Ottawa Citizen

Sad­ness in the cel­e­bra­tion

Canada at 150 must note trou­ble faced by First Na­tions, crit­ics say

- RANDY BOSWELL Canada News · Politics · Elections · Canada · John A. Macdonald · Ontario · Manitoba · National Council of Austria · United Kingdom · France · United States of America · North America · British House of Commons · Terry Fox · Ottawa · Arctic · Arctic · Winnipeg · Iceland · Victoria · Douglas · Louis Riel · John A. Macdonald · Assembly of First Nations · Clément Chartier · Metis National Council · Gabriel Dumont · Tom Scott · New France · Rebellion Developments

The 150th an­niver­sary of Con­fed­er­a­tion in less than five years will con­jure im­ages of pa­rades, fire­works and flag­wav­ing for most Cana­di­ans, but a dif­fer­ent set of vi­su­als emerges when lead­ers rep­re­sent­ing the coun­try’s three main abo­rig­i­nal groups dis­cuss 2017: the noose around Louis Riel’s neck in 1885; an Inuit mother torn from her chil­dren in the 1950s; a de­crepit, over­crowded shack at At­tawapiskat in 2011.

It’s a key chal­lenge fac­ing the or­ga­niz­ers of Canada’s big­gest birth­day bash since 1967. How does a na­tion ad­e­quately tem­per its cel­e­bra­tory in­stincts to also hon­estly, solemnly ac­knowl­edge that dur­ing the past cen­tury-and-a-half — for all of the coun­try’s achieve­ments since Sir John A. Macdon­ald and the other Fa­thers of Con­fed­er­a­tion struck their fa­mous deal — not ev­ery­thing has gone well, par­tic­u­larly for the in­dige­nous in­hab­i­tants of the sprawl­ing land that would be­come mod­ern Canada?

This week, for ex­am­ple, a chief of a North­ern On­tario First Na­tion, Theresa Spence, en­ters the third week of a hunger strike, seek­ing a meet­ing with the prime min­is­ter over con­cerns about the treat­ment of abo­rig­i­nals in fed­eral pol­icy-mak­ing.

So in ad­di­tion to the hoopla ex­pected for Canada’s sesqui­cen­ten­nial in five years, Peter Dins­dale, chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer of the As­sem­bly of First Na­tions and its point man on Canada 150, says: “I think there would need to be some quiet re­flec­tion on the other story that needs to be told. What hap­pened to the orig­i­nal peo­ples that were here?”

Even Cana­di­ans with just a dim me­mory of their high school his­tory classes know that the birth of Canada on July 1, 1867, led promptly to a vi­o­lent clash with the Metis, mixed-raced descen­dants of abo­rig­i­nal and French fur traders who in­hab­ited the north­west­ern ter­ri­tory that be­came Man­i­toba.

Riel or­ga­nized a gov­ern­ing body to re­sist the dis­place­ment of Metis set­tlers by mi­grants from the east.

“With Con­fed­er­a­tion, cer­tainly the Metis be­came very en­gaged in the fu­ture of the coun­try, but not — look­ing back — in a pos­i­tive way,” says Cle­ment Chartier, pres­i­dent of the Metis Na­tional Coun­cil, about the west­ward push of English-Cana­dian set­tlers. “With­out any thought given to the pop­u­la­tions there — the var­i­ous First Na­tions and the Metis na­tion — con­flict arose very quickly.”

Chartier has spent much of his life de­fend­ing and em­u­lat­ing the “po­lit­i­cal con­scious­ness” dis­played by Riel, Gabriel Dumont and other Metis lead­ers in 1869-70, as well as their “de­sire to pro­tect their own” against a “hos­tile in­cur­sion,” as he puts it. “They did have an armed re­sis­tance. They did cap­ture Fort Garry. They did form a pro­vi­sional government. And they did ne­go­ti­ate the en­try of Man­i­toba into Con­fed­er­a­tion.”

They also, fate­fully, ex­e­cuted the fiery On­tario Orange­man Thomas Scott, set­ting in mo­tion a mil­i­tary re­sponse to the cri­sis.

While the 1870 cre­ation of Man­i­toba rep­re­sented the sec­ond key step in an ex­pand­ing Con­fed­er­a­tion project — even­tu­ally (and con­tro­ver­sially) se­cur­ing Riel be­lated recog­ni­tion along­side Macdon­ald as a found­ing fa­ther of Canada — the failed Metis up­ris­ings also led to gen­er­a­tions of strug­gle to se­cure land, po­lit­i­cal power and a na­tional iden­tity.

“The Metis na­tion was marginal­ized af­ter that, sub­ju­gated by mil­i­tary force, and has been marginal­ized ever since,” says Chartier. “And we’re still fight­ing to find our way within Con­fed­er­a­tion.”

Dins­dale de­scribes the sesqui­cen­ten­nial as much less im­por­tant to most First Na­tions lead­ers than an­other mile­stone: next year’s 250th an­niver­sary of the 1763 Royal Procla­ma­tion that marked the end of the Seven Years’ War, af­firm­ing Bri­tain’s con­quest of New France but also its recog­ni­tion of Canada’s Abo­rig­i­nal Peo­ples as mem­bers of proud, in­de­pen­dent, self-gov­ern­ing na­tions.

‘With Con­fed­er­a­tion, cer­tainly the Metis be­came very en­gaged in the fu­ture of the coun­try, but not — look­ing back — in a pos­i­tive way.’

