Why I Choose to Celebrate Canada’s 150th

Tim Mohan is an Aboriginal artist whose work was showcased in the April-May 2017 issue of Our Canada. Here, he shares his views on the conflicting emotions that have arisen within many Aboriginal communities regarding Canada’s 150th anniversary.

Flowering Spirits by Timothy MohanPhoto: Timothy Mohan

The reason why I choose to celebrate Canada 150

The Aboriginal community had been exploited for generations: treaties not lived up to, countless agreements signed in bad faith, and lands misappropriated, exploited and stripped of all its natural resources. The corporations and governments involved did nothing positive for the Aboriginal communities, but they did manage to leave behind a wave of environmental nightmares and displaced people.

Then, there’s the residential schools scandal.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission figured at least 4,000 Aboriginal children died. Ask yourself, “How did this happen?” Was it the fault of the average Canadian living back in the day? Racism has always been around, and sadly it will never disappear. I believe the residential schools scandal happened because of the government of that time. It was a political system geared to the exploitation of minorities and working poor. The government only cared about their political and economic agendas, and it was the Aboriginal communities that paid the ultimate price.

As for the government saying sorry? It’s never enough for the victims of government. Compensation? No amount of money can compensate an individual for having their culture stripped away from them or living with the knowledge that their child was abused, mistreated and died at the hands of others who were paid to protect them.

Canadian history is blanketed with policies and events that have scarred the Aboriginal community. So, as an Aboriginal artist, I asked myself. “Why would I celebrate Canada’s 150th?”

Many in the Aboriginal community have expressed their desire to boycott the celebrations, or will refuse to sing “O Canada.” I have no problem with that. As a free society, we all have that right—a right that was protected by the blood and sacrifices of others. A right that has been re-enforced by generations of protesters demanding that our government come clean on issues.

After a lot of deep thought and reflection, I decided that on a personal level, I would celebrate Canada’s 150th. Here’s why:

Canada Day for me is an opportunity to celebrate the lives of others. People who touched my life directly and indirectly. Uncles who fought and died overseas, family and loved ones who are no longer here. To me, they are the ones who made Canada great. It is their gift to us, their ongoing legacy. It’s also an opportunity to make fellow Canadians aware of issues and to acknowledge the achievements of all Aboriginal peoples. To acknowledge individuals who worked hard to promote change, peace and understanding of our culture in a positive light.

Tom Longboat from Six Nations Indian reserve near Brantford, Ont., ran the 1907 Boston Marathon four minutes and 59 seconds faster than any one of the previous winners. Two years later, he won the title of Professional Champion of the World. June 4th was officially declared Tom Longboat Day in Ontario with the passage of Bill 120, a Private Member’s Bill forwarded by Liberal MPP, Mike Colle.

Ianis Obomsawin: a documentary filmmaker whose more than 40 films have chronicled Indigenous life in Canada.

Rosemarie Kuptana (Inuit): a tireless leader of human rights. Kuptana served as the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation president from 1983 to 1988, where she was instrumental in developing it to express and reflect Inuit culture and society. She was elected to a three-year term as president for the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada in 1991, the national voice of 35,000 Inuit people.

Chief Dan George: a poet, actor and activist. George was the first Aboriginal person that people saw on TV and in movies, and was nominated for an Academy Award for Little Big Man.

These are only a few examples of individuals who have made a difference in the lives of all Canadians.

The Aboriginal community has a proud heritage. They have survived generations of discrimination and exploitation, and I take great pride in the knowledge that they still continue the fight. For me, celebrating Canada Day is not about the nation. It’s about the individuals that make Canada what it is.

I know there are a lot of people out there like me, with conflicting feelings about patriotism. We need to remember and educate others about the past, but also be a part of the evolving society around us, making today and tomorrow better for our people and all people. You can either decide to be a part of something, or just apart.

Happy Canada Day!