Canada has had a long and terrible history with indigenous peoples.

Let’s state that from the start. If we can’t look at things as they are, we can never hope to make them better.

And we need to make them better.

Let’s also discuss responsibility. It’s not indigenous peoples’ fault for the social, economic, and political decisions that have led to this current state of affairs, nor is it the fault of your average Canadian citizen. All we are responsible for is how we choose to move forward.

The Canadian government has historically and purposely diminished the power of indigenous people to determine their own lives. There was no war in Canada for lands with victors and losers, there were treaties of peace and understanding. The treaties are, in effect, the legal basis for Canada. But after the treaties came the Indian Act.

The Indian Act is the only race-based legislation in the developed world. It allowed for the pass system, residential schools, resettlement and decreasing reserve sizes, the institution of the chief and council governance system, forced adoptions, and so on.

Only in the latter part of the past century have indigenous people been allowed to hire lawyers and slowly things have begun to change.

Part of the original treaties was to ensure money from the land and resources the Canadian government took was administered and invested by the government. If this were done with the same integrity and scrutiny that we expect when it comes to our own taxation, this would have accumulated many hundreds of billions of dollars today, but that was not done. Instead, the government injects about $9 billion annually into barely meeting their treaty obligations for health and education on reserves from that same trust. None of this money comes from taxpayer dollars and much is lost to the bureaucracy of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.

However, you won’t read about that in reporting. You’ll rarely get an unbiased and straight recounting of the facts and causes. Instead, we see sad story after sad story. Suicide, drug use, criminality.

Indigenous people today live with the result of broken laws and treaties and the intentional, generational fracturing of their communities and families. It is a shameful part of the Canadian fabric.

Not only have their children been robbed of their rich lands, diversity, and history, but as partners in this great experiment, so have Canadian children. We celebrate 150 years, but are missing the important and fascinating history of Canada’s millennia of habitation, stories, and collected wisdom.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

More than half of indigenous people no longer live on reserves. They are your neighbours, colleagues, and friends. It’s time to stand together as communities and tell the federal government we will no longer tolerate children dying needlessly or communities going without clean water. By neglecting youth in indigenous communities, we are damaging the bottom line in terms of the economic contributions they could make when educated, healthy, and proud. So on every metric, it only makes sense and profits Canada in every way to fulfill these founding promises and agreements.

As a society, we like to think well of ourselves. If our neighbour needed help or if someone was suffering, we’d help. It’s time to extend our reach.

Let us celebrate Canada 150, but let’s celebrate the good we are committing to for the future, and taking as our lessons both past mistakes and victories. Let’s fulfill the promise of a good life in Canada by ensuring every family gets a chance.

We are all neighbours, community, and family. Let’s never tear each other down. That’s not what builds communities. Instead, let’s raise each other up, dust each other off, roll up our sleeves, and get this good work done.

We can do it. We are strong. Together.

Featured Image: Celebrate Canada 150 by helping each other. | Aaron Paquette