[My father] was a business man, wearing a suit and carrying a suitcase. But when he had to get on a train, he paid the same price of ticket, but got put in a boxcar—he had to sit on bales of straw. They shouldn’t have been there. Not only my father, but all the First Nations peoples shouldn’t have been there. It should never have happened in Canada, but it has… They were indigenous peoples of this land and they were exploited and set apart and treated in less than a human way. When one thinks of Canada, Canada in the world doesn’t look like a place where that kind of exploitation toward humanity… that’s not how the world sees Canada.
And so Marcia Martel Brown, Chief of the Beaverhouse First Nation, connects us to a more complicated perspective on Canada 150. Marcia knows this complication well. After nearly a decade-long court battle with the Government of Canada, Marcia won what she had fought for so long. The court acknowledged that Canada had failed in its duty of care for its indigenous children.
“When I think of Canada and the 150 years that Canada has been a government in this country, I think of the relationship that First Nations people—my people—have had with this government. It’s been hard. There have been times [of] intimidation and fear and being treated not as an equal standing human being.”
For generations, the Canadian government acted in secret with its First Nations people, making treaties it had no intention of fulfilling and all the while removing children from homes and rehousing them in residential schools. Our own government robbed them of their land, their culture and their identity, and worst of all—made people feel ashamed of their own origins. In a so-called Christian nation, where we know that there is no male nor female, slave nor free, Jew nor Greek, our nation has systematically worked to undermine the image of God in indigenous people.
Even now, many First Nations communities are nowhere near the development standard that Canadian towns and cities experience. Many are without basic infrastructure. Nearly 100 are under long-term drinking water advisories. We have a long way to go.
But beyond issues of infrastructure or history is the current problem of discrimination. Indigenous Canadians experience significant racism. “That stereotyping, this too is part of the change that needs to take place, in terms of understanding who people really are. As a society, we’ve become too accustomed to racial profiling… That’s a standard across the country. Whatever you tolerate in your home, or your workplace or your society, it will happen again and again until people change.”
Despite the untrustworthiness of Canada in her life in the past, Marcia has many good things to say about our nation. “Sometimes people get upset with me because I say things like ‘Canada is the most wonderful country in the world.’ Why would I not see that? Of course I do! If I didn’t think that, I would leave. It’s been gifted to me to have the opportunity to make it better. That’s what the 60s Scoop court case was all about. To make Canada a better place than it was. And on Feb. 14, 2017, we heard from the justice system in this country that they recognize the importance of culture, tradition and identity as indigenous people – as any peoples in Canadian borders that need for their children to know who they are as people. In times of difficulty they can’t be separated from those things.”
Marcia has begun to see the hardness of entrenched racism begin to soften. While we still have miles to go, there is now hope for a way forward. “The need for love and compassion is great… There is a good way to help a country change its ways. And the 60s Scoop [court case] has been able to show that yes, Canada is indeed prepared although as a country… to work together on those challenges. This is the opportunity where healing happens in the nation of Canada.”
There is no quick and easy solution to the damage caused by Canadian policies in First Nations communities. But as people of faith—people who love Jesus, and believe in seeking reconciliation in his name, the door is open.
Marcia recounts a time when a talk she was giving was disrupted by an angry young person who yelled, “What are you trying to do, change the world?”
Marcia stopped and took a breath and said, “Yeah! I am trying to change the world!”
And little by little, in ripples and waves, she is succeeding.
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.