Every summer, Jasper likes to pat itself on the back while snapping photos of the annual powwow and Indigenous dancers on Aboriginal Day.
However, based on the viral vitriol which besmirched the comments section on social media this month, it would appear that this sense of openness and acceptance is, in many cases, only skin deep.
Perhaps Parks Canada could have rolled this news out in a way which would have better promoted education about Aboriginal treaty rights and the constitutional protection thereof, but one would hope there would be a better understanding as a whole of the idea that the national park narrative, with its tenets of ecological integrity and wildlife protection, is but a blip in terms of the larger historical context, i.e., First Nations people were booted from their home lands after living and hunting in this area for at least 10,000 years.
Dismayingly, it has been quite the opposite. “Move on,” some particularly loud and hostile voices said. “It’s in the past.” “We can’t change what our grandfathers did so let’s all just get over it.”
Yet how could we expect anyone to “move on” when those people are living with the consequences of being evicted from their home every day? It’s difficult to maintain a sense of connection with the land if your community is mired in poverty. Moreover, with every youth that “moves on,” and forgets what tied their forefathers to the places from which they came, it becomes that much harder for the community to maintain a sense of identity. For most descendants of Europeans (remember how young our settler history is in the west), this is a perspective that can only be realized if we make a conscious effort.
Some folks were indignant that Parks Canada’s efforts towards reconciliation by supporting a harvest on a tiny portion of the Shuswap Nation’s traditional territory was unfair to other Canadians who would also like to hunt in a normally-protected place. This privileged outlook is quickly taken down by a simple sketch showing three people attempting to watch a sporting event over a fence. In the first panel, person A’s tall stature allows him to adequately view the event; the second person is shorter and therefore has to stand on his tip-toes to see the game; the third person is too small to see anything over the wall.
In the second panel, two of the individuals are given different stools. Person A doesn’t need a boost; person B gets a small support; while person C needs the most help.
Being treated equally, the caption reads, means it is assumed everyone is benefitting from the same supports. Being treated with equity, on the other hand, ensures it is possible for all to have equal access to the game. In an ideal world, of course, the cause of the inequity would be addressed and the systemic barrier (the fence) would be removed altogether.
But we don’t live in an ideal world. As much as we might like to think that our images of spinning headdresses and colourful dancers represent the day to day lives of First Peoples, the reality is dire. We live in a world where general health indicators for Indigenous and Aboriginal people in Canada—poverty levels, suicide rates, life expectancy and infant mortality rates, for example—are at critical levels. We live in a world where this sickness inhibits First Nation People’s ability to act as stewards of their traditional territories.
And so what can we do? The simplest thing: be empathetic. Try to understand. Learn some history (it’s pretty darn fascinating).
Mostly, before you tell someone to move on or forget about the past, check your privilege at the door.