“Canada 150,” of course, refers to the formal beginning of Canada’s Confederation on July 1, 1867. In short, it’s the 150th birthday of the modern “nation” – in the Anglo-European style – of Canada. But while highlighting this event, the term “Canada 150” can also hide important features of Canada’s history. The reality is that the people and communities that inhabited the land that became “Canada” were present long before Confederation. The Canadian community is therefore much older than “150.”
First in the Indigenous communities who inhabited North America for millennia prior to 1867, and in the Anglo-European immigrants who arrived much later during the process of European colonization beginning in the early 1600’s. At the same time, for others who became part of Canada as the nation expanded west and north into the 1900’s, or who arrived as immigrants or refugees as recently as yesterday, the emerging Canadian community is much newer than 150 years.
So while we commemorate the 150th anniversary of Canada’s formation as an Anglo-European political nation, we should remember that “Canada” encompasses an organic community – or many communities – whose formation extends from long before to long after July 1, 1867. And for many, the term “Canada 150” is painful. The British North America Act which formalized Confederation declared that the goal of the Canadian political structure was to provide “peace, order, and good government” for all who came under its order.
However, for many who came under Canadian rule, it was not always so. Especially for Canadian Indigenous people, the term “Canada 150” comes as a reminder of colonial conquest, loss of a culture and identity, terrible abuses, and a reminder once more of exclusion from the narrative of Canada’s identity – an exclusion that continues even today as reflected in neglect of treaty commitments, the historical abuses of residential schools, the many cases of missing Indigenous women and in the despair that has contributed to a suicide crisis among Indigenous youth. Meanwhile, those who became part of Canada later, whether by fiat or by immigration, are “downstream” from an established Canadian community, and while they enjoy some of the benefits of “peace, order, and good government,” they also inherit both the injustices and sorrows of its history and the challenges of finding a place and contributing to today’s Canadian community.
If our commemoration of “Canada 150” is to contribute to reconciliation and hope, then a vital part of the occasion must be to take to heart the full story of the Canadian community. One example of doing so is how Vancouver and local First Nations are commemorating “Canada 150” by telling the story of Canada beginning with the life and culture of its Indigenous people. The story, found here in Macleans, illustrates how we might begin to embrace the entire Canadian community, starting with the first peoples of our land.
Embracing our full story should also lead to action toward reconciliation. Recently the CRC’s Canadian Aboriginal Committee joined in the call by Canada’s Assembly of First Nations for a national day of prayer, on March 17, in response to the suicide crisis among Aboriginal youth. On behalf of the Committee, Danielle Rowaan wrote the following prayer for CRC congregations, posted here:
Creator God, we cry out! We pray for and stand with the Indigenous youth who see no hope for the future, whose precious lives have been darkened by evils both seen and unseen: funding discrimination that makes their schools and hospitals inadequate to meet their needs, the mark of residential schools and colonization on their families and communities, the racism they face.
Reconciling Christ, we thank you for Indigenous communities. We thank you for the unique reflection of your image that they represent. We praise you for their resilience and strength. We pray that you would comfort them and raise them up on wings like eagles. We pray that they would have allies ready to stand alongside them.
Creator Spirit, we pray for non-Indigenous Canadians. We pray for eyes to see, ears to hear, mouths to speak to our elected representatives for justice, hands ready to do the hard work of reconciliation. We pray that the scales of racism would fall from their eyes so that we can truly see each other as your precious children. Amen.
May we not only pray this prayer, but also use our Canada 150 commemorations to begin acting on its call to healing and reconciliation.