I have always very strongly identified as “Canadian”. I know my white settler ancestors came to Canada from England and Germany, but I feel little to no connection to either of those countries. Instead, my entire life, I have adopted the Canadian identity. I have embraced the ideas of freedom, opportunity, and peace that I have been privileged with as a descendant of my white settler ancestors. As many other Canadians like to do, I have collected a plethora of clothing items that celebrate my nationality. I have proudly worn the typical symbols of my Canadian identity: the maple leaf; the Queen; the mighty Canadian moose; and celebrations of my favourite National Parks. As I begin to realize my place as a treaty person, it dawns on me how problematic my thoughtless wearing of these t-shirts and hoodies are. When I adorn these articles of clothing, I am telling the world that I am a Canadian and proud of it. But where is any acknowledgement of the treaties that I, a Canadian citizen, have the responsibility to uphold with my Indigenous brothers and sisters?
I have to stop myself right there. I say I’m a Canadian citizen. But what makes me a Canadian citizen? What right do I even have to call myself a Canadian citizen? How can I consider myself this when the government that has granted me this title is the same government that stripped all rights from the Indigenous Peoples, the true land dwellers? How can I nonchalantly display the maple leaf across my chest, alerting all to my pride as a Canadian, when these feelings of superiority are at the expense of an entire nation of people who struggle to achieve any sense of miskâsowin at all? I have recently been hit with the Mack Truck of realization of my privilege and before I could recover from that, I suddenly find myself questioning my own identity as a member of this country. If I truly want to recognize my miskâsowin as it relates to treaty, I have to stop ignoring my role in its destruction through my pride in my citizenship. Citizenship is really just a label – a title; it’s not a tangible thing. Habitation of a place, living sustainably from its resource gifts, passing knowledge from generation to generation – that is what is real and concrete. Yet Canadians always throw their citizenship, their right to Canadian-ness, in the faces of the Indigenous Peoples who want to share this land with us. We can’t help but tell them all about our right to be here while at the same time completely ignoring their rights to not only be here, but to claim ownership over this land (which isn’t even something they would think of doing considering ownership of land isn’t something they value). If “…ignorance and Eurocentric arrogance breeds disrespect and without respect there can be no reconciliation” (Cardinal & Hildebrandt, pg. 24), then I have to replace my ignorance with education and action in order to truly commit to reconciliation.
Reading Chelsea Vowel’s list of acceptable names for Indigenous Peoples (pg. 9), I can strongly relate to the importance of calling things by their right names. I am completely willing to evolve my language if it means allowing those I am addressing to claim ownership and pride over their miskâsowin. If I can contribute, in any way at all, to helping restore “First Nations peoples [ ] positive sense of origin and belonging” (Cardinal & Hildebrandt, pg 22), I am willing and happy to do so.
Am I going to stop wearing my Canada-themed t-shirts and hoodies? Probably not. Am I going to try to acknowledge what they mean to me and what my Canadian citizenship means to me as a treaty person? Absolutely! I can’t change that I was born in this country, and I can’t change that the entirety of my family, friends, and upbringing all pressure me to celebrate my citizenship, but I can change my thought-process and I can change my attitude towards Indigenous Peoples. Just as my wardrobe eludes to my sense of national pride, as a member of treaty, I truly want to do my part, as relatively small as it may be, to helping restore the miskâsowin and pride of Indigenous Peoples. As I further continue on my journey to miskâsowin as a treaty person, I will strive to figure out the most effective way to turn my words into action.
Cardinal, H. & Hildebrandt, W. (2000). Treaty elders of Saskatchewan: Our dream is that our Peoples will one day be clearly recognized as Nations. Calgary, AB: University of Calgary Press.
Vowel, C. (2016). Indigenous writes: A guide to First Nations, Metis & Inuit issues in Canada. Winnipeg, MB: Highwater Press.