Paul C. Thistle

July 15, 2017

Beringia Source-Yukon-Geological-Survey

Source: Yukon Geological Survey

Canada 150+ makes Indigenous history into serious public discussion (finally!).

From an Indigenous perspective, much of the controversy surrounding commemorating Canada’s 150th birthday could be summarised by David Lowenthal’s (1996: 161) statement “the commemorative urge is profoundly anti-historical.”

Impetus from:

  • recent national & local celebrations & related Indigenous critiques regarding marking Canada’s Confederation 150 years ago this 1 July 2017
  • black paint defacing a 4-story large Canadian flag on the facade of Themuseum in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada along with a banner left by protestors that reads: “150+ years of resistance #unsettling 150.” The hashtags #unsettling and #unsettling150 refer to social media concerning Indigenous-led critiques of Canada’s 2017 sesquicentennial celebrations as continuing colonialism [interestingly also matched during Canada’s 1967 centennial year at the Expo 67 World Fair in the last section of the Canadian Native Pavilion (Hayday 2017)] ignoring many thousands of  years of preexisting Indigenous occupations of & sovereignties over present-day Canadian territory.  It should be noted here that the protester’s banner is now included as part of Themuseum’s main exhibition: “A Cause for Celebration? First Things First” which examines injustices by Canada’s prime ministers imposed on Indigenous people and incorporates the work of indigenous artists  (The Canadian Press 2017).
  • controversial comment by Canada’s Governor General David Johnston referring to Indigenous people as “immigrants as well” (followed by his prompt apology) & strong reactions thereto (Ling 2017)
  • recent & previous Canadian Prime Ministerial comments: in the case of our current PM clumsily downplaying & in the case of the previous PM denying Canada’s involvement in colonialism (Fontaine 2016)

has caused substantive discussions in Canada about the neglect of Indigenous peoples in the marking of 150 years of Canadian Confederation in treaty language-like tropes ‘cede, release, surrender, & yield up all rights, titles, & interests whatsoever’ as if many thousands of years of Indigenous history are irrelevant to Canada in 2017. Also see Garneau (2015) for critical analysis of the ongoing need to de-colonise contemporary museum exhibitions.

A cogent post on matters surrounding Indigenous critiques of Canada’s 150th anniversary of our Confederation as continuing colonialism on ACTIVEHISTORY.CA by Western University history professor Alan MacEachern (2017) is very much worth a read in the above context.

Inter alia, MacEachern argues:

But above all, in teaching the Bering land bridge theory we need to crush the idea that Indigenous arrival hundreds of generations ago bears some sort of equivalency with immigration of the last few hundred years.

MacEachern (2017) closes with a ‘cute’ footnote visually demonstrating the logic in his quote above.

In closing, another excellent related ACTIVEHISTORY.CA post by Matthew Hayday (2017), University of Guelph professor of Canadian history whose main research interests are  Canadian identity, nationalism, & the history of Canada Day, is also highly recommended by your blogger to round out a deeper understanding of indigenous engagement with Canadian anniversaries.

Obviously, much work is required to integrate Indigenous perspectives into Canadian history.  After all, Jean Piaget, the renowned Swiss clinical psychologist, maintained that  historical awareness may demand more maturity than many adults ever attain (Lowenthal 1996: 124).

But let’s not give up trying to mature the awareness & understanding among all Canadians about the true significance of Indigenous history to Canadians.

References Cited:

Fontaine, Tim. 2016.”What did Justin Trudeau say about Canada’s history of colonialism? PM’s comments about colonialism spark ire online – but what did he actually say?” CBC News 22 April  http://www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/trudeau-colonialism-comments-1.3549405 (accessed 15 July 2017).

Garneau, David. 2015 “Non-Colonial Indigenous Art Gallery and Museum Displays.” Muse XXXIV (5): 28-32.

Hayday, Matthew. 2017. “Contesting Canada Day : A Tradition of Engagement, Challenges and Change.” ACTIVEHISTORY.CA 30 June http://activehistory.ca/2017/06/contestingcanadaday/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Activehistoryca+%28ActiveHistory.ca%29 (accessed 15 July 2017).

Ling, Justin. 2017. “The colonial history behind the Governor General’s ‘quote-Indigenous-people-unquote’ comments.”  Vice News Canada 20 June  https://news.vice.com/story/the-colonial-history-behind-the-governor-generals-quote-indigenous-people-unquote- accessed 15 July 2017).

Lowenthal, David. 1996. Possessed by the Past: The Heritage Crusade and the Spoils of History. New York: The Free Press.

MacEachern, Alan. 2017. “A Theory in Practice: Back to the Bering Land Bridge.” ACTIVEHISTORY.CA  13 July  http://activehistory.ca/2017/07/a-theory-in-practice-back-to-the-bering-land-bridge/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Activehistoryca+%28ActiveHistory.ca%29#_ftnref11 (accessed 15 July 2015).

The Canadian Press. 2017. “Kitchener Museum’s giant Canadian Flag vandalized on Canada Day.” thestar.com https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2017/07/04/kitchener-museums-giant-canadian-flag-vandalized-on-canada-day.html (accessed 14 July 2017).

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