bailey macabre

“just get over it”: an exploration into the Canadian psyche

Some of the common phrases you hear from non-Natives, as Indigenous people, are that we need to “just get over it”. “It happened so long ago”. “Let it go.”

My question to those who share these sentiments tends to be: “And what is It, exactly?”, to which they rarely form an articulate response. This article is going to explore what exactly It is, why It is much more complicated than you may think, and why it’s difficult to get over It, when so many Canadians don’t acknowledge or even understand what It is.

It happened so long ago.

Are you talking about the arrival of European settlers? That happened just over 500 years ago. 500 years ago may seem like a long time, when the reality is that’s only really 6 or 7 generations.

To bring an Indigenous perspective into that length of time, consider the Seventh Generation principle. It’s a philosophy that is integral to Haudenosaunee life. Based on the interconnectivity of all things, it is the belief that the decisions we make today not only benefit us and our families, but ensure sustainable lives for the next seven generations, as well. Using this principle as a guideline, it means that even 500 years ago some of our ancestors were living their lives with us in mind.

However, within the first century of European contact, 55 million Indigenous people died, or 90% of our pre-colonial population. There are currently 579 million people in North America. That’s the equivalent of 521,100,000 dying today. Scientists recently hypothesized that this massive decline in population, which resulted in the abandonment of over 56 million hectares of farmland are what triggered the beginning of climate change.

Prior to colonization, Canada was occupied by Indigenous people for millennia, and we had distinct trade networks, spiritual beliefs and practices, and varying styles of social organization. The islands of Haida Gwaii, the Old Crow Flats, and the Bluefish Caves are home to some of the earliest Paleo-Indian* architectural sites in Canada. The five nations of the Haudenosaunee existed since around 1000 CE, the Iroquois confederacy was started in 1142 CE. In contrast, during this time Europe was in the Middle Ages, and the Vikings were establishing small settlements around Vinland.

There is this false notion that we were completely without societal structure or organization until the arrival of the Europeans, when in fact it is quite the opposite. The Declaration of Independence was modelled after the Iroquois Confederacy.

Thanksgiving is a cultural celebration that was also adopted from the Thanks Giving Address of the Haudenosaunee. Indigenous influence shapes so much of our modern existence, yet we are rarely, if ever, given credit.

Just get over it.

Are you talking about the slaughter of our people?

There are many accounts that the Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island were friendly, welcoming, and open to trade with colonizers. Here is a quote from Christopher Columbus upon his first interactions with the Arawak:

“They…brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks’ bells. They willingly traded everything they owned…. They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance…. With 50 men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.” (Horgan, 2016)

Despite being helpful and open to receiving those we considered guests, myths and propaganda were created about our people. It’s easier to eradicate an entire group of people if they are painted as villains, inhuman, or a threat.

Thus, idea of the ‘brutal savage’ was born. We’re portrayed as less civilized, godless and inhuman, desperately needing to be civilized. The archeological evidence discovered about warring Indigenous nations was largely exaggerated and its occurrence was overstated to further push the narrative we were violent, brutal savages.

Yes, our people were called “merciless Indian savages”, villainized and feared, while people like Jeffery Amherst were trying to eradicate us by any means necessary. Consider this excerpt from a letter he wrote in 1763:

“You will do well to try to inoculate the Indians by means of blankets, as well as to try every other method that can serve to extirpate this execrable race.” (Gill, 2017)

We were victims of biological warfare, faced with a threat we could not survive — a point which was exploited to ensure colonizers had the upper hand — yet we were, and continue to be, painted as the brutal ones.

It happened so long ago.

Are you talking about the Gradual Civilization Act, that was passed prior to Canadian confederacy in 1857? This Act stated that any Indian* man over the age of 21 who was able to read and write either English or French, willing to give up his Indian* status to become a British subject, would only then be able to vote. This was known as enfranchisement. Enfranchisement under the Act also meant that the men had to take a last name that was approved by appointed commissioners. They had to leave their tribe and were given a small allotment of land to create a homestead as a British subject.

