On Saturday July 1, 2017 Canada celebrated its 150th birthday. While many took part in celebrations across the country, others chose this important date to make us aware of some of the more disturbing aspects of our history.
The Indigenous peoples of this land governed themselves for thousands of years before colonization by Europeans just 300 years ago.
What happened 150 years ago?
In 1867 the British Parliament passed the British North America Act, creating the Dominion of Canada. Included in Canada's new constitution was the Indian Act 1867 which lead to the creation of racist policies and programs, including residential schools.
Much of this history is outlined in the report released by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future (2016) and the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1996), the latter having been mostly forgotten over the past two decades since its release.
For Indigenous peoples, this 150th birthday represents 150 years of failed legislation and policy in Canada that tried to "civilize" and assimilate Indians. One of the main objectives was to "take the Indian out of the child" by forcibly removing them from their homes, and relocating them to residential schools. The horrors of residential schools were replaced by foster care, and adoption of Indigenous children, often by Americans and Europeans. The federal government catastrophically failed to meet their responsibility to these children, causing intergenerational trauma to our First Nations.
What can we do to help change the future?
The BCGEU has been working towards change. As recently as our last constitutional convention in June, the union recommitted to strengthening relationships with our Indigenous members and all Indigenous peoples in their fight for self-determination and self-governance, and to advocate for government to honour the inherent rights of Indigenous peoples.
Resolutions from our convention, coupled with the vision of our Indigenous members who helped create BCGEU's Aboriginal Roundtable report (2014), as well as Indigenous representatives from the newly elected equity and human rights committee, are the first steps in our journey toward reconciliation.
Let's celebrate that we are fortunate to live in the country we call home, but let us also honour the true history of Canada and its Indigenous peoples. We must all make steps, even in small ways, towards reconciling with the Indigenous peoples to create a nation we can all be proud of celebrating.
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