On Citizenship, Decolonizing Museums, Reconciliation and Canada 150
What do those four things have to do with each other?
First, as some of you know, I have applied for my Canadian citizenship. I’ve lived here as permanent resident for more than a decade and decided I have enough commitment to this country to call myself a Canadian. I will keep my US citizenship because, at root, that’s who I am (plus, yes, America really needs me as a voter!). So I’ll be a dual citizen.
The second thing is that this year marks Canada’s 150th year of confederation —
“…the process by which the British colonies of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick were united into one Dominion of Canada on July 1, 1867.” (Wikipedia)
Canada 150, as it’s been branded, is a big deal and it’s being celebrated all year long with all the usual festivities that go along with a national anniversary of this kind.
But not everyone agrees that Confederation is something to celebrate. In fact there is a quite a bit of backlash against Canada 150. Which brings me to the third thing — Looked at through a different set of lenses, Canada 150 is a celebration of a colonial occupation of Indigenous land and marks the kickoff of a century of systematic Indigenous cultural genocide.
“…this year’s celebrations are encouraging many indigenous people to come to terms with their own history of exclusion, one that often gets lost in the story of how Canada came about, a story some indigenous voices say reflects a history of indigenous genocide.” (America Magazine)
“When you frame things as though this 150-year milestone is the be-all and end-all, it’s as though you’re saying everything that came before wasn’t important” Jess Housty
“It’s complicated, you know? It’s kind of the way you’d feel towards an abusive relative. It’s someone you have a lot of good memories with but they have messed you up over the years.” — Ossie Michelin
The fourth thing is this: I’ve been working on the Illusuak Inuit Cultural Centre for the last two years. My job is to write the Labrador Inuit story from the Labrador Inuit viewpoint — that is, not through the lens of colonists. So for two years I have been immersed in Inuit and Indigenous studies, have read the books; talked with and — more importantly — listened to Inuit people; followed their (and other Indigenous) voices in social media; watched the documentaries; and read the reports.
So I’ve been thinking about how these things go together and wondering what I should do with it all. I wanted to take some kind of action beyond just a blog post. (Seriously, the last thing this world needs is one more white woman waving her “woke” flag.)
And then, a few days ago this showed up in my Twitter timeline —
— Mika McKinnon (@mikamckinnon) August 6, 2017
On August 4th, there are 150 days left in 2017 – the year of Canada’s 150th birthday. There have been robust discussions this year around reconciliation and we would like to contribute to the conversation. Together, we have written 150 Acts of Reconciliation for the last 150 days of 2017. Many of these are small, everyday acts that average Canadians can undertake, but others are more provocative that encourage people to think about Indigenous-settler relationships in new ways. We encourage you to use #150Acts to share your engagement with each item on the list. (By Crystal Fraser and Sara Komarnisky )
And as I read that I realized that if I want to be a well-informed citizen of Canada I need to understand and acknowledge the Indigenous Peoples of this country — past and present.
As an American living in the US, I understood my role as a naturally born citizen. Moving to Canada, I understand my place as an immigrant and naturalized citizen. But I’ve never really understood my place as a descendant of colonists or my responsibilities as a settler whose everyday actions may inadvertently harm or contribute to the marginalization of Indigenous Peoples.
Citizenship Canada sent me a study guide for my citizenship test. And yes, it mentions the various Indigenous Peoples and provides a few basic facts — A brief entry under “Canada’s History – Aboriginal Peoples; two paragraphs on Louis Riel; and some demographic information under “Northwest Territories” and “Nunavut.” That’s it.
So that’s where #150Acts comes in. I skimmed that list and, while I have a good start on it already, most of it is new to me so it will serve a my study guide. Not in order, and not every item, but I will do what I can.
So since we are talking Canada 150, join me and let’s begin with #150Acts #41:
41. Understand and acknowledge that Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, was an architect of genocide. Say that aloud with us. “John A. Macdonald was an architect of genocide.”
As Canadians celebrate 150 years of settler colonialism on Indigenous lands in 2017, it is important to remember that residential schooling was not a mistake or aberration. The Indian Residential School system that was in operation from 1883 until 1996 was a carefully planned assault on Indigenous lifeways supported by one of Canada’s most celebrated figures: John A. Macdonald.
That paragraph from here: Killing the Indian in the Child: John A. Macdonald’s Role in Residential Schooling
Please read, understand, and share. Thank you.