The sole purpose of this Act was to assimilate Indigenous people, since it was recognized that assimilation was easier than eradication.

Just get over it.

Are you talking about the Indian* Act? The Act that still governs how our people exist and function within Canada to this day? An Act that was created in 1876, originally to eradicate the tribal system and assimilate all the Indigenous people in Canada?

The idea of enfranchisement carried over from the Gradual Civilization Act, although this time it was to become a Canadian citizen, and up until 1961, it was mandatory for all men 21 and over who could read and write English.

The Indian* Act was responsible for the creation of reserves, which were originally meant to combat the nomadic lifestyle of some Indigenous people and introduce a sedentary lifestyle to all of us. It was believed that we would be easier to assimilate if we were sedentary.

It also meant Indigenous people were forced to stay on the reserves unless they were granted a pass by their Indian* Affairs agent. Furthermore, Indigenous women who married non-Status men would love their Status and rights as an Indian* as defined by the Act, something that was amended as recently as 1981, and re-amended in 2017.

This same Act lead to the creation of residential schools and Indian* hospitals. It changed the way we hunted and fished, and meant that our traditional practices were now sanctioned and controlled by the Canadian government.

It happened so long ago.

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Image Source: (CTV News)

Do you mean the residential school system? The last residential school closed in 1996. That’s only 23 years ago. The last residential school closed when I was nine years old. That means family members of mine, who are still alive, are victims of the residential school system.

Children were stolen from their families, our cultures were outlawed, our languages were banned, our youth were physically, mentally, and sexually abused, and human rights laws, defined by the Geneva convention, were violated by the Canadian government. There are personal testimonies of babies born of sexual assault by the priests and workers thrown into ovens to destroy the evidence. Mass, unmarked graves of children who’s parents never knew what happened to them have been found. It’s been estimated that over 3000 deaths have been linked to the residential school system in Canada.

The stories from victims who are still coming forward demonstrate the truth of what was once portrayed to us as a gift, meant only to fulfill the treaty right of education for our people. When I, and many others I’ve spoken to, were in school, we were not taught the truth of these institutions. They functioned as an apparatus of the Canadian government meant to assimilate Indigenous people and destroy our cultures, languages, and history.

It happened so long ago.

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Image Source: Edward Curtis/Historica Canada via CBC

Are you talking about the Potlatch ban? Or the fact that from 1884, traditional religious and social practices were banned? That from 1920 Status Indians* were prevented from wearing traditional dress or performing traditional dances in an attempt to eradicate all non-Christian practices?

The Potlatch ban was lifted in 1951, which may seem like a long time ago, but in reality is less than one generation ago. Our cultural practices were outlawed, which meant that for 67 years an Indigenous person caught performing a cultural ceremony or ritual would be charged and imprisoned. For 67 years our practices were taken away from us, which means much of our ceremonies, rituals, and beliefs were lost and potentially forgotten.

It seems we are in the middle of an Indigenous Renaissance, as demonstrated by the resurgence of Indigenous authors, artists, musicians, and creators. There are many of us in the reclamation process, trying to regain what was taken from us. Our cultures are alive and slowly beginning to flourish, despite the repeated attempts at eradication and erasure. Our languages are slowly being revitalized and learned by the younger generations.

Our resilience is demonstrated by our ability to survive generation after generation of abuse, assault, assimilation, eradication, and genocide.

It happened so long ago.

Do you mean the infringement of our rights and our land? Land loss threatens Indigenous communities worldwide. In Canada, we are losing our land to development and resource extraction. Indigenous people have been on the front lines for years, fighting the government and the corporations threatening our land and livelihoods. There have been Indigenous protests regarding the expansion of the CPR, the tar sands in Alberta, the Trans Mountain Pipeline in B.C., to name a few.

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Image Source: Kanahus Manuel via APTN

To this day, Indigenous people are being incarcerated for trying to protect the our land. Kanahus Manuel, a member of the Tiny House Warriors, has been fighting on the front lines against the Trans Mountain Pipeline, aiming to protect the Secwepemc land threatened by the project. She was recently arrested by the RCMP and had her arm broken in the process.