CLE­MENT CHAR­P­EN­TIER Pres­i­dent of the Metis Na­tional Coun­cil

“I think the Royal Procla­ma­tion has much more stand­ing in the eyes of First Na­tions” than the Bri­tish North Amer­ica Act of 1867, he says. “I think they see Canada, in many ways, as a suc­ces­sor state to Great Bri­tain. And I think for First Na­tions, we’ve been try­ing to get back to that na­tion-to-na­tion re­la­tion­ship ever since.”

In Novem­ber 2011, as Dins­dale ad­dressed a House of Com­mons com­mit­tee ex­plor­ing ways to mark the 150th an­niver­sary of Con­fed­er­a­tion, the mem­ber of On­tario’s Curve Lake First Na­tion high­lighted the des­per­ate plight of an­other abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­nity from the north­ern part of his home province: At­tawapiskat.

“This com­mit­tee is not struck to get to the bot­tom of At­tawapiskat or any of those in­fra­struc­ture is­sues on first na­tions, but you need to re­flect that it’s a part of the legacy of 150 years of part­ner­ship in Canada,” Dins­dale said at the time.

“If we do noth­ing else here to­day,” he con­tin­ued, “it would be won­der­ful to be able to set in force some kind of move­ment, so that 150 years from now, at some com­mit­tee cel­e­brat­ing the 300th an­niver­sary of Canada, we’re not re­flect­ing upon shame­ful con­di­tions in First Na­tions com­mu­ni­ties across the coun­try.”

Terry Audla, pres­i­dent of the Ot­tawa-based Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Canada’s main na­tional voice for Inuit, echoed the no­tion that the prin­ci­pal goal for the 2017 an­niver­sary should be last­ing im­prove­ments in the so­cial, eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal sta­tus of the coun­try’s abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple. Af­ter the grow­ing Cana­dian fed­er­a­tion ac­quired ti­tle to Bri­tain’s former Arc­tic ter­ri­to­ries in the 1880s, the Inuit in­hab­i­tants of that re­gion suf­fered many hard­ships, says Audla.

Among the most trou­bling episodes in 20th-cen­tury Cana­dian his­tory, for ex­am­ple, was the fed­eral government’s sep­a­ra­tion and re­lo­ca­tion of Inuit fam­i­lies. Audla is a de­scen­dant of “High Arc­tic Ex­iles” in­volved in the re­lo­ca­tion fi­asco.

“Our rights as Abo­rig­i­nal Peo­ples were nowhere to be seen or rec­og­nized,” says Audla. “So this lack of voice, this in­vis­i­bil­ity — out of sight, out of mind — it hin­dered our par­tic­i­pa­tion in Con­fed­er­a­tion.”

Nev­er­the­less, each of the lead­ers in­di­cated their peo­ples’ will­ing­ness to par­tic­i­pate in some of the con­ven­tional “cel­e­bra­tion” ac­tiv­i­ties as­so­ci­ated with ma­jor na­tional an­niver­saries, in­clud­ing the con­struc­tion of “legacy” projects bol­ster­ing abo­rig­i­nal iden­tity.

Chartier urged the Cana­dian government to get be­hind the cre­ation of a Metis his­tory mu­seum and cul­tural cen­tre at The Forks in Win­nipeg, where Riel’s Red River Re­bel­lion — known as the “Re­sis­tance” among the Metis — un­folded in 1869.

Audla sug­gested the Inuit peo­ple would em­brace the rewrit­ing of Canada’s motto as a wor­thy sym­bolic ges­ture linked to the Con­fed­er­a­tion an­niver­sary. The pro­posed ex­pan­sion of the coun­try’s “From Sea to Sea” slo­gan to “From Sea to Sea to Sea.”

Dins­dale, mean­while, has pro­posed the com­ple­tion of a long-dreamed-of na­tional abo­rig­i­nal cen­tre on Vic­to­ria Is­land near Par­lia­ment Hill.

The planned cen­tre, en­vi­sioned as a place to cel­e­brate Canada’s in­dige­nous peo­ple as a “cir­cle of all na­tions,” has al­ready been de­signed by the renowned Ot­tawa- based abo­rig­i­nal ar­chi­tect Dou­glas Car­di­nal.

The late Wil­liam Com­manda, an Ot­tawa-area Al­go­nquin el­der who spear­headed the project for years be­fore his death in Au­gust 2011 at age 97, “had a real vi­sion for Vic­to­ria Is­land be­ing a gath­er­ing place in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal, an im­por­tant touch­stone,” Dins­dale told the House of Com­mons her­itage com­mit­tee last year.

But the coun­try’s First Na­tions, Metis and Inuit are mostly con­cerned with lev­er­ag­ing Con­fed­er­a­tion’s 150th birth­day to so­lid­ify land claims, to strengthen their re­spec­tive “na­tion-to-na­tion” stances when deal­ing with the fed­eral government.

 ?? CHRIS ROUSSAKIS FOR POST­MEDIA NEWS ?? Peter Dins­dale, chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer of the As­sem­bly of First Na­tions, says that, for most First Na­tions lead­ers, the 250th an­niver­sary next year of the Royal Procla­ma­tion that ended the Seven Years’ War is a more sig­nif­i­cant event than the up­com­ing...
CHRIS ROUSSAKIS FOR POST­MEDIA NEWS Peter Dins­dale, chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer of the As­sem­bly of First Na­tions, says that, for most First Na­tions lead­ers, the 250th an­niver­sary next year of the Royal Procla­ma­tion that ended the Seven Years’ War is a more sig­nif­i­cant event than the up­com­ing...

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