Teresa Cardinal celebrates her ancestors’ 10,000 years on this land — not so much the last 150 years of “colonization.”
Like many of Central Alberta’s indigenous people, she’s ambivalent about commemorating Canada’s sesquicentennial.
Her parents and grandparents were forcibly removed from their families to be assimilated into white culture at government-approved Indian residential schools. Most were church-run and operated with systemic abuses and deprivations from the 1880s to 1996.
Considering the mental health and addictions problems that resulted from this, she feels “frustrated” by the party atmosphere that surrounds this country’s 150th birthday.
“I appreciate the idea and the intent,” Cardinal said, but for many First Nations people “it’s hurtful to think of celebrating.”
At the same time, the Red Deer Native Friendship Centre worker faces a personal paradox. She will be helping at the July 1st Bower Ponds Canada Day festivities as her role is building community connections, supporting native culture, and ensuring that people know the centre “has open doors for everybody.”
Her Kokum (grandmother), Nancy Cardinal, 65, understands the contradictions about nationhood that are felt by many native Canadians.
Nancy was six when taken to the Blue Quills Indian residential school near St. Paul to be educated. She was mistreated there, emotionally and physically.
Although she believes her community is still “living the effects” of those days, with inter-generational trauma, Nancy still feels Canada is her country, and is “proud” to live here.
Opportunities have widened for some indigenous people in recent years. Joanne Beaverbones works as an administrative assistant for the City of Red Deer’s Culture Services department. “I worked my butt off to get here,” and had a mentor, she said. But Beaverbones knows many other aboriginals are still struggling to find meaningful employment in this country.
“There are a lot of issues and reasons why people are the way they are,” added Beaverbones, who noted the historic treatment of natives has taken a toll on collective self-esteem. She also used to think she didn’t measure up. It took time to realize that “everybody is at an equal level … everybody bleeds red and has problems.”
She’s now thankful Canada is providing more options for her children.
But Kelly Threefingers, a mother of three, doesn’t feel indigenous people are getting the same breaks — especially not with housing and employment opportunities: “Sometimes I think I should change the last name on my resume …”
Considering this country’s ongoing bias against native people, Threefingers said, “I don’t want to celebrate Canada Day. It’s not my flag. It’s not my anything.”
Her cousin, Cory Threefingers, who teaches aboriginal crafts at The Hub on Ross, doesn’t appreciate Canada’s mistreatment of the environment and exploitation of resources. But he tries to put his negative feelings aside, to focus on living according to traditional ways.
He practises smudging as an expression of gratitude, and feels it’s time for everyone to get along.
Sandra Nelson, who attended a pipe ceremony on National Aboriginal Day, expressed this philosophy: “Be proud, be strong. Stand up for your people.”
She noted many Canadian soldiers who fought in both World Wars were natives, so “it’s still our nation, it’s still our country.” Although Canada has a long way to go towards make up for past wrongs, she’s glad reconciliation is underway.
So is, aboriginal drummer Earl Scatch, originally from Manitoba. Although he’s pained whenever he remembers his parents’ “very, very harsh stories” of their residential school days, he noted his mother and father passed away a long time ago, at a young age, “but I’m still alive and I take the stories (forward) for them.”
Scatch plans to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday with some traditional drumming and singing.