Wednesday June 28, 2017

Can you celebrate Canada 150 and still respect Indigenous rights?

As Canada Day draws near, many Canadians are feeling conflicted about all the flag-waving and fireworks.

As Canada Day draws near, many Canadians are feeling conflicted about all the flag-waving and fireworks. (Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

Listen 20:12

Read story transcript

The big day — Canada 150 — is fast approaching.  But plenty of Canadians feel conflicted about celebrating the anniversary of confederation. 

For social justice activist and freelance writer Doreen Nicoll there's no question, she refuses to be party to the party that ignores Canada's treatment of Indigenous people now and in the past.

"I need Canada to give me something to celebrate. I can't celebrate a sliding scale of who deserves services and who doesn't, who gets help and who doesn't ... It's very well that the government has apologized but where's the action?" Nicoll tells The Current's summer host Mike Finnerty.

Related: Alanis Obomsawin NFB Films

Roberta Jamieson, president and CEO of Indspire — an Indigenous-led registered charity that invests in education —  acknowledges the mixed feelings and outright refusal to mark Canada Day as a celebration.

Canada Day 20150701

What will you do on Canada Day? (The Canadian Press)

"There's no question that it has been a tragic history that Indigenous peoples have had with Canada," Jamieson says.

"Our people chose to treaty with settlers and then things went terribly wrong ... We went through an extremely dark period.  And we are living with the legacy of that period today."

But Jamieson adds she respects anyone who wants to recognize Canada's birthday and shares her own reasons to celebrate.

"I'm more optimistic in 2017 than I have been in my life.  I will celebrate the resilience of First Nations, Metis and Inuit people. I will celebrate the fact that we are still here."

Related: Building Brighter Futures Charity

When chef Vikram Vij was asked to become a Canada 150 ambassador, he tells Finnerty he was humbled and accepted right away. 

"We must celebrate even what [immigrants of the last 150 years] have achieved.  We must accept that the mistakes were made but now is the time to sit down and talk about it and reconcile and make sure that every ceremony, everywhere we go we acknowledge the people of this land," Vij explains.

150

'I need Canada to give me something to celebrate,' says social justice activist Doreen Nicoll on marking Canada's 150th birthday. (Jordan Gill/CBC)

"I respect everybody's opinion.  If they don't want to celebrate, I'll totally respect it as well. But let me celebrate it because I feel really proud to be a Canadian."

Jamieson suggest there is a way to mark Canada Day and still acknowledge the country's difficult history.

"The intergenerational trauma, the way that our people have been treated in Canada — it is a fact," she explains.

"I want people to go into July 1 and beyond — eyes wide open accepting our reality. But it's a time to recommit. It's a time to re-energize. It's a time to move beyond what the Indigenous people in Australia call 'gesture politics' and it's a time for sustained and serious action."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Idella Sturino and Ines Colabrese.