A renewed Indigenous perspective on celebrating Canada Day
By Parry Stelter
I am a Canadian Indigenous man who is a Sixties Scoop Survivor. My uncles and aunts, and my biological mother went to residential schools, as well as my grandparents. Three years ago, when Canada was about to celebrate 150 years, I encountered hostility from some fellow Indigenous people. Not hostility towards me, but towards this celebration. The people I had heard from didn’t want to celebrate with the rest of Canada, because of all the historical colonial baggage.
Colonialism from a variety of early settlers goes back to the 1500’s. There were many diseases that the early settlers brought with them. They also introduced other, unwelcome, aspects: alcohol, the fur trade, the greed for land already occupied, and the desire to turn the supposed uncivilized ways of the savages into the new settler ideology of being a civilized Christian. That’s the bad news that both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people are still trying to work through.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Aboriginal Healing Foundation are groups that have tried to work with, and for, Indigenous people for a number of years now. There are also Indigenous organizations and communities working at the local, provincial and national level of governments. This has been an all-consuming task for many Indigenous people. Why? Because most Indigenous people have been affected in one way or another. Made evident with even a cursory glance at the statistics of Indigenous people in their involvement in the child welfare system, suicide rates, addiction rates, incarceration rates, homeless rates, pregnancy rates, infant mortality rates, violence against each other, diseases such as diabetes, and skin conditions such as eczema. There are also several prominent mental health issues such as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
As Indigenous people move forward, there are different levels of healing and understanding of what it means to move forward with our lives. We are all at different levels of acceptance.
As someone who was adopted out, suffered with addictions in the past, and is dealing with issues such as depression, anxiety and adult ADHD, I could easily find a hand-full of reasons to not be happy about celebrating Canada Day, but I have chosen a different path.
First, I am a Christian and Christians are supposed to be full of the fruit of the Spirit. Galatians 5: 22-26 says, “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”
As an Indigenous person and a Christian, I have chosen to break the vicious cycle of resentment and enter the realm of the Spirit of the creator of the universe. Jesus who was part of the creation of this universe, in its plethora of wonder and awe, saw what happened in the history of Canada and knows all the details. Nothing has gone by the eyes and ears of God.
For my part, I see that and say, “yes colonialism was terrible and outright abusive as a genocide, but I still have to live my best life in the time I have left on this earth. What will I leave behind as a legacy for my children and all those that come after me?”
Notice in the passage of Galatians above, the apostle Paul is telling us to be filled with fruit of the Spirit, so that we don’t become conceited, so we don’t provoke one another, so we don’t envy one another. I witness, on a regular basis, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people pointing the finger at each other. I see my people filled with racism and anger. I see non-Indigenous people filled with racism and anger. I see racism when I am out with my family. It does exist but will we always be in reactive mode rather than moving forward mode? This is a decision that every individual has to make. Not just in theory but in action as well.
We have to acknowledge the past for what it is and not sugar coat it, just like when we read the Bible in the Old Testament and read about the stubbornness and rebellion of the people of Israel. Pharaoh and his people enslaved the people of Israel and held them in bondage for 400 years. Yet, Israel was guilty of their own rebellion against God. Moses and his generation didn’t enter the promise land, but Joshua’s generation did. Both generations had their good qualities and bad qualities. Both generations had their own story of injustice to tell. Even the Egyptians had their own story to tell. They had to suffer in losing what they had. Pharaoh, in the end, lost his own son. The people gave away all their silver and gold when the people of Israel left Egypt. The Egyptians had great loss after the tables were turned.
As an Indigenous Christian, I want to celebrate Canada Day for what it can be, not for what it was. I want to celebrate Canada Day for all the positive things I have encountered in my life. I want to celebrate the health care and education I have received all these years. I want to celebrate the fact that each province is uniquely beautiful with its own unique geographical attributes. I want to celebrate the beauty of the mountains, but also celebrate the rolling hills of the prairies. I want to celebrate the fact that I can share my story with you and encourage you to join me in celebrating Canada. Not for its sin-stained past, but for what we can all learn from it. I want to make a new frontier. When the settlers came, they said burn the ships, we are here to stay. I say burn the anger and resentment and unforgiveness and wave a new flag on a new ship. I say let’s move forward together in the spirit of the fruit of the Spirit. There is no other way. Will you join me?
Parry Stelter is an Indigenous member of Alexander First Nation. Member of Hope Christian Reformed Church in Edmonton. Founder of Word of Hope Ministries and Doctoral Candidate in Contextual Leadership through Providence Seminary and University.
Visit his website at wordofhopeministries.ca.
This article first appeared in The Banner, the magazine of the Christian Reformed Church.