A critical look at Canada 150: Yvonne Houssin

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Canada-150-Feature-TitleWe asked community leaders and educators about Canada’s sesquicentennial anniversary, to reflect on this country’s present, past, and future.

Yvonne Houssin | NSU Firekeeper

The Martlet: What does it mean to you to be a Canadian, and what is a Canadian identity?

I think a Canadian identity definitely comes from Canada, and I think it definitely changes as Canada changes, and as we change as people. I think it’s an identity that everyone has their own relationship with. I think a Canadian identity can definitely change depending on what your relationship with the Canadian state is, or how you’ve been educated on what Canada is.

In the context of your work, what does Canada 150 mean to you?

Well I think that Canada 150 is definitely separate from what Canada Day has always been, because I think this year, we’re really celebrating that it’s been 150 years since Confederation. I think that when we really critically think about ‘what are we celebrating?’, there’s been 150 years of things that have been good on the world stage, but there’s also been a lot of things that I think a lot of Canadians didn’t know about, and certainly now are only starting to learn.

So I think Canada 150 is reflecting on each Canadian’s relationship with Canada, in these past 150 years, and so for myself in the Métis context, this is where I think education is really huge. I didn’t really know of the history of the Métis people; I didn’t know of the Métis Bill of Rights that was put into the Manitoba Act, which was put in place in 1870. The Métis representatives had negotiated and in that Bill of Rights, it talks about rights to land, it talks about sovereignty of the Métis nation, and it also protects treaty rights, and advocates for the rights of other Indigenous nations in those lands. And our nation was very clear that we didn’t owe Confederation unless those rights were established, and were put in place.

And so I think when I reflect on Canada 150 for that, it’s like, we entered into Confederation on this agreement and that agreement wasn’t upheld. So am I celebrating that? (laughs) Or is that worth celebrating?

At the same time, I think it’s a day that is good for self-reflection for each person. And I think each person has their own relationship to it.

What would you like to see Canada be like in the next 150 years?

I think I would like to see us go back and have these difficult conversations, and really critically look at this history, and sit down respectfully and not try and skip over or not try and say ‘okay, sorry, let’s start from here’— let’s actually go back and consider what those relationships were supposed to be like, what the intentions were from both sides.

And then for the next 150 years, I think I’m really excited to see what my nation does. I’m excited to see especially what the youth do and what the next generations come to do, and how they take what the past people [did], who have been fighting for rights and who have been resilient. I’m excited to see how they take up that fight and continue it for the next 150 years and see what they do with it.

And I recognize that there’s so much work to do in the next 150 years and longer, and that it’s super hard work, but I was raised that when there’s hard work, we just start working. And so I’m just excited to get to work and have those conversations and see good things happen. Because I think that’s what everyone really wants in the end when we ask ourselves, ‘what do we want out of this?’ Everyone just wants to have a good life where they’re happy and they feel respected and their family’s taken care of and the land is taken care of, where your values and your rights are upheld.

… I think that in the past 150 years, there’s just been a blanket over a lot of these things, and that’s why I think there isn’t a common understanding of the true history of Canada, or of the history before Confederation. And I think that’s why we have conversations that either end in silence or just go out of control. And I think in the next 150 years, we need to look critically at the past and we need to see what it truly is, and then make adjustments so that in the next 150 years, we can not only try and work through that, but use our past mistakes to not make them moving forward.

To read more interviews from the feature, click here.