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Canadians aren’t racist, we just don’t know our own history

Posted on 2 April 2013

If you haven’t seen this “educate First Nations” letter, it is here and there are stories about it here, here and here.

Basically, it says First Nations achieved nothing of any value because prior to European contact they lacked things like a written language and astronomy and medicine.

Most of this is just straight-up wrong (scurvy, anyone?), but I don’t think it’s accurate to portray it as just some out-there rant from a lone racist. I say that because I also don’t think you’d have to go very far to find a more than a few people in your own life who believe many of the points made in this letter.

The reason for this is not because we are surrounded by a whole bunch of people who are actively being racist. It’s because as a nation we are woefully ignorant of our own history.

The dominant narrative in Canada is that anything of any value that’s more than 150 years old came from other countries. Anything prior to Confederation that “Canada” did was actually done by the British or the French, and the power players all called foreign soil home.

This narrative completely ignores awesome things like the Iroquois Confederacy or the pictorial record-keeping of the Albertan plains or the complex clan culture of the Northwest that persists to this day. It ignores the many technologies and discoveries that were shaped by this land, and brushes aside the notion that the upper half of North America has anything to contribute to world history.

Obviously, this harms perceptions of Aboriginal people more than anyone, but I think it harms perceptions of Canada and Canadians as a whole, as well. Think about how we present our country to new immigrants: we acknowledge their diverse backgrounds, and then invite them to adopt the history of this place as their own. But once we get back two hundred years or so, that’s the end of that and we have to start looking to Britain and France. “Our” story is in foreign lands and dominated by people who never even set foot here. Puts us in pretty poor stead vis-a-vis other countries.

So why not extend the geographical history further back and start adopting the achievements of First Nations as something to be celebrated by all Canadians? The oral histories persist. The physical records persist. The tools and modes of transit and geographical knowledge persists. In many cases, the political systems and languages persist, albeit tenuously. Why can’t all this be my history, too? John A. Macdonald is as much my ancestor as  Deganawida, which is to say I have no blood relationship to either. The kinship I feel to them is purely in the form of the stories of what they did and how that shaped the place I call home- so let’s start putting them on more equal footing. Let’s tell all the stories of all the achievements of all the people who’ve lived here. Let’s educate everyone.

Filed under: Canada, Indigenous

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