Second class citizens?
Either this country of Canada stands for equality for its entire people – or it does not
Historic places have often been named after powerful people who made a difference in the history of a country. In the case of Ft. Amherst, P.E.I. Mi’kmaq Keptin John Joe Sark believes that’s not good enough. He thinks that commemorating the life of a man who wanted to “extirpate that vermine” from this island disqualifies Jeffery Amherst.
I agree with Mr. Sark.
In many cases, as a component of their vision for the country, these famous men we honour were the champions of racist policies that subjugated and persecuted First Nations peoples. Naturally, many First Nations people view such monuments as a constant reminder of the wrongs done to them. And perhaps John Joe Sark is also growing tired of the way we continue to treat First Nations peoples, for all of our misdeeds are not relegated to the past.
For instance, although access to clean water has been a Canadian right for nearly 30 years, people on 112 First Nations Reserves don’t have that right - their water is unsafe to drink. We wouldn’t tolerate unsafe water for one day, not for a week, yet some of these Reserves have had unsafe water for over 20 years.
Imagine this: If Prince Edward Island was one of these First Nations Reserves, 4,000 of us would have to boil our water every day, 8,700 of our friends and neighbours would use an outhouse or a slop pail for a washroom, life expectancy for our children would be seven years less than for most Canadians, and more of our kids would go to jail than graduate from high school. How does that fit with your vision of Canada?
Perhaps John Joe Sark is telling us that these memorials serve to remind First Nations people what it means to be “second-class” citizens in their own country. Because, on paper, all Canadians have the same rights and privileges. In truth, First Nations people don’t - they’re not even close. Doesn’t that imply that Canada still discriminates against its own people based on race, just like Jeffery Amherst did?
Either this country of Canada stands for equality for its entire people – or it does not. So far, our government has not shown the willingness, nor committed the resources, to bring to First Nations people what the rest of us take for granted. And until they do, the very least we can do is to stand with our First Nations brothers and sisters – and change some of those names on the statues.
P.E.I. Mi’kmaq Keptin John Joe Sark