We make up less than 5% of the world’s population but we protect 80% of the planet’s biodiversity. Biodiversity is at its highest on Indigenous managed lands. We are custodians of the land and we are frequently imprisoned for trying to protect that which is already ours.

Just get over it.

Perhaps you mean the incarceration of our people and our over-representation in the prison system? Not only are we being arrested for trying to defend the land we are here to protect, but we are being imprisoned at an alarming rate.

Indigenous adults make up only 3% of the population, yet 26% of the prison population. This percentage increases when you look at Indigenous women and youth. I could not find statistics on Indigenous People of Colour (IPOC) compared to white-passing (WP) Indigenous people, but given the privilege WP Indigenous people have to disappear into the background of settler society whenever it’s beneficial, it’s a guarantee that the IPOC are going to be targeted way more than their WP cousins.

This over-representation is the direct result of the systemic racism inherent in the power structures in Canada. I will return to this point, but it’s easily demonstrated that the racism and prejudice in existence within institutions like the RCMP and the judicial system are directly responsible for the imprisonment of our people.

It happened so long ago.

Are you talking about food deserts and water scarcity? Food insecurity has been linked to higher rates of obesity due to poor diet quality. Indigenous people are already plagued by the highest rates of poverty in Canada — 25% of Indigenous people to be exact. People who live in poverty tend to purchase high caloric foods to meet the recommended daily intake, but these foods usually have little to no nutritional value. Lack of proper nutrition and obesity have been linked to a variety of diseases, like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and more.

 Indigenous people in Canada are already at a disposition regarding diabetes, cancer, lupus, and thyroid dysfunction. Canada-wide food insecurity affects Indigenous people living off-reserve at a rate of 33%, compared to 9% in non-Native households. Food insecurity among the Arctic Indigenous populations range from 43–70%. Over the last decade, food insecurity has been increasing tremendously, especially among Indigenous people.

Food deserts are also becoming more common — an instance that occurs in low-income, urban areas with limited physical and economic access to healthy and affordable food services. This, coupled with grocery gaps — food retail chains withdrawing from inner cities — leads to low-income families purchasing unhealthy options at a higher price point from convenience stores than if they had access to grocery stores.

Water scarcity is another challenge faced by a large number of Indigenous people in Canada. From 2004–2014, 400 of 618 First Nations communities were put under at least one water advisory. The Neskantaga First Nations community has had a water advisory for the last twenty five years. 

The Human Rights Watch holds the Canadian government responsible for the compensation of the members of the Neskantaga Nation for the cost of evacuating the community, after a water infrastructure failure. Earlier this year the Attawapiskat First Nation declared a state of emergency when trihalomethanes were found in their drinking water. The Eabametoong First Nation has been under a water advisory for 18 years, although they recently had a new water treatment plant implemented and as of August 2019 their 18 year advisory has been lifted.

With climate change steadily threatening water reserves around the world, rural communities and impoverished areas are going to be at the forefront of the climate crisis. These are issues that are going to make the lives of Indigenous people harder as the years progress.

It happened so long ago.

What, the Sixties Scoop? The practice of the Canadian government taking children from their homes and placing them in foster care as yet another means of assimilation? The Sixties Scoop began in the late 1950s and continued well into the 1980s. However, mounting evidence suggests that we are currently in another scoop, being called the Millennium Scoop.

In 2016, Indigenous youth made up more than half of all youth under 14 in the child welfare system in Canada, despite only making up 8% of the youth population. A recent example is ‘baby H’, who — in the summer of this year — was removed from her parents due to charges of neglect only 90 minutes after her mother had a C-section. She has been placed in four different homes despite being only a few months old. There is no evidence of neglect; the only explanation is that her mother is Indigenous and we are under scrutiny everywhere we go – even at our most vulnerable moments.

Earlier this year, in Ontario, 72 Indigenous youth died in the child welfare system. In Saskatchewan, 10,000 of the 11,000 youth in the system are Indigenous. This is yet another example of how state apparatuses function in unison to eradicate Indigeneity in Canada. By forcing Indigenous youth into the homes of non-Natives, the government is successfully removing them from their cultures and languages — it is but another system that functions to continue the genocide of our people.

