Canada’s true history is never told

MONTREAL The first thing you notice when you land here is the virtual lack of snow.

MONTREAL

The first thing you notice when you land here is the virtual lack of snow.

Maybe the expectation of a postcard setting with banks of snow, a riverside blanketed with wide, white fields and huge tufted spires, cornices, and trees has left room for no other image. But the marginal snowfall here is unsettling. Sure, there’s the usual Quebec winter scene everywhere you look but it’s lessened by a few slumped and spotty feet of snow.

It was down time for us. We were here at the end of a short tour to promote books and lecture at Toronto’s York University and to be with family we haven’t seen for six months. My wife’s sister lives here with her two children. The kids are nearing the end of their high school careers and big changes will happen soon. This time of life is awesome in its creative potential and we were happy to be here to see them.

One of the things that was important to us was to visit Old Montreal. Both of us had been here a number of times before but it was our first time together. We were both drawn to the narrow cobblestoned streets, the fabulous architecture, art, boutiques and ambiance of people navigating the streetscape of a city that had existed not all that long ago.

History is a marvelous thing. Stepping away from the pages of books and being able to walk where great events took place or where people lived lives that were the foundation of what we experience today is fascinating. The old part of Montreal has always charmed me. I’ve never been to Europe and all I’m able to glean of its atmosphere I’ve gotten from the cobblestoned streets of Old Montreal. It was great to be back again.

History. I wonder why we go to such lengths to preserve it. As I walked those old streets I felt alienated again. This is a history that has no part of my own even though I can claim to be more genuinely Canadian than those who raised this city. There’s no evidence of the First Nation village that preceded it. There are no grand statues of the native scouts who led the French to this site nor are there monuments to the strength of the peoples who showed them how to survive here. It’s a one-sided history at best.

Montreal and Canada itself would not exist without the intervention of native peoples. In fact, the story of Canada itself is the story of her relationship with native people. It has to be. The country did not start to become until First Nation people chose to aid and welcome the newcomers. To frame the national story in anything less than that light is to diminish the glow of Canada. We know the names of the explorers who took credit for opening up the country but we do not know the names of the native guides who took them there.

And that sad fact is not just relegated to the pages of history books. It’s being played out again today. When the world gathers in Vancouver for the Winter Olympics, there will be a marginal aboriginal presence. Sure, the logo reflects native culture and there are four host aboriginal nations but it’s all bunting really.

No one is going to get a chance to shine a light on the reality of aboriginal life in Canada for those millions of visitors. The story of Canada’s relationship with her native people will be told in a way that reflects honour, equality and respect.

But Canada has still not signed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Native people still live in horrendous conditions without heat or water. Even on the Musqueam Reserve in Vancouver, conditions are desperate. But no one will see that or hear about it. Instead, Canada, Vancouver and British Columbia will all jump farther and run faster from telling the truth of her history with her own people in order to bask in the admiration of the world.

So that years from now, walking those streets, there will be tales of glory; of how a city, a province and a country came together to present one of the finest Winter Olympics ever. There will be tales of co-operation with native nations. All that is written and all that is seen will reflect that line and that will be the accepted history.

But no one will speak of the fact that absolutely nothing changed for First Nations once the games concluded because nothing will. It’s all smoke and mirrors and it’s all marketing. Once the gate is counted, First Nations will get none of it. The debt’s too high, for one thing. They served their purpose for the other. History will say nothing about that.

Richard Wagamese is Ojibway and the author of Keeper’n Me. He won the Canadian

Author’s Award

for Dream Wheels and his new novel, Ragged Company, is out from

Doubleday. He can be reached at richardwagamese@yahoo.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Willow Brewster, a paramedic helping in the COVID-19 drive-thru testing centre, holds a swab used for the COVID-19 test moments before conducting a test with it on Nov. 24. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
An inside look at the COVID-19 drive-thru testing centre

As the active COVID-19 case count grew last week, so too did… Continue reading

Conservation officers search for a black bear in the Riverdale area in Whitehorse on Sept. 17. The Department of Environment intends to purchase 20 semi-automatic AR-10 rifles, despite the inclusion of the weapons in a recently released ban introduced by the federal government, for peace officers, such as conservation officers. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Environment Minister defends purchase of AR-10 rifles for conservation officers

The federal list of banned firearms includes an exception for peace officers

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: The K-shaped economic recovery and what Yukoners can do about it

It looks like COVID-19 will play the role of Grinch this holiday… Continue reading

Jodie Gibson has been named the 2020 Prospector of the Year by the Yukon Prospectors Association. (Submitted)
Jodie Gibson named 2020 Prospector of the Year

Annual award handed out by the Yukon Prospector’s Association

A number 55 is lit in honour of Travis Adams, who died earlier this year, at the Winter Wonderland Walk at Meadow Lakes Golf Club in Whitehorse on Nov. 24. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
A new take on holiday traditions

Winter Wonderland Walk, virtual Stories with Santa all part of 2020 festive events in Whitehorse

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

Colin McDowell, the director of land management for the Yukon government, pulls lottery tickets at random during a Whistle Bend property lottery in Whitehorse on Sept. 9, 2019. A large amount of lots are becoming available via lottery in Whistle Bend as the neighbourhood enters phase five of development. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Lottery for more than 250 new Whistle Bend lots planned for January 2021

Eight commercial lots are being tendered in additional to residential plots

The Government of Yukon Main Administration Building in Whitehorse on Aug. 21. The Canada Border Services Agency announced Nov. 26 that they have laid charges against six people, including one Government of Yukon employee, connected to immigration fraud that involved forged Yukon government documents. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Charges laid in immigration fraud scheme, warrant out for former Yukon government employee

Permanent residency applications were submitted with fake Yukon government documents

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Karen Wenkebach has been appointed as a judge for the Yukon Supreme Court. (Yukon News file)
New justice appointed

Karen Wenckebach has been appointed as a judge for the Supreme Court… Continue reading

Catherine Constable, the city’s manager of legislative services, speaks at a council and senior management (CASM) meeting about CASM policy in Whitehorse on June 13, 2019. Constable highlighted research showing many municipalities require a lengthy notice period before a delegate can be added to the agenda of a council meeting. Under the current Whitehorse procedures bylaw, residents wanting to register as delegates are asked to do so by 11 a.m. on the Friday ahead of the council meeting. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Changes continue to be contemplated for procedures bylaw

Registration deadline may be altered for delegates

Cody Pederson of the CA Storm walks around LJ’s Sabres player Clay Plume during the ‘A’ division final of the 2019 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament. The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28 in Whitehorse next year, was officially cancelled on Nov. 24 in a press release from organizers. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament cancelled

The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28… Continue reading

Lev Dolgachov/123rf
The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner stressed the need to safeguard personal information while shopping this holiday season in a press release on Nov. 24.
Information and Privacy Commissioner issues reminder about shopping

The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Diane McLeod-McKay stressed the need to… Continue reading

Most Read