- Bryson Syliboy is currently a student at NSCC Nautical Institute where he is upgrading his credentials as a professional sailor. He is from Sipekne'katik First Nations and is a proud member of the Two-Spirit community. Bryson is an advocate for LGBT2S and Indigenous rights, where he is engaged in creating a dialogue on current issues facing those communities through teaching and activism. He is an avid musician, photographer, travel enthusiast and is reclaiming his Mi’kmaw identity by learning traditional teachings in drumming, medicines, language and native arts such as beadwork and creating jewelry.
Being First Nations, I am very conflicted in how to participate in the celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday—a year long celebration that is costing Canadians over half a billion dollars. On one side, I am a proud Canadian, eager to participate in the celebration of our great nation; a nation that was founded on forward principles to become a premier participant on the world stage. On the other side, there’s the dark history of suffering that First Nations Peoples have and continue to endure under the good intentions of that very same nation. It seems to me that this celebration wants to focus on everything good about Canada and sweep the bad under the rug for a year in order to showcase to the world how great of a nation we truly are.
It seems that Canada missed the mark on this campaign to educate Canadians on issues that First Nations Peoples have faced in the years leading up to and after Confederation. Canadians from coast to coast have been sharing their thoughts and pride in our country on social media by using the hashtag #Canada150. When I shared some historic quotes from Sir John A. Macdonald on the formation of the Residential School system using the same tag, it wasn’t surprising that it was met with hostility and ignorance. The quotes were unfavourable in nature, highlighting plans on how to effectively eradicate traditional ways of life that First Nations Peoples lived at that time.
As Canadians, we take great pride in our national identity. We are a multicultural, equality driven nation that is known for our politeness and our humanity. We take pride in knowing who we are and where we come from. Our history is what drives us and defines us. So when one of our beloved “Fathers Of Confederation” comes under fire for their integrity, people feel the need to defend that integrity and lash out at the accuser. It showcases the underlying disdain that the average Canadian still has for First Nations Peoples. That racism is still an integral part of our society.
Racism is a very uncomfortable topic to discuss, because we believe that our society is better than that. So if we don’t talk about it, it doesn’t exist. But it does, and education needs to play a huge part in combatting it. It seems that Canadian history glosses over our dark past, leading us to believe that all our issues were solved and we live now in harmony. Conflicts still happen between natives and non-natives—Oka, Burnt Church, Elsipogtog and Muskrat Falls are some of them. Injustices still go on in First Nations communities, such as the housing crisis in Attawapiskat, unsafe drinking water that exists on two-thirds of all Reservations, or the over 500 Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (#MMIW) revealed through inquires. Or that over 6.000 children perished in the Residential schools, with the last school closing in 1996.
Being a second generation survivor of the Residential school system, there is nothing more important to me than education. Canadians need to be educated about the atrocities of our past, so that history will never be repeated. Racism is something that is taught, and through education it can be unlearned, and through education, we have knowledge. Our history isn’t as simple as it seems. It’s not one sided either, but multifaceted. Our history is complex and interwoven, with many stories from many different cultures.
Show your pride in our country by using #Canada150, but remember that our history did not start 150 years ago, nor does it start 450 years ago. Canadian history started when First Nations Peoples came to this land over 10,000 years ago, giving rise to a saga we all can be proud to be part of. #Canada10000.