Manitoba·Opinion

Open letter on Canada Day calls for support, respect for all

"Let's end the systemic racism at all levels of our society and institute an attitude of caring/sharing that we are capable of. To really be true, north, strong and free," advocate Sheila North says in open letter to Canadians.

Opinion: Celebrate Canada by celebrating 'Original people' of the land, says advocate Sheila North

Advocate Sheila North's message on Canada Day: "Let's end the systemic racism....to really be true, north, strong and free." (Supplied by Sheila North)

Dear Canada, dear Canadians,

You are beautiful. True, north, strong and free. 

So why are you mean, so ignorant, rude and hateful?! Not all the time and not all of you.

But when you are, you really are to a point that people die. To a point where certain people, your neighbours, go missing or are murdered at alarming rates. Why can't you stand up and put an end to that pandemic that's persisted for many generations?

You deserve a good life, but so do the Original People of this land.- Sheila North

I know you care about human rights. In fact, you are known by other countries as a state that fights for human rights. 

And yet you fight the Original People of this land when they stand up and assert their basic human rights for clean water, proper resources to care for children and access to their own lands.

You have more than enough now for you and your next generations to live comfortably. The benefits you have access to and have stored up are remarkable. But don't you see what getting all of that has done to the Original People of this land?  

Surely you see the injustices, the poverty, the high incarceration rates, children in care and illnesses among the people who agreed to share this land and its resources with you, so you and your families could have a good life. 

A good life for all

Yes, you deserve a good life, too, but again, so do the Original People of this land, who welcomed you in to share the beauty and vastness of this part of the world. 

Did you know that there are racist policies created many years ago, that still exist today and contribute to the injustices and inequalities? Policies you and your government up hold year after year, that force many original people to struggle, just to survive. At times, they struggle just to breathe.

But the Original People are still here and they are not going anywhere. 

It's time to ... allow this new family to become what it was supposed to be: caring, sharing and kind. - Sheila North

The more you try to get rid of them, the stronger they become with every generation. In fact, the resiliency and even the hopeful, forgiving and humorous nature of the Original People keeps them alive and thriving.

And they are thriving.

They are catching up to what you've been doing and are working harder to put an end to the injustices and inequalities that you've allowed to persist. 

And if you listen really closely, you will hear the more than 70 languages the Original People speak, saying, "We are still here"; "Keeyapits, Ootah, Intuy-yanan" (Cree).  

So, what do you do now? 

Lessons learned

It seems like this global pandemic has forced us all to admit all are vulnerable. Life as you know it could collapse, too, just as it has in some ways for the Original People of "Canada" 153 years ago. But nobody really wants that, in spite of what has happened. 

Instead of acting like the Original People are forgotten and pushing them aside like unwanted children, see them for the strength and resiliency they possess. You can learn from their challenges and help create opportunities for everyone. 

There is enough for everyone, the Creator makes sure of that. 

It's time to grow up and allow this new family to become what it was supposed to be; caring, sharing and kind. 

Finding out what a treaty and the true intentions behind them is a good place to start. 

Learning about the qualities and gifts the Original People have is another great step.

You would learn, for example, how to properly care for the land, Mother Earth, in a way that we can enjoy her bounty together for many years to come. 

You can do it, Canada. 

Let's change the policies and laws that can truly support basic human rights for all Canadians — and that includes the Original People. Let's end the systemic racism at all levels of our society and institute an attitude of caring/sharing that you are undoubtedly capable of. 

Then you will really be the true north, strong and free.

Your friend, 

Sheila North.

This column is part of  CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

About the Author

Sheila North

MMIWG advocate

Sheila North, known as a “bridge builder”, is a member of Bunibonibee Cree and former Grand Chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak. The former CBC journalist and documentary maker also works closely with families, friends and Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders to address racism and violence against Indigenous people.

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