Open letter to Larry Bagnell

I’m sure you know about the movement afoot (www.recognition2action.ca) to recognize Indigenous Canadians as equal founders of Canada, in addition to the currently recognized English and French. When I learned about it, I felt that there was amazing rightness to it.

In Canada’s 150th year, I find it hard to celebrate. I grew up in Toronto and went to University in Montreal. In 1987, while travelling in France at age 21, I was chatting with a young French couple, who asked me what I knew of Canada’s Indigenous people. I was stunned by the question, because, other than the historical story of alliances with the British and French, I knew absolutely nothing.

How could a decently-educated Canadian reach age 21 without any knowledge of the existence of Indigenous people in Canada?

Because I was so ashamed of my lack of knowledge, I travelled north to Whitehorse to meet First Nations people and learn about their history and current situation. In Yukon during the Land Claims negotiations in the late 80s, I found that First Nations were still knocking at the door, trying to have their concerns recognized, and being offered outright ownership over less than 10 per cent of Yukon’s huge landmass.

Over the last year I have been amazed and deeply encouraged to see many municipalities in Canada open their City Council sessions with a recognition that they are on Indigenous land. I have seen Vancouver change its Canada 150 celebrations to Canada 150 plus. I have seen Facebook posts go viral stating Canada: 150; Mikmaki: 13,000. I have seen First Nations authors become must-reads in Canadian literature; Inuit singers like Tanya Tagaq develop international followings; schools start to explore the history of residential schools in their curriculum. I have seen the debate about Cultural Appropriation finally taken seriously. And last fall, close to home, I watched Canada’s future King, the Duke of Cambridge, take the stage in Whitehorse and state that he recognized he was on First Nations land.

Truly, there has been a sea change in the average Canadian’s understanding of the past 150 years of Indigenous history, and there is an increasing sense that we must ALL be part of the reconciliation process.

To me, the most symbolic action from our Federal government would be legislation, passed THIS YEAR, that acknowledges Indigenous peoples alongside the English and French as Founding Nations of Canada. That changes the entire narrative, both looking back and moving forwards. No more “knocking on the door”, but being actual partners in the ongoing story of this country.

Back in the mid-90s, during the last Quebec referendum, there was a slogan widely adopted in Canada: “My country includes Quebec.”

I propose a new one for this decade, my country includes Indigenous peoples as original founders.

Tanya Van Valkenburg

Whitehorse

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