When I think of Canada Day I can't help but revisit bad memories that I carry from my own experiences and can’t help but think of the true history that is beginning to come to the surface for Canadians to learn about. Growing up in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada as an Indigenous person due to their father being adopted in the 60’s and who was yearning to find their roots, culture and language was hard enough but to learn the true history of what took place in Canada during the process of doing so made things all the more difficult. As someone who is an intergenerational survivor, I often wonder why people still celebrate this day and find myself confused when I hear talk of reconciliation then witness those very people speaking about it choosing to celebrate the creation of a place that inflicted genocide on the original peoples of Turtle Island.
Hearing people identify as "Canadians" was always confusing for me because it was a culture that was made up and created by settlers and has lead to the idea that settlers are from here, Turtle Island. While this may cause discomfort for those of settlers decent, let it not be forgotten that this country was founded through murdering Indigenous people and children as well as raping Indigenous women and children too on their own homelands. This country was also founded through colonization, genocide and trying to eliminate Indigenous people, their culture, their language or how it was referred to from Canada's first Prime Minister John A. MacDonald, the "Indian Problem" through the residential school system and attempts to assimilate Indigenous people into Canadian society.
When you think of identifying as a Canadian, think about what that truly means first. When I hear it, I can't help but think about the true history that has happened in "Canada" and the continuum of oppression and harm being brought to Indigenous people. Our government allows pipelines and other forms of resource extraction to damage the remaining portions of our territories that we have and unfortunately some of our leaders have now become a part of the problem in doing so because of money. Our women, young girls and boys are being trafficked through sex trafficking rings and some of the people who are supposed to protect and serve them, the police, are the ones doing harm. Our people are also going missing and are being murdered at an alarming rate and more than anyone else in Canada. Our communities are struggling for a basic human right to clean drinking water and are lacking sustainable water. These are just a few examples that I can provide and you can research it more if your heart desires but my point is that I hope you will be a part of the solution as oppose to being a part of the problem.
I know that I am not a Canadian, despite having a Canadian passport and other Canadian identification in order to operate in a colonial world, I am Anishinaabe and my people have been here for over 10,000 years. Yes I pay my taxes like everyone else and no my Indian Status Card does not allow me to get out of that. It's actually pretty weird to think that the government won't ever acknowledge me by my English name or by my spirit name but rather as a number. Again, part of true reconciliation is taking the time to find this information for yourselves so feel free to research it when you feel most comfortable and please don’t assume unless you have taken the time to talk with someone who has extensive knowledge in regards to Indigenous topics.
Things to think about though, where are you truly from? Or better yet, where did your family come from? Are they from England, Ireland, Scotland, France or a different part of Europe? Or are you from a different part of the world and are a newcomer as of recent to Turtle Island and have fallen into the process of colonization and assimilation into Canadian society? It’s crazy to think that people are even brainwashed into thinking that they are from these lands through the Canadian anthem, “Oh Canada, our home and native land”. Ask yourself, who's territory are you on?
Check out the Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada:
I don't mean for this to be offensive but rather to open your eyes, to educate and to hopefully open your heart as well to being true to yourselves because as Indigenous people, we are often excluded and put to the side when it comes to living in "Canada". In fact, some of us get nervous on Canada Day because we feel like we are walking with a target on our backs. While some have become the "Token Indian" for the government to make things look like they are the way they are meant to be, the reality is that it is far from that.
Travelling across Turtle Island, I have been to many communities both urban and rural and have witnessed a lot. Did you know that there are communities just outside of Ottawa that do not have sustainable drinking water? Also, when you see Indigenous people on the streets in a city, have you stopped to think of why they may be there and the root causes of intergenerational trauma that they may carry? I've also seen many of my people living in extreme poverty and the mentality that I have heard from "Canadians" is that they should "Get over what happened in the past and work like everyone else". As of recent the awkward and most frustrating thing I heard from someone who was on a project with me in a community that gets flooded every year with no help from our government for evacuation is that "There are bad things that happen all over the world". After hearing this I felt extremely uncomfortable that this mix of Canadian guilt and white privilege was overstepping, thinking that it's okay to normalize what we as Indigenous people are facing in "Canada".
When it comes to policing in Canada, especially on "Canada Day", that is certainly one of the top things I am fearsome of. From my personal experiences with Canada Day, I first think about one year when I was with my brother and some friends in downtown Ottawa and had to defend ourselves on the rooftop of the Rideau Centre from a white male who had come at a female friend of ours with threatening behaviour, which ultimately resulted in violence. That also leads me to think of 2011 which had followed after and I would've been 19 at the time. A group of us were hanging out on the rooftop of the Rideau Centre again and my brother and my friend were fooling around and had been throwing an empty water bottle at each other. The water bottle had accidentally gone over the railing and down to the crowd below and I had looked at the building across from where we were and there was a police officer with binoculars focused on me.