Furthermore, Canada’s current Prime Minister is actively fighting the compensation of Indigenous youth who have been harmed by the child welfare system. This decision could potentially block billions in compensation to youth victims.

It happened so long ago.

Do you mean the forced sterilization of Indigenous women in Canada? The fact that in 2017, a group of over 60 Indigenous women in BC, AB, and SK came forward claiming that they were forced to accept sterilization before they’d be allowed to see their newborn babies?

In Alberta, the Sexual Sterilization Act was passed in 1928. From 1928 to 1972, sterilizations were performed on over 3000 individuals. In 1937 an amendment was made to allow individuals who were deemed ‘mentally defective’ to undergo sterilizations without consent. 25% of the sterilizations performed were on Indigenous women, despite only making up 2.3% of the population in Alberta at the time. A similar law was passed in British Columbia that also disproportionately targeted Indigenous women.

More than 100 women have come forth to join in a separate class action lawsuit targeting the provincial government of Alberta, claiming they had been forcibly sterilized without their consent.

It should be mentioned that, once again, IPOC are visible targets and outnumber WP Indigenous people as victims of this crime.

It happened so long ago.

Do you mean the murder and kidnapping of Indigenous women across North America? A targeted attack that continues to this day? A slaughter that largely went ignored for years, despite numerous Indigenous people coming forward to share the stories of their loss?

The inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women in Canada ended this summer. There are still no answers, and very little hope for change. All we know is that more than 4000 women have gone missing or been murdered in Canada, and that Indigenous women are 12 times more likely to be murdered or go missing than any other group, and 16 times more likely to be murdered or go missing than white women.

We are still unsafe. Nothing is being done to protect us.

But It all happened so long ago, right? No.

It still affects us to this day.

It is something that has been created by racism, self-interest, and imperialism. It started when colonizers arrived and deemed our way of life the wrong way, and they continue to orchestrate calculated attacks on our cultures, ceremonies, languages, and lives to this day. It is something that serves the Canadian people and their government. It is something that has been fundamentally ingrained in Canadian history and Canadian identity.

The country is built upon land that was stolen from us, and in order for the dominion of Canada to exist, our people had to be oppressed, assimilated, or murdered. Canada is still a relatively young country – it has only existed for a few generations. My grandmothers great-grandmother was born prior to Canada’s confederation. Its history is relatively short and filled with violence, yet most people don’t know the truth.

In fact, Canadians have been told many great lies: that interactions between the colonizers that arrived here and the Indigenous people that lived here were mostly friendly; that Indigenous people were uncivilized heathens; that Indigenous people were violent war-mongers that would scalp you at any chance; that it was a failure on behalf of Indigenous people that they were unable to survive the swath of new diseases brought by the Europeans; that we were ‘merciless savages’ that needed to be eradicated and assimilated — not that we had our own rich cultures, languages, societal structures, houses, agriculture, and beliefs prior to European contact.

So much emphasis has been put on Reconciliation. How are we supposed to reconcile when Canadians haven’t even been told the truth? How are we supposed to move forward when the injustices we face continue to this day?

Land acknowledgements are becoming commonplace, and while it is a good thing to know whose stolen land you are occupying, they often come off as nothing more than non-Natives patting each other on the back for doing The Thing They Are Supposed To. What happens next? What happens beyond the land acknowledgements? Where do we go from here?

If the racism and prejudice Indigenous people face from Canadians isn’t addressed, there will be no hope of moving forward.

If Canadians aren’t willing to educate themselves about the truth of what we have faced, and continue to face, there will be no understanding between us.

If the institutions that disproportionately target Indigenous people, like the RCMP and child welfare system, aren’t investigated and restructured, It is going to continue.

It is something that happens to us, every day, and until It is understood, acknowledged, addressed, and repaired, It will continue to be something we can’t just “get over”, so next time, don’t even ask.

originally published on, 2020, written by bailey macabre

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