Living in Canada for a quarter of my life makes me dependent on having a waffle with maple syrup and tobogganing during the wintertime. I remember vaguely in high school, for Student Prefect leadership training, we use snowshoes to travel from one snowy place to another - an activity that I missed now as I have less time to spend outside. Also, I unashamedly like barbecuing and napping on a hammock.
I have always wondered where things came from, so I surfed the internet to find out about the origin of words or how things come to be. Most of my favorite things I listed above are the invention of the North American Indigenous people, a shocking revelation for an adult.
After getting my answer, I went to bed. But a burning question keeps me awake: If we learned and owe so many things from the Indigenous people, then why we gave them little to no credit for their existence?
If it is not for my search for Maple Syrup, I would not know that the precious golden liquid is a genius invention by the Indigenous people. Nobody even talks about the First Nations’ heritage – the purest form of Canadian culture. Hence, I conclude that Canada still commits a mistake in its education system, considering how little we learn about the Canadian Indigenous people’s culture and history in educational institutions.
When I ask my friends what their favorite Canadian culture, they always stay silent in contemplation or shrug. And I am not guiltless either, as I often do the same. But, for the longest time, I genuinely thought Canada’s culture consists of unbelievable kindness and politeness. Period.
With that said: Canada, we need to talk.
Provided I did not search what more Indigenous people of Canada invented, I would not stumble across the horrible truths about the treatment of Indigenous people thus far.
I lived in two countries to date. When it comes to educating children on their history, I have to say that Canada is one of the few countries that talked so little about the history of their Indigenous People. We rarely talk about their cultural influences despite being famous for their social welfare. Is it not natural for a country to want to pass on its heritage to the future generation as a way to keep a strong interconnectedness and a sense of identity among fellow Canadians?
Indigenous People’s Day is coming. Yet, Canada and the world celebrate it with a mourning period in solidarity with our Indigenous communities. The findings of First Nations children’s remains are heartbreaking. Two hundred fifteen children remain that died because of abuse, famine, and diseases from the residential school era in the western province of British Columbia alone.
215 is only the number that got recorded. But there were 140 residential schools across Canada. Who knows how many more we will find if we keep looking for the mass gravesites on all past residential schools places.
Logically, if a country could admit that China commits genocide by forcibly taking away Uyghur kids from their parents, why can’t Canada say the same thing happening in their own country? From the very first page, they violated the Genocide Convention that they signed in 1949.
Furthermore, I am astounded it took Canada 10 years to give up on the Keystone pipeline project that clearly would have potentially robbed Natives Canadians in Alberta of a healthy water source. Plus, the roaring protest from Native Canadians across the country and environmentalists seem to fell on deaf ears to the government. In the end, it was not even the Canadian government that ended the project – it was the newly elected president of the United States, Joe Biden. So why are we still not listening to the First Nations people when we believe we are on a path to reconciliation?
Systemic Racism in Canada
I understand that all countries have their dark past. But is it not too much that mistreatment towards the First Nations is still evident even after more than a decade after Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized?
Although I acknowledge that poverty in any country is inevitable, it is shocking how many First Nations groups specifically still have a hard time getting clean drinking water. That does not make sense for a first-world country, not to mention it violates human rights to water and sanitation. Then the problem of residual racism remains. Similar to what blacks in North America experience, they are prone to systemic racism in the justice system.
Children play Indians, a seemingly innocent and generic childhood game. Remember how the Natives always lose to the good cowboys? This game unknowingly depicts Indigenous people as savages that were better off killed and regulated by the settlers. It is not the children’s fault – it is the education that only taught them one side of Canadian history while burying the others. As a result, growing up, some of us learn the stereotypes that First Nations people are troublemakers who need to be governed by the settlers. In reality, it is farther from the truth as they were doing perfectly fine before the colonizers came.
What Can We Do?
Learn about these stereotypes. “Violent, unemployed and addicts.” These are just a few accusations and stereotypes that The First Nations people have to deal with daily. Stereotypes are harmful because they can affect one’s self-worth negatively. Especially after seeing a representation of themselves constantly depicted a certain way, it gets to you. Playing games like Indians readily make people accept the stereotype as a fact. Reframing our minds about our Indigenous friends and stop teaching our kids games that can lead to ingrained bias toward a particular race is significant to tackle residual racism.
Have schools teach about Indigenous people’s history. First Nations, as the original settlers of the land, contributed a lot to the making of Canada before the European settlers came. Countries like Indonesia teach their children their history, dating back to 400 CE. And from an early age, children learn about different cultures, cuisine, languages, traditional houses, and customs of various Indonesian tribes – and Indonesia has many of them. So why can’t Canada do the same?
Support Indigenous Organization. Elle writes a great article on organizations that support indigenous women of Canada, accessibility to fundamental rights, reconciliation effort, and awareness-rising of indigenous history and its generational impact.
Support Indigenous Businesses. Shop First Nation has a list of Canadian First Nations-owned businesses you can browse to fill your daily needs. Purchase their goods, promote them by reposting their posts, and add them to your supplier list.
Speak up. Help protect indigenous lands against corporate giants and speak up when you see discriminative behavior towards our Indigenous friends.
If you are a part of the First Nations impacted by the recent discovery in Kamloops and need someone to talk to, The Firelight Group has a list of hotlines and resources you can utilize base on your needs. You can also call a Canada-wide helpline at 1-855-242-3310 to reach First Nations, Métis & Inuit Hope for Wellness.