By MURPHY BROWNE
Canada Day has been officially celebrated on July 1 since 1982. The holiday was first established in 1879 under the name Dominion Day to recognize the formation of the Dominion of Canada 12 years earlier on July 1, 1867 through the North America Act. The initial federation included New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Quebec. In 1870 Manitoba and the Northwest Territories joined the Dominion of Canada followed by British Columbia in 1871, Prince Edward Island in 1873, Yukon in 1898, both Saskatchewan and Alberta in 1905, Newfoundland in 1949 and in 1999 Nunavut was created from the eastern portion of the Northwest Territories.
According to the Kids Book of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada published in 2005: The word “Canada” is derived from the Huron-Haudenosaunee word “kanata”, which means “our village”. Apparently, when the French explorer Jacques Cartier first heard the word “kanata” he mistakenly thought the word was Canada and that it was the name of the country.
Cartier’s first voyage to Canada was documented in 1534 and eventually led to other Europeans settling here bringing with them enslaved Africans to do much of the backbreaking work needed to exploit the resources of a new world. When European adventurers first came to North America (Canada, USA, Mexico) they found thriving well organized communities of people who had lived here for millennia. In less than 100 years most of the original people of this land had been reduced to living in restricted areas (reservations), their communities decimated by the theft of their land, the murder of their people and diseases brought from Europe to which their bodies had no immunity.
Columbus is documented as the first European who accidentally found his way (as he searched for India) in 1492 to this part of the world which Europeans named America. Other Europeans quickly followed and spread across the Americas claiming land by force and trickery.
In spite of the centuries of European efforts to break the spirit of the people who were here first there have always been those who kept their culture alive. Canadian singer/songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie’s poignant 1966 performance of My Country ‘Tis of Thy People You’re Dying (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tl08n8_b3Sw) could be about any group of indigenous people in these Americas, including Canada.
The Saskatchewan born Sainte-Marie is a Native Canadian activist who co-founded the “Music of Aboriginal Canada” Juno Awards category and her performances have been acclaimed internationally.
On Thursday, June 24 Torontonians got an up close and personal look at thousands of Native Canadian activists, community members and their allies as they took to the streets to bring attention to the plight of their communities. The indigenous groups organized this rally and march in Toronto to protest the G8 and G20 meetings.
The Native Day of Action protest demanded recognition of Native rights within Canada including urging the government to sign the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on September 13, 2007.
The dreadful conditions in which Native communities live on reservations were also addressed during the rally and march. With people gathered at Queens Park, several members of the Native community spoke about the issues of concern before the group of 2500 set out on the march that went down University Avenue to Queen Street then east on Queen Street, north on Bay to Wellesley to Yonge, south on Yonge to Gerrard and east to Allan Gardens.
Mark Corbiere of the Ojibwe Nation condemned the G20 and its role in marginalizing indigenous populations: “The G20 are not respecting indigenous rights across the world. They’re bending over backward, so that way corporate colonialism can control indigenous lands, and its indigenous people who are directly affected by the decisions made at the G20. So, being in solidarity with Palestinians and liberation armies from southern America, we’ve felt the need to come out here today and represent the warrior’s voice.”
Darlene Ritchie of the Toronto Council Fire spoke about Canada’s failure to address the issue of “disappeared” Aboriginal women: “In Canada today there’s over 500 missing women – 584, to be exact, determined by the Native Women’s Association. In March 2010, Stephen Harper cut the funding to the Native Women’s Association – the money that was going to go to the Sisters in Spirit Campaign to identify ways and means of protecting women and ways and means of making sure that we don’t lose any more. Those missing women have gone as a direct result of the Indian Act and the Indian Act is alive and well here in Canada today in 2010. Racism is legislated.”
Shandra from Manitou Rapids First Nation had this to say about her experience as one of the children who were the victims of what some have termed cultural genocide: “Canada can’t hide genocide. And that means you can’t put a pretty face on top of the state-sponsored violence that has been done to people like me and my family, generations of children kidnapped, taken to residential schools where they’re imprisoned and tortured for the longest time, generations of those people and then generations like me, that are taken by the Children’s Aid and adopted out into non-Native families to become non-Native Canadians and it’s an amputation. It’s an extremely violent act and it’s genocidal and Canada just can’t sweep that under the rug.”
On July 1, when Canadians are celebrating Canada Day, some of the descendants of the people who welcomed Jacques Cartier and his crew to this land in 1534 will be boiling water to bathe, cook and drink in at least 75 Native communities (reserves) where they dwell in conditions similar to those that prevail in many developing nations. That is after the Harper government has finished spending more than $1 billion (last count was steadily going past $1.2 billion) of Canadian taxpayers’ money for “security” of the G8-G20 party.