Indigenous Calendar July, 2017: Oh, Canada

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Any opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the policies of The Peoples of the World Foundation. Unless otherwise noted, the author and photographer is Dr. Ray Waddington.

Canada is 150 years old today. At least, that's what you'll see, hear and read in the mainstream media. Canada Day will be celebrated by descendants of Europeans who first arrived there hundreds of years earlier. But even that timeframe is nothing compared to the thousands of years that indigenous peoples had lived there beforehand. The land itself is billions of years old.

Many countries have an independence day. They celebrate their country's political independence from a former, colonial ruler; in many cases, like in Canada, that colonial ruler was the United Kingdom. While very few countries are still under colonial rule, independence day celebrations continue to be large, popular events; those in Canada today will be no exception.

Colombia — where this month's photo was taken — has been an independent country for 200 years. It spent the last quarter of those years in a state of civil war. That war made most of the country too dangerous to visit when I was there. I spent time in a small Amazonian town on the Brazilian border — one of few remote communities to be largely spared from the years of conflict. Yet Colombian children like this girl have been largely failed for a whole generation by their government. In the case of Colombia, that has been changing for the past year. Just a few days ago the FARC formally ended their disarmament.

Canada's own record regarding its indigenous (also called First Nations) peoples is hardly stellar. For years there has been an epidemic of violence — including murder — against indigenous women and girls. Different organizations report their own statistics, but the real number of cases could easily be in the thousands. After many years of ignoring the problem, the government agreed to an independent inquiry, which began a few weeks ago. Only a few days ago, the Wapekeka First Nation declared a state of emergency following the suicide of a third pre-teen girl this year. First Nations peoples in Canada are at far greater risk of suicide than the general population.

A hot political debate in Canada today is whether to change two words of the national anthem: from "thy sons" to "of us." It would be the first change since O Canada was adopted as the national anthem. I understand — and agree with — the motivation for gender inclusion. Oh, Canada, I doth stand on guard for thee. And will until thou realizest that changing two words of a song will not make thy country's true sons and daughters feel included enough to celebrate thy birthday.

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