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McGARVEY – Indigenous Canadians must embrace future, not dwell on past

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks on Canada Day. (Image: pm.gc.ca)

CANADA’S 150th birthday celebration was filled with contradictory emotions. How we progress as a nation depends on how we address those contradictions.

There was a quiet, very Canadian pride felt by most of us at the achievements of this young and vigorous democracy.

On this auspicious day, we were celebrating a country that has taken great steps from its colonial past toward a modern democracy, breaking down barriers of language, race and gender to create a uniquely harmonious multi-ethnic society.

But angry indigenous protesters also damned Canada and all it stands for. The 150 celebrations were, in their minds, simply a milestone in the ongoing brutal colonization and genocide of First Nations populations. For those angry protesters, the centuries-old European colonization of the Americas has been a disaster.

Canada’s residential school experiment, overseen by the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, attempted to use a boarding school-like program to westernize native students. It failed badly, leaving scars that Canadians are told will never heal.

As Canada begins its next 150 years, there is great potential for prosperity and progress for everyone, provided we accept basic tenets of modern nationhood

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited the protesters’ teepee, erected on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Emerging from his 45-minute meeting, Trudeau said, “It is important that even as Canadians celebrate Canada 150, we reflect upon the experiences and the importance of folding in and hearing the stories and experiences of indigenous Canadians.”

But what impact will these stories have on this clash of civilizations? What do the next 150 years hold for Canada?

Indigenous peoples hold their fate in their own hands. They can choose to be angry and confrontational, but they might also look – as many indigenous youth are – at the unprecedented opportunity Canada represents to them.

Canada may be a young country but as a western nation, it has accumulated some interesting cultural assets that it now seems willing to share with its indigenous brothers and sisters – if they’re willing to accept them.

Canadian civilization carries lofty political ideals inherited from Classical Greece that are the foundation of our open political democracy and parliamentary institutions. So too is the notion of equality for citizens, adapted over the centuries to underpin the modern multi-ethnic state.

From ancient Romans, we learned the value of civil law, creating private rights and human rights. In the absence of open, codified and public laws in the civil tradition, human rights are tenuous and subject to abuse by the powerful.

Canadians also inherited that most mystical institution: capital. Capital was introduced into medieval Europe by the Knights Templar, who acquired it from Islam at the time of the Crusades. The rise of the West over the past millennium can be attributed to the pan-European development and maturation of capital, banking and commerce as institutions.

Capitalism begins with an initial act of social co-operation, to recognize and legitimize an individual’s ownership of something of value.

Capital allows society to capture human energy and other forms of value in institutions of property. Then we can identify and unleash its latent value, projecting it forward, mobilizing others to productive ends. Capital has electrified western civilization over many centuries.

Native culture has many fine institutions and a noble past. But the future for an emerging generation of indigenous youth depends on their willingness to engage in a form of cultural appropriation. They must leverage capital institutions to create a new and better future for themselves and their communities.

Looking back on the sins of the past may serve the interests of some, but it is not progress.

A new generation of Canadians is ready, willing and able to share their rich cultural heritage with Canada’s original people to build a new and better future for our growing Confederation.

Robert McGarvey is chief strategist for Troy Media Digital Solutions Ltd., an economic historian and former managing director of Merlin Consulting, a London, U.K.-based consulting firm. Robert’s most recent book is Futuromics: A Guide to Thriving in Capitalism’s Third Wave.

© 2017 Distributed by Troy Media

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About Mel Rothenburger (5011 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

1 Comment on McGARVEY – Indigenous Canadians must embrace future, not dwell on past

  1. tony brumell // July 6, 2017 at 11:49 AM // Reply

    First Nations have had the vote for fifty years,but we don’t allow them to vote on issues that involve destroying thier land or resources.( site C ,Fracking,pipe lines, fish, forestry)
    Does breaking down barriers of language and culture mean forcing them to adopt ours? Is your version of uniquley harmonius means assimilation?
    Fro the ancient Romans we learned the value of civil law and civil rights and then promptly threw them away, as they applied to F/N.Legitimize private and civil rights such as Land,Fish, trees Water ,but not when it comes to F/N?
    I have a saying that goes something like “No amount of time can pass that will make that which was stolen the legal property of the thief.”When F/N have their land ,language, culture and resources back then we can start treating each other as equals.(Without us being just a” bit” more equal).
    Addressing the sins of the past IS the only road to progress.The land and resources never were ours to share but always were “Theirs” to share.(or not!!!!).

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