In the Canadian narrative of nationhood, decorated athletes are honoured—aboriginals aren’t mentioned


Flag design by Stephanie Morretto


My gratitude runs deep for this country. And in many ways I agree with our Prime Minister, who said today,

“We are blessed to live in the best country in the world.”

He went on to give the reason for this:

“…it’s the direct result of visionary leaders, of the courageous men and women in uniform, of the waves of industrious immigrants who have come to our shores, of the decorated athletes who unite us and make us proud, and, of course, because of Canada’s families.”

So why does it also leave me hollow? Well, because you’d think that by now, on such a day as this, we’d be gracious, truthful and courageous enough to also recognize something of our indebtedness to our First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples—something of their undeserved forfeiture, their sacrifice and role. And yet, here, in today’s brief speech—which apparently reflects the grand narrative of colony to nation in the mind of our government—decorated athletes are honoured…aboriginals aren’t mentioned.

And its no good to think we have arrived at the place where an aboriginal presence is assumed in the PM’s chosen categories.

After the apology, after all the stories that poured out of the Truth and Reconciliation hearings, on this day, the one day that our PM is given the stage and the attention like no other day, this omission just becomes one more barrier.

Only when Canada Day expressly includes all, will we be blessed.


  1. What a missed opportunity by our Prime Minister to recognize Canada’s original peoples! So entrenched appears the colonial mind set that even in
    an election year it does not occur to graciously acknowledge the debt owed to our ‘hosts’.

  2. How many cultures – Aboriginal and others- would have had to be included and named to make it satisfactory ?

  3. I think it’s a matter of prespective. Our aboriginals are included in “leadership”, “persons in uniform”, “athletes”, “families” and yes, even “immigrants”. i suppose the PM could have gone on to mention “artists, entertainers, entreprenuers and businessman as well. i see our aboriginal people as “Canadians”, and I don’t wish to isolate them by identifying them as somethng other than Canadians.

  4. I recently saw a clip when Harper was questioned about Federal response to the missing Aboriginal women. His face visibly hardened and he replied that it was not a social problem, but a criminal problem for which the Federal response had devoted increased money, the assumption seeming to be that was the solution. From this stance First Nations People cannot be assumed to be in the PM’s included list by omission.

    Thank you for this sad reflection on Canada Day hollowness.

  5. Thanks Beth. The answer to your question is only Aboriginals. No other peoples were colonized, no one else’s land was occupied, no other peoples had the unique experience of having their culture(s) nearly expunged. Only the First Nations, Metis, Inuit peoples. If the PM could have brought himself to include, as another commenter put it, “our hosts” (we are, after all, living on treaty land), and recognize that unique but still in-need-of-healing relationship, that would have been satisfactory.

  6. Thanks for your comment Glen. That there is aboriginal representation in each of these vocations/categories is not in question. But to think we’ve reached a place where we can assume our relationship with aboriginals doesn’t warrant a special kind of ongoing openness, is to ignore recent history and jettison reality.
    The assumption dismisses the still fresh wounds felt by tens of thousands of First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples. Having sat through some of the Truth and Reconciliation hearings, having heard stories first hand, and over the years talked to many aboriginals on the streets of Edmonton, to identify them as Canadian, at best, holds little meaning, at worst, is an insult.
    Maybe in time, in a few generations, when there rises a spirit of inclusion that is felt by the majority at heart level, then identifying them as “something other than Canadian” may indeed “isolate” them. But until that time, there can be no isolating, where there was never any true inclusion to start with.
    The T&R hearings were critical; it was an important beginning. So many rose and began by being thankful to finally tell their story, and so many concluded by saying that the genuineness of the apology will be revealed in the future.
    That’s what the PM missed on Canada Day. An opportunity to recognize of their unique place in our nation, and our continued desire for healing.
    To be proud of our accomplishments, while at the same time facing up to our defects, is what a mature nation does.

  7. Stephen, we are no better in these united states. I don’t ever recall a tribute to 1st Nations or native peoples on Independence Day. As a nation, we still celebrate Columbus Day with all its myths and denials about the ugly truths of explorers and discovery. Never mind the diseases they spread and the senseless slaughters. Patriotism doesn’t run deep in my veins, even on this 4th of July.

  8. I’m currently reading “Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life”, a history by James Daschuk, a sobering and extremely thoroughly researched description of the effect of European contact with aboriginal cultures. One example: when the Chipewyan resisted the fur trade because of its effect on their lifestyle – they understood the ecological balance of needing the beaver to build dams, etc., – their women were kidnapped and sold to Canadian company employees (p.50). Stomach-turning stuff.

    I happened to be at a conference hosted by a native group on the day that the PM gave his apology. In fact the conference opened with the presentation, live, of the apology. I have no question about the PM’s sincerity on that day and the response of the audience was extremely positive. I believe that Harper displayed his heart on that day. I think that we who want more from him would do well to enshrine the apology and hold it up as the fine document it is, alongside the Charter, rather than dismiss it as insincere. This is not to say that the apology was all that was needed to be sure. But it is a start to which we could have recourse to indicate what more might be possible.

    On the other hand, our PM needs votes, and he knows those who will most likely vote for him and those who might not…. The first job of a politician is to gain power, and the second is to keep it. Here’s the cynic in me showing himself. Politics is always the art of the possible.

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