BY MEGHAN WEATHERALL
When you hear Canada is celebrating 150 years of being a country, what do you think of?
Do you picture a Canadian goose honking while it swims in a nearby river or Canada’s red and white flag? Does it take you back to history class where you learned about Confederation and the wars our military fought in? It can be easily agreed upon that Canada is a country worth celebrating. Things like insulin, the electric wheelchair, walkie talkies and Trivial Pursuit are just a few of the things that Canadians invented.
Canada may be celebrating its 150th birthday, but the land it covers has been here and inhabited for thousands of years before the first boat of European settlers hit land.
THEMUSEUM, located at 10 King St. in Kitchener, opened its own exhibit called A Cause for Celebration? First Things First. This exhibit is a collection of art done by First Nations people who hope to bring awareness to the unfortunate truths of Canada’s past.
“Many museums, and many Canadians, are celebrating the 150 years of Canada,” said David Marskell, the CEO at THEMUSEUM. “The First Nations community aren’t. The reason is they’ve been here a lot longer than 150 years, and it hasn’t been a great 150 years.”
THEMUSEUM has teamed up with Woodland Cultural Centre, The Mohawk Institute Residential School in Brantford, Six Nations and The Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Foundation to do a day of action for high school students and the public.
“Canada has a black mark,” said Marskell. “We have a number of partners talking about the past and hopefully through that dialogue we are provoking a conversation. We are doing our little piece to shine a light on something that happened and get to a better place.”
The art on display ranges in media and messages. Nyle Johnston uses a graffiti-like style to create a picture of his community’s history. Another artist took the number given to her by the government to subtly add how her history and beliefs were taken away.
Part of the exhibit is a quote on a wall. Andrea Jackman, a curator for the exhibit, said, “Over the last 150 years, many indigenous historical facts have been deliberately cited as minor footnotes, to create a skewed perspective about this country’s history. By no means is it disputed that Canada has made great accomplishments … but what is absent is an inclusive account of the Canadian government’s relationship with indigenous peoples, communities and groups.”
Across the room from Jackman’s quote are pictures of all 23 prime ministers with a brief explanation on what the relationship between the indigenous people and the government was like at that time.
With the picture of Sir John A. MacDonald it was cited that the Royal Proclamation, designed by King George III aimed to protect the indigenous people and improve their living conditions. Over the years, the way of life for indigenous people got worse. Without consent, the government took control and passed treaties that were not in favour of the First Nations community. Children were torn from their homes and forced to go to residential schools to learn how to be more European. During their stay, children were abused and their nutrimental needs were not met. Other Bills were proposed. First Nation people could no longer legally own land, their status was threatened and diseases were spread.
It wasn’t until 1960 when Prime Minister John Diefenbaker and his minority cabinet swayed the government to allow indigenous people the right to vote that things truly started changing. Lester Pearson used his time as prime minister to focus on indigenous economics, education and political needs. Residential schools started closing under Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s watch in 1972. In 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper gave a formal apology to the communities affected.
“That is how we treated them,” said Marskell. “Imagine an indigenous person who has been here forever and the white guys show up and then say, ‘We want to get rid of you.”’
Woodland Cultural Centre director Amos Key spoke during the opening ceremony and said, “We weren’t here when it happened, but it still hurts because it’s part of our community history. And we need to learn from it.”
THEMUSEUM is also hosting the First Things First: Indigenous Dialogues exhibit until the end of April. This is another way they hope to bring awareness to how the First Nations communities were treated.