Canada Day: Why it is our Responsibility to Learn

What do you notice about this graphic?

 For the first 30 years of my life, Canada Day was called Dominion Day. I didn't really understand the meaning of the term but I knew that July 1st was Canada's birthday. Wise men called "The Fathers of Confederation" united 4 British colonies to form the Dominion of Canada. My province, British Columbia, joined in 1871 largely due to the promise of a railway linking the eastern provinces with the west coast. I learned these "facts" in school more than 50 years ago.

Settlers travelled by train to the western provinces.

Nobody taught me about how the native people were moved off the land to make way for the "steel ribbon" linking sea to sea. As settlers arrived, more indigenous people were moved from traditional lands 
and located to "reserves" where they were unable to hunt or raise food crops. Poverty and poor access to health services and education were common on the reserves. The Amendment to the Indian Act of 1894
allowed native children to be removed from their homes and families to attend residential schools in order that they learn to "assimilate better into the culture of Canada".  The Truth and Reconciliation Commission reported the deaths of 3123 native children in residential schools in Canada. In the last 3 weeks, more than 1,000 unmarked graves have been discovered at former residential school sites.


I learned about residential schools 30 years ago when  I read this book.

In 1992, when I enrolled in a course in Canadian Children's Literature, I was introduced to the topic of residential schools when I read a book called My Name is Seepeetza. It was fictional biography written by a woman who was a survivor of the Kamloops Residential School. As a teacher-librarian, I introduced the book to some of the teachers on staff. At that time, Social Studies curriculum  tended to teach about longhouses and totem poles rather than contributing to the understanding of contemporary indigenous life. 

In the last few years, we have been hearing a lot about Truth and Reconciliation between native and non-native peoples but the question that is often asked is "what does that have to do with me?" Personally, I need to read more about the lives of indigenous peoples, question the values of my colonizer/settler heritage and to acknowledge that I am a member of an elite group in Canada.

 The coming weeks will bring the discovery of new atrocities at  former residential school sites. Today, many communities have decided to hold no Canada Day celebrations despite the relaxing of Covid health orders. As a nation, perhaps we can reflect on how it is crucial that we learn from our history and that we are open to following an unfamiliar path to decolonization. 

PS. What I noticed about the flag graphic was that only the Canadian Maple Leaf flag (which replaced the Red Ensign) and the Nunavut flag (which represents the self-governed territory of the Inuit people) do not include a reference to the colonizer nations (France, England, Scotland). I've "taught the provinces" many times and I never really thought about this before. 






Comments

  1. Yes, we must learn about the past so we can move forward with healing and reconciliation. Each of us is responsible to do what we can. I never noticed that about the flag graphic either.

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  2. Interesting observation about the flag.

    I know that I didn't learn about the Japanese-American internment camps in the U.S. until I was an adult and worked with a Japanese-American school counselor who was interned as a child. I don't understand how we can teach history and not teach the complete picture. I applaud you for sharing knowledge and books.

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    Replies
    1. We do our best to understand that we are looking at history from a point of view that is quite narrow.

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    2. That was an important book, My Name Is Sepeetza. You were bold to introduce it to teachers at your school at the time, and I hope some of them might have kept it in mind and augmented the official curriculum.

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