This year we’re supposed to be having a party to mark Canada’s 150th birthday. We’ve had milestone celebrations of similar scale before both locally and nationally: Canada’s Centennial, John Cabot’s arrival, Sir Humphrey Gilbert’s staking a claim, the Viking millennial, and so on.
In fact, the federal government has committed $500 million to mark this milestone. Lest you blame the Liberals for everything, the Conservatives set the plans in motion earlier with a logo competition in 2014.
But really? Do we have to spend that much to mark this event? And more importantly, should we?
Back in 1967, when the Centennial began, marking a hundred years didn't seem like that big a deal. As my friend Tom Hawthorn wrote in his book, The Year Canadians Lost Their Minds and Found Their Country: The Centennial of 1967, celebrating 100 years of nationhood was initially quite the low key affair before exploding into a frenzy of wild, weird and wonderful events.
I’m sure some people thought something similar would happen for this year. After all, there was great hoopla last fall over the new Canada 150 tulips, a gorgeous red and white flower with a blaze of yellow in the centre. Friends spoke of how quickly stores sold out of inventory.
But perhaps we should have known this milestone event was going to go differently when we first heard this spring how many of these tulips were not blooming in glorious red and white but a muted, though no less pretty, lemon yellow.
There were murmurs of class action suits, and Home Hardware, the principal distributor of the Canada 150 bulbs refunded the money of disappointed gardeners everywhere.
The great tulip disappointment is in fact an apt metaphor for the current political context.
If you have been reading or listening to the news, and following social media networks, you would know there is active resistance to #Canada150 from many indigenous nations and their allies who are using #resistance150 instead.
The obvious question: why are we celebrating a nation when so many indigenous ones existed centuries before the settlers arrived and colonialism claimed the land as a new discovery?
And given the strained relationships between Canada and the indigenous peoples living here, why focus on a party when there is still so much work to be done with respect to implementing the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission?
It makes a strange kind of sense when you remember that it was the previous Conservative government, under the direction of Stephen Harper, which set the sesquicentennial in motion.
The truth was Harper liked big, nationalistic, patriot-driven concepts, even as his policies sought to dismantle the federalist vision. Hence, the focus on the War of 1812, the Franklin discovery, and the Never Forgotten Mother Canada war memorial.
After all, if you focus on something that touches the heart, rightly or wrongly, you can distract people from other issues.
Issues like the lack of potable water on many indigenous reserves and communities, the deplorable state of housing in those same locations, the close to 2,000 (that we know of) murdered and missing indigenous women, the continuing dissolution of indigenous families through apprehension, foster care, and adoption, and so on.
Just this week I read that indigenous groups are being contacted by other community agencies for support and engagement because much of the funding for the #Canada150 party requires indigenous participation. Oh, the irony.
In this province, we mark July 1 as a day of remembrance for the soldiers who died in the Great War, first and then Canada Day follows after. Perhaps this year, rather than reflecting on 150 years of nationhood, we should take the time to think about how we need to work together with indigenous peoples of Canada and weave a new relationship for the future.
Otherwise, like the Canada 150 tulips, what we get may not be what we expected.
Martha Muzychka is a writer and policy consultant living in St. John’s. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org