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True North strong and free?

First Nations perspective on Canada’s 150

All over Canada, everyone is pulling out their party gear and red and white decorations to celebrate the 150. This huge event, however, celebrating Canada ignores all the tragedies currently happening amongst the Indigenous people. I’m not in a party mood this year, mainly because I feel this country is unsafe for First Nations people. Quite a bold statement, but it’s true.

What I mean by “unsafe” is the fact that back in May, two First Nations youth were found dead in Thunder Bay, Ontario, yet there are no leads, no nothing. Tammy Keeash of North Caribou Lake First Nation and Josiah Begg of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug were found in the same river, and in both cases foul play was ruled out. Despite so many unanswered questions about these two young people, there has been no justice, no peace. These two youth grew up in communities where they were taught how to be safe around water; it’s guaranteed they knew how to swim and I can also guarantee that their deaths could have been prevented. One teen was in Thunder Bay for school and one was simply visiting his doctor. Thunder Bay is the closest place for communities in Northern Ontario to send their children for an education, yet it’s such a big risk because

Thunder Bay has claimed the lives of seven Indigenous teens since 2000. Too many have taken their last breath in that river.

The Canadian anthem comes to mind, especially the lines “true North strong and free” and “glorious and free.” Here’s another bold statement: Canada is not as “free” as I think it is. Why? Imagine this: you’re four or five years old; an RCMP officer shows up to your house saying that they’re taking you away from your family, and you’re not allowed to say no. You’re taken away, stripped of everything that set you apart from white people; you’re dressed in uniforms; your head is shaved and your identity is gone. Everything you once knew is gone. No arguments; you’re not allowed to do anything about it. You aren’t free.

Not much to celebrate

Everything we have, we fought for. It wasn’t just given to us – OUR land, our lives and justice for the many men, women and children who have died. There are a lot of families currently fighting for justice. There are many elders still held captive by haunting memories of Residential Schools. There are even people being held captive to fear, due to the high numbers of First Nations dying.

So what is there to celebrate? I am being held back from celebrating because of the two young lives that were lost in May. I’m being held back from celebrating because of my family members who experienced Residential School. I’m being held back from celebrating because of the fear that “this might be my last.” Now I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade and say “don’t celebrate,” nor am I hating on Canada. I don’t expect all of Canada to stop what they’re doing, but what I wish for is a moment. A moment where we remember the past – the horrific past for the Indigenous people – the many lives lost in residential schools and the victims of hate crimes. We should take time to acknowledge the survivors and to fight for better conditions in First Nations communities today.

Mark 11:22 says “have faith in God.” Short, sweet and simple. Through this I am keeping my faith in God, and trusting that he will guide this. When reconciliation between the First Nations of Canada and the Government is made, that will be something to celebrate.

Kylie Waswa is a 16-year-old Christian from a community in Northern Ontario, currently going to school in Belleville, Ont. Her goal is to bring awareness to the living conditions in First Nations communities and the lives of First Nations in Canada. 


Hundreds join largest KAIROS Blanket Exercise ever

This photo essay was submitted by CC reader John Joosse and ran alongside Kylie Waswa’s article.

Final project: Meet face-to-face

by Natasha Steenhof

For a year-end assessment, students in a small Christian school in Northern B.C. engaged in an activity that had a significant impact on students, teachers and local aboriginal leaders. Jonathan Boone, a high school teacher at Bulkley Valley Christian School, designed a final project where students shared their understandings of the core concepts of the curriculum and how the course had changed their attitudes towards First Nation issues and individuals. Instead of a final exam, a tradition he found restrictive, Boone wanted to create a situation in which his students would participate in meaningful dialogue.  

To add to the significance of this exercise, Boone invited a panel of local First Nation individuals to participate in this conversation and to respond to what each student expressed in their presentation. Boone said that many students were worried as they wanted to honour the elders and were nervous about accidently insulting individuals who had been directly affected by issues they had studied in class such as the Indian Act, residential schools and damaging stereotypes.

The students took the exercise extremely seriously, brainstorming and reflecting on what they wanted to tell First Nation elders about their learning experience. Boone said that the presentations far exceeded his expectations and he wished that he had introduced the exercise years ago.

“I was moved to tears several times by students’ honesty, sorrow and anxiety,” Boone said, adding that almost every student spoke about their ignorance about events that had negatively affected First Nation peoples and confessing that they came from homes and churches where First Nation peoples were sometimes mocked. They also expressed anger and sorrow that these travesties could have taken place in Canada and expressed a desire to enact reconciliation by improving the relationship between First Nation peoples and the rest of the Canadian population.

Boone stated that the panel was incredibly positive and emotional in their response to students, thanking the participants and sharing personal anecdotes: “They wiped away tears, shared a few laughs and spoke of the need to find ways to live together as neighbours in the Bulkley Valley,” Boone said.

The experience was also rewarding for students. Nathan Steenhof, a Grade 11 student, said the activity was transformative. “Speaking directly to First Nation peoples about their experiences was intimidating but also incredibly meaningful and made what we learned seem more real.”

Boone hopes that this exercise will help with building important bridges between the First Nation community and BVCS as he would like the school to be an example of reconciliation in the larger community. Boone concludes, “The new curriculum encourages more, not less, cooperation with aboriginal communities, and our Christian faith demands it.” 

Natasha Steenhof is an education student at King’s University in Edmonton, Alberta.


  • Kylie Waswa

    Kylie Waswa is a 16-year-old Christian from a community in Northern Ontario, currently going to school in Belleville, Ont. Her goal is to bring awareness to the living conditions in First Nations communities and the lives of First Nations in Canada.

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