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Cancel culture nothing new to Dene, Metis, Inuvialuit people

Had an interesting end to a telephone call just before July 1. It was a ‘business’ call, so there was some ‘business’ protocol at play - cordial tone but focused and respectful.
Katlo’deechee First Nation drummers Fred Martel, left, Joe Tambour and Vince Fabian perform July 1. Photo courtesy of Aaron Tambour

Had an interesting end to a telephone call just before July 1. It was a ‘business’ call, so there was some ‘business’ protocol at play - cordial tone but focused and respectful.

In the ending banter as the allotted time ran out, a weary dissatisfaction was expressed over the growing cancellations of Canada Day celebrations, ‘cancel culture’ in general.

“You know the greatest cancel culture of all?” they asked rhetorically, answering: “China.”

I didn’t comment on that statement. I did think about it though, all through Canada Day.

I too have a personal problem with ‘cancel culture’, just as I do with ‘political correctness’. In both cases, I am under pressure to change my thinking, always a painful exercise - Black Lives Matter, Me Too, LGBTQ2DS+, and closer to home if not in it, Indigenous rights and non-Indigenous wrongs. The history and existence for these Canadians all lives outside the experience of too many of our fellow Canadians, mainly the ones who want to mark Canada Day with only fireworks and music.

But where is there to go for moral shelter and still acknowledge the facts? Do we pretend all the people demanding justice and respect are making it up? If the facts of past injustice cannot be denied by a rational mind, then how far can one go to deny those past injustices that came with and still have lasting consequences?

Worse, the ‘numbers’ close the door on denial. One group of our people, according to government spreadsheets, are dying young, are often jobless, poorly housed, unjustly profiled past and present. So different from much healthier statistics enjoyed by the Northerner ruling class.

I know that person on my call was thinking about the facts of life in China for people on the wrong side of that ruling class. I did some research. This might be an example, quoted from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s (ASPI) International Cyber Policy Centre: The Chinese government has embarked on a systematic campaign to rewrite the cultural heritage of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in northwest China by desecrating or “rectifying” mosques and indigenous sacred sites.

There are 10 million Uyghurs and tens of thousands of them have been taken from their families to be ‘re-educated’ in hundreds of internment camps, according to the BBC. Let’s not forget the two innocent Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor being held in Chinese jail cells for two and a half years, pawns in a brutal (for two Canadians), cynical game of politics and trade.

Again, those internment camps sound too much like our Canadian residential schools. Canadian children were targeted rather than Uyghur adults, hardly a redeeming difference.

Of the people and their descendants of those forced into residential schools, too many are still denied equal education, too many trapped in NWT jails. And when it comes to cancel culture, these same people know all about that. Their land rights were canceled, language and culture canceled, economy canceled, parental rights canceled, human rights canceled, history canceled, until now.

So I learn and squirm while statues get pulled down, marchers take to the streets, workplace rules and human rights laws change as the Black Lives Matter, Me Too, LGBTQ2DS+ communities make their cases. I am prepared and welcome a sweep of revived names reflecting Dene, Metis, Inuvialuit history and connections to the land, from the Mackenzie to Great Slave Lake and everywhere else. There are too many irrelevant, indefensible place names unconnected to the people born there.

I love Canada, as does my colleague. Yes Canada Day 2021 was hurt by the growing number of Indigenous bodies found in mass graves, a wholly different level of pain for those families.

I don’t remember what I did for Canada Day 2020 or all the ones before. I will remember this one. A people thoughtful enough to alter — not cancel Canada Day — is what makes Canada a reachable beacon of health, happiness and humanity. Why not lead the way in the North?