Originally published as a column on CFJC Kamloops Today and Armchair Mayor News on July 3, 2017. 

It’s the day after fireworks and music and food trucks, the day when small glittery plastic maple leaves lie forgotten in the grass where yesterday’s crowds gathered to celebrate Canada Day.

Happy for many, the celebration has been controversial and painful for others. Indigenous people, who brought their peaceful protest all the way to Ottawa, spoke of broken treaties and basic human rights such as access to clean water that are sorely missing in some parts. There are 150 First Nations communities with water advisories in place, 71 of them in place for more than a year now, according to EcoJustice, Canada’s largest environmental law charity.

The reasons that First Nations held back from joining the celebratory parties going on across the country lie in the reality they carry with them. There are one too many trauma-laden communities where substance abuse, violence, teen suicides and poverty are part of daily life, and there is much delay and lack of action in bringing closure to families who are still mourning their missing and murdered sisters, mothers, and daughters. There are too many places where a small First Nations community attempts to fight for their right to live off the land the way they always have, against large corporations, mostly concerning gas or oil explorations. Yes, there are some big conversations to be had, and, as they say, what better time than now.

Before brushing over their demeanour and concerns with the party pooper brush, let’s just pause for a second and think about this. When they speak, they do so hoping that their voices will be heard and their concerns addressed. People whose ancestors roamed this country far and wide and have had much of their life altered by the waves of people who settled here, and people whose immediate ancestors have been through the unimaginable pain of having their children taken away (or they themselves are those children,) decided to speak against the consensus of celebrating the 150th birthday of Canada.

To have the freedom to speak up is a wonderful thing. There is a reminder for all of us. To hold the hope that your words and your message will be listened to, is a compliment that speaks highly of what Canada is today. Here’s to hoping that one day soon, these issues that may seem uncomfortable to deal with, but are what many Indigenous people live through, will all be behind us and another big round Canada Day celebration will have us all join in without any reservations.

Canada is a beautiful place to be, not just landscape-wise. It is a place where many new-comers find a home and they marvel at how ‘at home’ they feel shortly after arriving. Canadians are, for the most part a friendly bunch. More so in some parts of the country than in others, some would say, but that is the story that has to do more with people in general, rather than any of our co-nationals in particular.

There are many reasons why Canada is to be loved and celebrated. And then there is much to work on, and that can only make our country better for everyone. It is easy to smile when you have nothing to frown about. But Canada is, as we know and we claim it to be, a place of inclusivity. To shun those who bring their concerns, pains, and frustrations over many injustices, would be wrong and against what we stand for.

Understanding that all the grievances are, in fact, opportunities to start a dialogue that will bring long overdue changes can take us all towards a better future. Allowing people who have been here for longer than 150 years to be recognized as an essential part of Canada as we know it today, that is also overdue and dignifying for everyone.

Truth invites to openness of minds, hearts and understanding of each other’s values. That is what makes a nation strong and proud. As my late friend Richard Wagamese, award-winning writer and journalist, and proud Ojibway from the Wabasseemoong First Nation in northeast Ontario, once said ‘It is a big word, reconciliation. Quite simply, it means to create harmony. You create harmony with truth and you build truth out of humility.’

I hold a strong belief that, past shadows, and resentment, asking ourselves what it means to be Canadian will take us to where truth resides. If we choose to see it, we are better for it. Happy Canada Day and beyond!

*At the time of this writing, Desmog Canada is reporting that the Supreme Court of Canada has refused to hear an appeal brought forth by two First Nations, West Moberly and Prophet River, concerning the possible infringement on their constitutional treaty rights should the Site C megaproject be built in the Peace River Valley. The appeal was filed following the federal government refusal to address the possible treaty rights infringement at the time when a Joint Review Panel looked at the adverse affects of building Site C.