I remember walking away with another one of my friends and being grabbed by two male police officers then thrown to the ground. I felt startled and remember feeling one of the officers put his knee on the side of my face while he was assisted by one of the Rideau Centre's security guards in pinning my body down to the ground. The other officer had then put plastic zip ties around my wrists and tightened them then began to search the pockets of my pants. He then searched my backpack and opened a Mickey of Captain Morgan's Spiced rum which I had in my bag that was initially unopened and had planned to drink that night. This lead to him dumping out the Mickey and a bottle of ginger ale I had in my bag too.
During the mist of this I was asking what I did wrong and they told me to remain silent. I kept in mind that as a youth, I had been arrested and in a pair of handcuffs on different occasions which allowed me to know how that felt. These zip ties however were a new feeling and I couldn't feel my hands because they were so tight. While this was happening chaos had broken out and my friends were questioning the officers on why they were doing that to me. Looking up at one of the officers, I asked if he could loosen the zip ties and his response was to start walking. At this point I was on my feet and they were lifting my arms up behind my back, causing me to lean forward in an uncomfortable manner. The police forced their way through the crowd that had gathered near me and began bringing me off of the rooftop.
While walking the two officers stopped and had put my back against the wall. I felt one of their elbows strike the centre of my body and was then asked if I was ready to co-operate. I caught my breath and answered that I have been co-operating the whole time. After this happened they continued to walk me down to the paddy wagon that was parked on Mackenzie King Bridge and my brother had shown up. I told him to call my parents and to tell them to meet me at the Elgin Police Station.
The two officers then handed me over to another officer who helped me into the back of the paddy wagon. Shortly after leaving the Rideau Centre the paddy wagon came to a stop and the doors opened. The officer asked me if he were to take the zip ties off if I would try to run away and I told him that I wouldn't. He then cut off the ties and asked me to put my hands in front of my body where he put a new pair on that were a bit looser. He asked me what I did and I told him what had happened on the rooftop. The officer then told me what had happened to me was ridiculous and wasn't right. He then told me that he would let me sit with the door open for a bit to hear some live music nearby. A short period of time passed and we then made our way down to the Elgin Police Station.
While being processed I remember the woman at the processing desk taunting me in front of her peers because of the haircut I had at the time. She asked me "Hey do you watch Jersey Shore? You look like that guy from the show" and I asked her "What guy?" which lead to her saying "You know, that guy". After she had said that, a male officer who had been telling me where to put my feet during getting my picture taken replied to her while laughing and saying "Pauly D". The woman had then bursted out laughing and said "Yes! Pauly D!" which resulted in them both laughing at me. I felt humiliated and extremely uncomfortable at this point.
After processing, I was brought in an elevator and then to a cell where I was left alone. There was a drunk white male who was in the cell next to me and had seen me come in. I remember sitting at the edge of the bed and hearing him call me "Soft" from the cell next to mine. He asked me if I wanted to fight and I remained silent. While attempting to ignore him I laid down with a roll of toilet paper under my head for a pillow and stared at the ceiling. He began pounding on the wall and yelling profanity at me which made me react by saying "You're pretty tough screaming at me with a wall between us". At this point an officer came to his cell and told him to be quiet then had asked me if I was okay, which resulted in me telling him, teary eyed and emotional, that I was far from okay. He said that I would be out of there soon enough and as time passed he returned to bring me out of my cell then to my dad who had bailed me out.
This is the first time I’ve written this experience out completely as it has affected me for years and my experiences with Canadian police, in particular the OPS (Ottawa Police Service) haven’t been the best. After much reflection I wondered if they had something to prove or if they had some type of quota to make but whatever the case may be I ended up being a young man who was sober and had been placed in the drunk tank. Deeper thoughts had followed after I heard other peoples experiences with Canadian police as well and I am still finding the courage to share more of mine. One thing I feel comfortable saying is that when I owned a vehicle before it was a 1985 Olds Mobile Royale Brougham that had no rust on it and was a sharp ride that I worked hard to have, this lead to problems for me. Often I would be pulled over by police because they wanted to “See who was inside” which wasn’t a good enough answer for harassment and now that I don’t own a vehicle, it’s become one of the reasons why I feel less inclined to do so. Then there were the nights where I would be pulled over and asked to step out of my vehicle to be searched and their reason is that my vehicle was suspicious.
This is just a pigment of what I’ve come to know while growing up as an Indigenous person in “Canada” and I hope that it may open people’s minds and hearts to challenging what they think they may know. There is disguised racism and ignorance that exists in “Canada” which needs to be challenged and I hope that this can help in that process. Some may take something from this and some may not but overall I challenge those who read this to keep the conversation going and to think to themselves…why are you proud to be Canadian?