Is Canada 150 a national party or a celebration of colonization?
'Why would we celebrate 150 years? A hundred and fifty years of colonization?' — Susan Barberstock
On July 1, Canada will mark its 150th birthday with a national party — but many Indigenous people won't be celebrating.
Some Aboriginal people across the country say Canada 150 stands as a symbol of decades of colonization and oppression, and seek changes to the celebrations to recognize a history that stretches back centuries.
Others call for resistance to the event — or just skipping it altogether.
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"A lot of people say, because we've been here longer, why would we celebrate 150 years? A hundred and fifty years of colonization?" said Susan Barberstock, the executive director of the Hamilton Regional Indian Centre.
"A lot of people aren't participating. Why would we celebrate that?"
A look at the hashtag #Resistance150 on Twitter reveals thousands of messages of protest and discontent. They say that it's impossible to celebrate Canada with a history of abusive residential schools, where thousands of people died and others had their heritage ripped away.
<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Canada150?src=hash">#Canada150</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/genocide?src=hash">#genocide</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Indigenous?src=hash">#Indigenous</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Resistance150?src=hash">#Resistance150</a> <a href="https://t.co/FCxuFpr2ng">pic.twitter.com/FCxuFpr2ng</a>—@AzhiniienhsKwe
Then there are the hundreds of cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, which has prompted a national inquiry.
It's issues like that which prevent Aboriginal people from being able to look at Canada 150 as any kind of celebration, said Vanessa Watts, the director of McMaster University's Indigenous studies program.
"Canada 150 in and of itself is a complicated and inherently contradictory celebration," she said. "How is it in celebrating Canada 150 we can talk about integrating Indigenous communities [in the celebration], when some Indigenous communities don't even have clean drinking water?"
"How can there be an expectation that Indigenous persons jump on board with this celebration, when there are all these histories and current circumstances that are still unjust or haven't been properly engaged with by the state?"
Barberstock echoed that sentiment, pointing out that funding used to ramp up Canada Day celebrations (Bono and The Edge from U2 are even performing on Parliament Hill) could be used elsewhere, like wastewater treatment and affordable housing.
"There are other places it could be spent," she said.
But not everyone views the event with the same consternation. Chase Jarrett is a hip-hop artist from Six Nations who performs under the same Chilly Chase.
He says he has no plans to celebrate on Saturday, but also isn't offended in any way by the event.
"I think if Canadians want to be proud and celebrate their heritage, they should celebrate. Indigenous people have complaints, but there are so many people here who had nothing to do with colonization, and they are blamed for the sins of their fathers. And who wants that?" he asked.
"I understand where the feeling comes from. But if you are going to continuously make white people feel bad for being white, they're going to shut down the conversation. We have to be very careful with this idea of 'white people can't feel good about their culture.'"
So should further efforts be made to include Aboriginal people in the Canada 150 celebrations? Baberstock says that it could be a place to educate people about the wealth of issues still facing Indigenous communities. But Watts isn't so sure.
"I don't know that integration is even something to really strive for," she said.
"I think that it's necessary for indigenous people to view themselves as distinct."