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Canada, eh?

July 1, 2021

Today is Canada Day, the day when the country historically celebrates how wonderful it is. You know, Canada, eh? Nice country, nice people. 

A number of people who’ve visited me from other countries have been shocked to discover quite how vile Canada’s history has been.

Here’s something that doesn’t make it into the Canadian history books in most schools: Canada as it is no known would not exist were it not for its indigenous people. After decades of the rampant expansionism of the nascent republic to the south, when it came to the War of 1812, the majority of First Nations people decided the British were the lesser of two evils compared to the Americans and fought with the Brits. As well as fighting with the British in traditional military battles against the American army, native warriors successfully fought what would come to be known as guerrilla warfare. Without their participation, the republic’s dream of expanding north could very well have succeeded and there would be no Canada. (The country’s name comes from the Huron-Iroquois word “kanata” and four of its provinces also have names of indigenous origin.)

More than a century earlier, the British were also deemed to be the lesser of two evils when compared to the French as the two European powers battled for control of what is now eastern Canada. For one thing, the British didn’t bring Catholic priests with them who were determined to convert the savages. (It was more than a little shocking to learn during the 1990 Oka crisis that in Quebec the indigenous people were still quite commonly referred to as “les sauvages”.)

In that early colonial period, the Brits – who were far more interested in trade than conquest – might have been a better bet, but that had already begun to change during the nineteenth century and took a horrific turn in 1867 when the provinces (or colonies) banded together to officially become Canada. Sir John A. MacDonald, the new country’s first prime minister, dubbed “the father of Confederation” was determined to “kill the Indian in the child”. 

With the birth of the new country came the deadly spread the residential school system across Canada which was rightly described as cultural genocide in the 2015 report issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. As the report stated: “The Canadian government pursued this policy of cultural genocide because it wished to divest itself of its legal and financial obligations to Aboriginal people and gain control over their land and resources.”

For more than a century, children, at the tender age of seven, were ripped from their families and taken to live in squalid conditions in “schools” paid for by the government and run by various religious orders. Sadism barely covers the treatment these children experienced. (According to one survivor, “As brutal and raw as the stories coming from the victims of the Catholic Church were, the Anglicans were no better.”)

Many children died trying to escape back to their homes, often hundreds of miles away. Many more simply disappeared.

And now we are finding out where the bodies are buried.

There’s a tongue in cheek mock Harlequin Romance cover featuring a Mountie that I post every year on Canada Day. I’m not going to post it today. Instead a map of stolen lands and broken promises.

From → Columns

  1. I agree that it is vile but I cannot begin to understand how people can pretend to be shocked or surprised at the discovery of these graves. The truth of how natives have been treated and how these babes suffered and died at at the hands of those who took them into their care, and how it affected their families and communities has been the worst kept secret in Canada. I think we have to acknowledge the truth of our history, but we also have to acknowledge how it has been deliberately denied and disputed for generations.

    • I agree that the truth has been out there for anyone who wanted to do so to see. It’s past time to remove the blindfolds and rip off the plaster.

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