Photo above: Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada (1996)
In Canada, many unresolved issues regarding our First Nations, including broken land treaties, uneven distribution of resources, and the aftermath of socio-economic problems from residential school policies, to name a few, demand awareness and the effort of all Canadians (indigenous and not) to work towards fair and respectful solutions. The recent searches that have uncovered hundreds of unmarked graves at residential schools in the provinces of British Columbia and Saskatchewan, have fuelled the need to re-assess the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s findings and call for action by the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. Although sadly not surprising, it was still a shock to learn that all those children died and, for so many years, their families never recovered their bodies or had closure. Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde posted on Twitter: “I urge all Canadians to stand with First Nations in this extremely difficult and emotional time”; we join in prayer that these findings, as painful as they are, will allow true healing to begin, and ultimately allay some of the pain, towards real reconciliation.
In the cosmopolitan context of modern-day Canada, many see the country as a cultural melting pot, but Canadians still prefer the model of a cultural mosaic, in which each tile (culture) has a defined place in the scene, forming something more than the fusion of all parts in a cauldron; First Nations should play a central part in this image. To acknowledge the First Nations as the original inhabitants of this land, we have to go no further than to remember that even the country’s name has an indigenous origin, coming directly from the Saint-Lawrence Iroquoian word kanata or canada, meaning “settlement”, “village” or simply “land.” The name was adopted by settlers since the foundation of the first French Colony of Canada, and later used to name the British Colonies of Upper Canada and Lower Canada, which preserved the name, after their amalgamation in 1841, to become the Province of Canada. On July 1st 1867, four provinces united to form The Dominion of Canada. Finally, on July 1, 1982, the Constitution Act enacted the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom, and July 1, known until then as “Dominion Day”, was recognized in parliament as “Canada Day.”
FUN FACT: Although back in 1867, delegates from the provinces spent little time debating before choosing Canada as the name of the newly formed Dominion, there were many other proposals, including: 1) Borealia – from the Latin borealis – “Northern”, in contrast to Australia, from australis – “Southern”, 2) Tupona – from “The United Provinces of North America”, and 3) Ursalia – “Place of Bears”.
FUN GAME: What would Mexico be called if the Spaniards had chosen native words for “town” or “village”? I offer: 1) Altepec – from the Nahuatl “altepetl” – meaning community or town, from the roots atl – water and tepetl – hill, natural features that could have been desirable for a settlement, 2) Noja – from the Mayan “Noj” – a statehood, city or town, or 3) Daninia – from the Otomi word “dähnini” – town.