Truth be told, I’ve been protesting Canada Day for a long, long time. In fact, a few of you might remember that I used to wear a Canada Flag on my derriere every July 1. Strangely, I used to look forward to the odd looks and controversy. Yes, the noble maple leaf, the unmistakeable symbol of Canada, pinned firmly to my a$$.
Anyone who asked about or noticed my anti-patriotic statement would be peppered with factoids of Canada’s historical mistreatment of First Nations and the racism that I’ve faced. I was known to quote John Trudell who said that flying a flag upside down is a sign of distress. Long before the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement, the apology, or the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, I offered a fiery explanation of the residential school experience, the abuses suffered by our children and the burden of inter-generational trauma.
All the while, sitting on, and blowing wind through, the ole’ red and white.
That was a long time ago. I don’t do that anymore.
Sure it was a juvenile and classless. But as a teenager, I was typically juvenile and classless anyhow. But I later came to the realization that it was a barrier to understanding and sharing such an important message. More importantly, it was an affront to the most basic Anishinaabe teaching of respect.
Many Indigenous people are frustrated and feel they are getting the short end of the stick. Many First Nation families are living in poverty and face unacceptable conditions everyday. (For god’s sake, it’s 2017 and many First Nations still don’t have running water!)
We’re frustrated by the slow pace of change. Prime Minister Trudeau and his government has said a lot of the right things including a commitment to implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, the 94 Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and establishing an inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. But the results just aren’t visible to us. The pace of bureaucracy is stifling and isn’t matching our expectations. Just what the heck is going on???
So, for historic and personal reasons, many First Nations, Metis and Inuit people, including myself, are refusing to celebrate Canada 150. For my non-Indigenous brothers and sisters, you truly have to understand the narrative, the perspective as well as the facts. Canada has not been kind to Indigenous people. The past 150 years has been deplorable, and frankly, should be embarrassing to each and every Canadian.
That being said, as Indigenous advocates, we still have to realize that there are many, many Canadians who do not know about Indigenous issues or their true history as a country. Many open-minded Canadians might get their backs up, or noses out-of-joint when we challenge their perception of their country and patriotism.
Just this week, I spoke to a volunteer at a local Indigenous event. She was a young, well-educated, middle-class woman working for one of the largest telecommunications companies in Canada. She had no idea what residential schools were and how they have affected our people. She had no idea what the Indian Act was and how it controlled almost every aspect of our lives. She honestly had no clue.
The reality is that there are thousands more, at public events and kitchen tables across Canada that have yet to meet a First Nations person, much less understand our frustrations, complex issues or grasp the need for reconciliation.
How do we influence understanding? How do we bring Canadians along with us, so that they might take personal action on reconciliation? How do we encourage them to share their new found knowledge with their families sitting down at the dinner table? How do we begin to influence their workplace and the corporate environment?
We certainly can’t do that with anger. I realized that I couldn’t win people over when I desecrated the proud symbol of their freedom. It can only be done with patience, kindness and respect.
Forget the trolls and the racists. You’re not going to win them over anyway. Focus on those who may want to listen for they are going to be our future advocates.
I am going to respect those that want to celebrate Canada Day and their nation’s sesquicentennial. I may not be Canadian but I know a lot of them. I’m not going to call anyone down who may want to enjoy themselves under the fireworks, an airshow or want to see a giant rubber duck float by.
In turn, I hope that Canadians will respect why we don’t want to celebrate this day and learn more about the true history of Canada, and why change and reconciliation is necessary.
I’ve taken the flag off my a$$ and hope to fly it one day with pride, as true and equal treaty partners.