We’re a country based on immigration going right back to our quote indigenous people unquote, who were immigrants as well, 10, 12, 14,000 years ago. — Governor-General David Johnston, June 16, 2017.
Just two weeks before the crescendo of Canada 150, the country’s official sesquicentennial celebrations on which the federal government was spending a half billion dollars, the head of state made a flippant remark about the Indigenous Peoples of this land. David Johnston later walked back and apologized for the turn-of-phrase, but it was nevertheless revealing of the colonial mentality at the heart of the Canadian settler-colonial project. The notion of First Nations as ‘immigrants like the rest of us’ is one of the rhetorical strategies for denying the fundamental contractions facing the Canadian establishment: Indigenous sovereignty, rights and title.
Johnston’s remarks were awkward for the powers-that-be, because these days the government practices are more sophisticated strategy for denying and obfuscating Indigenous rights. The Canada 150+ extravaganza is just one example of how cultural events and celebrations are subtly weaponized to help reaffirm notions of Canada as consensual project, presenting “our Indigenous peoples” as equal partners -- the better to deny their fundamental rights to the land.
Here on the west coast, we have seen this with the 2010 Winter Olympics, Canada 150+ and Walk for Reconciliation events. Top-down and fueled by colonial governments wanting to assimilate sovereign Coast Salish into "Indigenous Canadians." We need to support Coast Salish nationhood, instead reconciliation and cultural harmony is happening under the Canadian flag.
With dominant society’s fixation on dates and anniversaries to justify its occupation, we rely on placeholder anchors of history such as a moment when Captain Cook or George Vancouver sailed nearby, when Gassy Jack's whisky bar and township were established (concurrent in Vancouver’s case), and ignore the continued and ongoing occupation and use of the lands and waters by the Coast Salish.
Canada 150+ and reconciliation events serve the role of reformatting the collective hard drive, to suggest we have become an evolved post-colonial society. We are told to celebrate a time period that is only 1% of the 14,000 years since the last Ice Age left 'Vancouver'. “Cultural repression becom(es) part of consensual reality: blind spots, shared illusions and zones of tacitly denied information. Collective memory is pressed into shape by being repressed." (Cohen, 2001)
Glen Coulthard states “what is treated in the Canadian discourse of reconciliation as an unhealthy and debilitating incapacity to forgive and move on is actually a sign of critical consciousness, of our sense of unjustice, and of our awareness of and unwillingness to reconcile.” At its own peril, the colonial state avoids surrendering Crown lands, and so coerces under-resourced Indigenous communities to accept monies to participate in these elaborate performances of masking and postponing genuine reconciliation and redress.
Instead of waiting, we are getting involved in the places we live and work. Join with other people wanting to advance reconciliation and redress.