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  • Writer's pictureRyan Deneault

Understand Canada's History through an Indigenous Lens on this Canada Day

Canada's history is often portrayed through the lens of European exploration, colonization, and nation-building. However, this narrative overlooks the rich, complex, and often painful history of Indigenous peoples who have inhabited the land for thousands of years. Understanding Canada's History through an Indigenous Lens involves acknowledging the diverse cultures, languages, and traditions of the Indigenous, Métis, and Inuit peoples, as well as the impact of colonialism and the ongoing efforts towards reconciliation and self-determination.
Long before the arrival of European settlers, Indigenous peoples thrived across what is now Canada. Archaeological evidence suggests that Indigenous communities have existed in North America for over 12,000 years. These communities developed sophisticated societies with distinct languages, spiritual beliefs, governance systems, and trade networks.
The Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy, for instance, established a democratic system of governance known as the Great Law of Peace, which influenced the democratic ideals later adopted by the United States and other nations. The Coast Salish peoples along the Pacific Northwest coast developed intricate social structures and excelled in arts such as weaving and carving. In the Prairies, the Plains Cree and Blackfoot nations followed the seasonal migrations of buffalo, a vital resource for their sustenance and culture.
The arrival of European explorers and traders in the late 15th and early 16th centuries marked the beginning of significant changes for Indigenous peoples. Early interactions were primarily driven by trade, particularly in fur, which became a highly sought-after commodity in Europe. Indigenous knowledge of the land and waterways was crucial to the success of these early trade relationships.
Due to the introduction of smallpox, which decimated Indigenous peoples, the balance of power and traditional ways of life began to shift. Slowly, European goods and technologies were integrated into Indigenous societies.
The 18th and 19th centuries saw the intensification of European colonization, with Britain and France vying for control of North America. This period was marked by numerous treaties between Indigenous nations and European powers. While many of these treaties were meant to establish peaceful relations and mutual benefit, they were often exploited by colonial authorities to gain land and resources.
The Royal Proclamation of 1763, issued by King George III, recognized Indigenous land rights and established the framework for treaty-making. However, as settlers moved westward, the spirit and letter of these treaties were frequently ignored.
One of the darkest chapters in Canadian history is the residential school system, which operated from the late 19th century into the 20th century. These government-funded, church-run schools aimed to assimilate Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture by forcibly removing them from their families and communities. The schools sought to eradicate Indigenous languages, traditions, and identities, often through abusive and dehumanizing practices.
The legacy of residential schools is profound, with lasting impacts on Indigenous families and communities. Generations suffered from loss of culture, language, and the intergenerational trauma that continues to affect Indigenous peoples today.
Despite centuries of colonization and assimilation efforts, Indigenous peoples have shown remarkable resilience and resistance. The mid-20th century saw the emergence of a powerful Indigenous rights movement, advocating for recognition, self-determination, and justice.
Indigenous leaders and communities have made significant strides in revitalizing languages, cultures, and traditions. Education and awareness efforts, such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), have shed light on the historical and ongoing injustices faced by Indigenous peoples. The TRC's 94 Calls to Action have provided a roadmap for reconciliation and the rebuilding of respectful relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians.
Reconciliation is an ongoing process that requires the active participation of all Canadians. It first involves taking the time to research and understand the truth of the History of Canada from an Indigenous perspective. From this foundation of truth, we can begin to recognize past wrongs, address present inequalities, and build a future based on mutual respect, understanding, and partnership. Non-Indigenous Canadians are increasingly becoming allies in this journey, supporting Indigenous-led initiatives and advocating for policies that uphold Indigenous rights and sovereignty.
Viewing Canada's history through an Indigenous Lens provides a more comprehensive and truthful understanding of the nation's past and present. It highlights the rich cultural heritage of Indigenous peoples, the injustices they have endured, and their strength and resilience to survive the very deliberate attempt by the Canadian Government to assimilate our Indigenous brothers and sisters. As Canada moves forward, embracing this perspective is essential for healing and fostering a just and inclusive society for all its inhabitants. Remember. We heal when we walk together.
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