Canada’s 150th birthday is coming up this weekend but, alongside the celebrations will be protests and tensions.
“I guess to be completely honest I am struggling with my relationship with Canada Day,” says Jennifer Podemski.
Podemski is an actress, a writer and a producer known for her work on Canadian shows such as Moccasin Flats and Degrassi: the Next Generation. But recently she has become more of a role model and leader in the Indigenous Arts community. She’s helped foster youth into the Canadian media landscape and cracked the industry wide open to bring more diversity and opportunity to the table.
If you’ve been around Toronto this past month you may have seen something like this:
And then there was this sign in Nova Scotia with a lighter but similar message. So there are some criticisms of celebrating Canada’s birthday this year – and rightly so in many regards.
“It’s a so-called milestone for Canada so, so much money has been put into the year for celebrations,” says Podemski. “The Indigenous community has been making a lot of requests for Canada to address some of the really unfortunate inequities in funding.”
The celebration of Canada 150 also marks hundreds of years of cultural suppression and genocide of Canada’s first nations. That’s what has Canadians suggesting the anniversary is a direct celebration of those very crimes from the past. Of course, there are many things to celebrate about Canada besides those crimes but, the repercussions still echo today.
The last residential school in Canada was closed in 1996. Reserves are still underfunded and poorly maintained while what little funding they do get is used to help with drug and alcohol addictions in the community – which also comes with a bad teen suicide problem. Reserves are ten times more likely to suffer fatalities from house fires. Attawapiskat, a reserve in the Kenora District of northwestern Ontario, suffers from almost annual flooding which has disrupted their education and water supply.
The federal government is not doing anything about these glaring problems within its own communities. A huge chunk of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s broken campaign promises have to do with these very issues. They won’t be letting First Nations veto natural resource development on First Nations land; they’ve decided not to implement a United Nations declaration that would benefit First Nations with various policies; and they will not be lifting the 2 percent cap on First Nations community funding (yet Mr. Trudeau still plans to run massive deficits for the country and so far has spent half a billion dollars on Canada 150 alone). Canada’s government continues to affirm Indigenous communities are on the priority list but, it never seems to stay at the top long enough.
“So when we see money being filtered into billboards and parties and things like that it’s really hard to look at and understand,” says Podemski.
The idea of celebrating a Canadian value system of acceptance and togetherness contradicts the reality in the country. That reality being “fourth world living conditions right in our backyard being ignored.” While there are literally thousands of Canadians fighting for equity to fund proper education, drinking water and infrastructure Canada’s government is placing its money elsewhere.
“A lot of Canadians aren’t exposed to the very harsh realities and the legacy of the Indian Act,” says Podemski. “If we were to start there and try to understand how our communities have been pushed into silence or pushed to the side we will start to create a better understanding so that we can move forward and the next 150 years can be one of true partnership.”
All that seems to be desired is a conversation and action to follow. Criticism of Canada 150 is a direct result of this lack of action. Clearly not everyone in Canada is celebrating colonialism, forced assimilation and cultural genocide. But celebrating as if Canada is past all of that while an entire group of people are still grappling with the results is contrary to our principles as a country.