rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Canada 150: What is there for Indigenous people to 'celebrate,' exactly?

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca in its summer fundraiser today for as little as $1 per month!

When I was in grade one, the entire country was celebrating 100 years of Confederation. Every school child was given a commemorative coin minted for the centennial.

School choirs perfected Bobby Gimby's "Canada," or "The Centennial Song," to mark Canada's 100th birthday and Expo 67, the World's Fair held in Montreal.

We also memorized the words to the Canadian version of "This Land Is Your Land," which was originally a protest song written by American folksinger Woody Guthrie. And, of course, we were still singing "O Canada" and "God Save The Queen."

In 2017, Canadians are embarking on another big birthday bash celebrating Canada 150. The official government of Canada website encourages Canadians to "celebrate all that makes us who we are as a country."

After 150 years, Canada still sees itself as a beacon of decency. Is it?

Looking back to my school days, I don't remember learning much about First Nations, Inuit or Metis people. I learned nothing about treaties or residential schools. I didn't realize until later that at least four children I went to school with and called friends were taken from their families as part of the 60s Scoop.

In my 20s, I apprenticed under a chef who had been removed from his birth family and only found his family of origin in his 40s. My friend was grateful for everything his adoptive parents had done for him, but he had lost his connection to the land, his culture, his history and his spirituality. That was the intent.

How can I in good conscience participate in a celebration in the face of the continued denial of their treaty claims and basic human rights?

Stephen Paquette, a member of the Anishinaabe from Wikwemikong First Nation on Manitoulin Island, regularly meets with non-Indigenous individuals and groups to encourage truth and reconciliation between Aboriginal founding nations and Canadians. He's co-chair of the Halton District School Board's Indigenous Education Advisory Council. He sat on the Toronto Police Service's Aboriginal Consultative Committee for 13 years.

In December, Paquette wrote to the prime minister and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, among others, on the language used by various levels of government to mark Canada 150 events.

In his letter, Paquette requests the word "celebrating" be replaced by the word "acknowledging." He heard back from Wynne, but it was just to say that she has passed his letter along to David Zimmerman, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation.

"As an individual who goes into the school system on a regular basis to educate students and teachers about the realities of Canada's last 150 years," Paquette wrote, "it would be both an injustice and an insult to all First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples to suggest that we should 'celebrate' the last 150 years of Canada's history."

Paquette's letter echoes the sage words of Justice Murray Sinclair, chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, on behalf of residential school survivors.

"While there are most certainly many memorable moments in our Canadian history, ours is also a history of imperialism, colonialism and cultural superiority," Paquette writes.

Canadians tend to overlook the fact that this country was born out of treaties with Indigenous peoples. These treaties are legally binding agreements. It's because the Canadian government has failed to live up to the commitments in these original covenants that we find ourselves faced with a dark legacy in respect to Indigenous peoples.

These broken promises have resulted in armed land claim conflicts. They are the root cause of the maltreatment of children living on reserves who have no access to services that are available to every other child living in Canada. They are part of the reason that the federal government has embarked on an inquiry into this country's murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls.

Canadians believe and mistakenly promote the idea that our Indigenous sisters and brothers want more than was provided for in these legally binding negotiations. And here we are, a nation embarking on a year-long celebration of our country's birth.

Canadians can extend one olive branch by agreeing to Paquette's simple request.

The shirt featured in the photo is designed by Erik Ritskes and is available from TeeSpring until Mar. 5. Funds raised from the sales will go to the Onaman Collective, an Indigenous arts and language collective, and the Titiesg Wîcinímintôwak/Bluejays Dancing Together Collective, which is a Two-Spirit Indigenous collective that does arts & skillshare workshops in Tkaronto.

This article originally appeared in NOW magazine.

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.