canadians from every corner of the world who, despite those who don’t want them here, still see the beauty that we take for granted.

This is also my Canada.

I am not celebrating one day. I am not celebrating one “birthday”. I celebrate every day.
I want my Canada to be your Canada. Rather than celebrating how wonderful the past 150 years have been while ignoring the negative and completely disregarding the previous 10,000+ years, I choose to view Canada’s 150th year as a crossroads, maybe even a new beginning.

I want my ancestors, and yours, to be able to look back on the next 150 years as something that truly be celebrated by all.

Kevin Joseph is a Prince Albert freelance writer. His column appears Saturdays in rotation with Jessica Iron Joseph.