Calgary Herald

Canada has had more good days than bad

We must acknowledg­e our mistakes and our virtues and move forward

- CHRIS NELSON Chris Nelson is a regular columnist for the Calgary Herald.

Let's talk about a country called Canada.

The conversati­on, however, isn't as many have heard recently, with an overwhelmi­ng cacophony of soul-searching, finger-pointing and self-flagellati­on. Sadly, such a state of affairs is becoming somewhat of a national pastime.

Yes, of course, bad things happened in this country's past, particular­ly involving its Indigenous population. Some bad things continue. But the will, heart and desire are there to right wrongs, both past and present, and thereby make the future shine a little brighter for everyone.

And let's not forget, a lot of days have gone into the gradual making of this country — vastly more good ones than bad.

So, to move beyond the current depressing narrative for a moment, let's turn instead to the vastness of Northern Canada and its overwhelmi­ngly Indigenous population to see what different messages we might learn about our country during this worrying pandemic.

Actually, it was the spread of a host of viruses, inadverten­tly brought to these shores by European adventurer­s centuries ago, which did the most damage to the various Indigenous peoples who resided not just in Canada but throughout the length and breadth of North and South America.

But things do change. We can learn from history and there are times when the fine words and promises about reconcilia­tion and reparation­s are put to the litmus test to see if actions will speak louder. Time indeed to put up or shut up.

So what changed when another deadly virus was brought to our shores almost 18 months ago? Did we, the vast majority of Canadians, simply let First Nations folk sink or swim in the COVID-19 tide, as was often the case hundreds of years previous?

Immediatel­y, the North was given priority. Vaccines per capita flowed to Yukon, the Northwest Territorie­s and Nunavut at a rate vastly higher than they did to the rest of the country.

Meanwhile, across the southern provinces, in deciding which groups should be given a preferenti­al place in the vaccinatio­n line, a collective decision was made to put their various Indigenous population­s at the comparativ­e head of the queue.

Did other Canadians — undoubtedl­y worried about their own health and welfare — complain about such preferenti­al treatment?

If so, any grumbles were the exception and certainly not the rule.

People understood instinctiv­ely this was the right thing to do. If that isn't a real example of reconcilia­tion for the sins of history, then what is?

Still, it is one thing sending vaccines to the North, it is another matter altogether dealing with the logistics of getting them into enough people's arms to be effective across such a huge and lightly populated land mass.

So, where did the government turn? To the Canadian military, another organizati­on which can't seem to buy a decent headline or sound bite these days.

Under Operation VECTOR, the Armed Forces successful­ly transporte­d vaccines to some of the most remote parts of this country and gave Indigenous communitie­s a head start over their fellow citizens in getting vaccinated.

By the middle of June in First Nations' communitie­s across Canada, more than 82 per cent of individual­s aged 18 and older had received at least one jab, with 43 per cent receiving both doses.

The COVID-19 case rate and, much more importantl­y, the death total in those three northern territorie­s is a testament to the success of such a massive logistical operation.

As of this writing, the number of people who have died of COVID-19 in Nunavut is four; Yukon stands at five, and in the Northwest Territorie­s, it's zero.

How many countries on our planet would have moved so quickly to protect their Indigenous citizens as this country did? Perhaps there are some but they'd be few and far between because they'd fear the wrath of those other citizens asked to stand aside.

So, by all means, revisit the past, there are things to be learned, and some of those lessons are hard to stomach. But there comes a point when enough is indeed enough and we need to move forward.

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