Celebrating Canada’s birthday has always seemed kind of silly.
I say this as a citizen of the Anishinaabeg, a people who have existed for many centuries. So 147 years seems . . . quaint.
Of course, this probably wouldn’t be the case if we were celebrating Canada’s more authentic birthdate, Aug. 1, 1764. On this day the English and twenty-four Indigenous nations concluded negotiations at Niagara to extend The Silver Covenant Chain with the 24-Nations Belt, or simply, the Treaty of Niagara. The treaty permitted the sharing of the land across the eastern continent and mutual recognition of autonomy among distinct people rooted in peace, friendship and respect. Without it there would be no Canada, neither in ideational nor material terms.
But too often this history is overlooked or relegated as an Indigenous narrative. It is outside popular mythology and so a good example of the gulf between Canada and Kanata. We often talk of two solitudes in reference to anglophones and francophones, but the term is most apt in the context of the disparate understandings of history among Indigenous peoples and Canadians. Whether it is the founding of Quebec City, the character of John A. Macdonald, political changes in postwar Canada, the dissolution of constitutional talks in the late 20th century, or any treaty ever created here (even the new ones), we understand our shared past and our contemporary reality in divergent ways. Indeed, too often Canadian mythology is actually a damaging misrepresentation. It is an understatement to say a truly “national” narrative remains elusive.
So thinking about what Canada could become (or, “what is in us to be?”) I think about understanding. Not the same old discourse of peaceful acquisition, armchair policy expertise, or a Norval Morrisseau on the wall, but substantive understanding among Canadians of Anishinaabeg, Haudenosaunee and Mushkegowuk perspectives (as well as the other 50-odd nations).
Every kid in school can learn the 13 provinces/territories and also the few dozen original jurisdictions.
Indigenous languages can have official status, but more importantly, be seen and heard on the land and in cities, known by everyone. We can be honest about the birth, life and times of Canada. If all of this is in us to be, we might have something to celebrate.
The Anishinaabemowin version
An approximate Anishinaabemowin version (Gchi’mnissing dialect), translation by Jeff Monague of Beausoleil First Nation:
Goopjinaagwat gwa gchi nendmong dbishkaamgak iw sa ki Canada noongo ezhinkaadek. Mewzha aazhgwa Anishinaabek maa gii awak. Shki awan shwiingo eta Canada. Wishme shwingo nendidsa sabboondgizat Canada. Anishinaabek miinwaa Canada, debwetaadiwinan gii zhibiigemin mewzha. Mii gwa iw nake Canada gaa zhichkaadek. Mii dash iw aadsokaanaamnaan. Gkina weya gwa gda dbendaan. Gkina gwa weya naasaap wdaa awak.
Aabdek gwa gdaa debwewak Canada wgaa kidawaak Anishinaabek. Debwewin eta maa te biinjaying niw Aadzookaanong. Naasaap gwa daa kendaamin. Mnabmaadziwin ge ga kendaamin. Nga kendaamin dash ezhi piitendaagok iw sa enaweying. Giizhpan maanda zhichkeying, mii iw pii wii waawiinjgaademgak iw sa ki Canada noongwa ezhinkaadek.