IN THIS PERIOD between National Indigenous Peoples Day, on June 21, and Canada Day, on July 1, there is a feeling of ambiguity of who we really are. How can we claim to be Canadians while at the same time residing on the unceded territories of the original First Nations whose lands we inhabit?
Although the official date for confederation of Canada is celebrated as 1867, Canada as a country in its present form, did not exist until 1949 when Newfoundland and Labrador joined the confederation. Only parts of Ontario, Quebec, as well as Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick were part of the first confederation.
After 1867, British Columbia joined in 1871, Prince Edward Island in 1873, Yukon Territory in 1898. Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba joined in 1905. The most recent change to the confederation is the addition of Nunavut in 1999. The country as we currently know it is only 22 years old.
The physical extent and boundaries of Canada cannot be all that defines the country. Canada was certainly a country before Newfoundland and Labrador joined in 1949, or before Nunavut became a separate territory in 1999. And the First Nations existed for eons before that.
The Canadian constitution, signed in 1982, enshrining many of the rights we now take for granted, is another defining moment of the country. The constitution severed Canada from supremacy of the British North America Act enacted by British parliament.
Certainly, Canada was a country before 1982, but more of its colonial ties were shaken off with the establishing of political, legal, and human rights under the charter. Many of the rights we now take for granted as citizens are less than 40 years old.
As monumental as the Canadian constitution was, Bill C-15, (the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) Act), is poised to be another defining moment for Canada. On June 3, it passed second reading in the Senate. It is poised to return to Senate for Third Reading and approval. Seen by many, but not all, as a framework for reconciliation, it is meant to provide a means for government to work with First Nations, Metis and Inuit.
Canada was a country before the signing of the constitution, and yet the signing strengthened who we are. In the same way, Canada will be strengthened by the signing into law of Bill C-15. We already saw it when the British Columbia government signed into law its own UNDRIP legislation in 2019, paving the way for stronger agreements between the BC government and First Nations across the province. Something similar should be expected federally as well.
A myriad of peoples live in Canada.
More than 1.67 million people in Canada identify as Aboriginal. Of these, 977,000 identify as First Nation, with 634 First Nation communities in Canada of 50 Nations and 50 Indigenous languages. There are over 587,000 self-identified Métis. As well, 65,000 Inuit live in Canada.
While Canada is a place of peoples here for eons, it is at the same time a place of newcomers.
Of the 38 million Canadians, 7.6 million, or 20 per cent, are immigrants. Canada is one of the top 8 countries in the world for total number of immigrants and one of the highest in the world as a percentage of immigrants by population. There is no other country in the world which allows such a high percentage of immigrants and also allows them to become citizens.
As well as the 7.6 million immigrants, another 17 percent of Canadians are second-generation, or children born in Canada, with at least one parent who immigrated.
There are also 61 percent of people with both parents born in Canada.
Canada is a balance of peoples here for eons, those here a few generations and newcomers.
What does define us all as Canadians is the continually reshaping and reimagining the notion of who we are as a nation, of who we are collectively. There are strong threads that have bound us together, such as the notion of peacekeeping. Other more recent threads have quickly taken root such as the ability for anyone to marry who they choose. There are some threads that are starting to grow, such as truth and reconciliation, which Bill C-15 will strengthen.
Canada, or any country, is not just a space. It is not just the laws of the land either. It is the people who make it home, and how they interact, how they build together. Whatever Canada is today, it will change. Where it goes will be up to each of us individually and collectively.
We saw it with the news of 215 children buried at Kamloops Indian Residential School, and subsequent responses. Memorials, small orange signs in windows, walks, and vigils. Individual responses and community-wide events. New threads were created. There was a fundamental shift, an acknowledgement of the past, and a desire to change going forward. These small threads will hold us together.
Canada will continue to evolve, just as it has for hundreds of years. This time between June 21 and July 1 is a time to dwell on the tensions and opportunities for all of us that inhabit this space called Canada.
Nancy Bepple is a former City councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.