Reconciliation aboard the C3: A 'complicated relationship' with Canada 150
From left: Aviaq Johnston, Charlene Bearhead and Jena Merkosak (Omar Sachedina / CTV News)
The C3 Expedition was a signature project to mark Canada's 150th, but for some participants, it's an event they have struggled to celebrate, because for them, the birth of Canada brought on a painful legacy of colonization. Residential schools isolated students, tore them apart from their families, and attempted to erase their sense of identity.
One of the key themes of this journey is reconciliation. It's a big theme to tackle on a 150-day journey. Nor is it an easy one. But based on what I'm seeing here, the goal is to talk about it - not bury it. The desire? To confront it; work through it; recognize that like the Battles of Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele, or the Repatriation of the Constitution, the history of residential schools is an inextricable part of Canada's story.
I asked three people on the ship who are Inuit, or have links to the community, a simple question: What does Canada 150 mean to you? Here's what they told me.
AVIAQ JOHNSTON, 24
Social Service Worker
Nunavut Sivuniksavut College
I have a complicated relationship with Canada 150 because on one hand I am very proud to be Canadian and I love my country, but on the other hand I do think that Canada has a lot of work it needs to do to better its relationship - especially with indigenous people but with all diverse people in our country today.
We say we are a multicultural country and we're plural and all this stuff but it's still very different. So I want to celebrate Canada and I have that pride of celebrating this country because I have that mixed heritage, too. I like to support my father's side of the family. We're proud Irish people, who came from Ireland and immigrated here, but I'm also a proud Inuk who has had the complex history of colonization and assimilation in my family.
So I do celebrate Canada 150 but in more of a way where how can we make our country treat those with less opportunity, with less resources, better.
CHARLENE BEARHEAD, 54
National Education Coordinator
Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls Downie-Wenjack Fund Co-Chair
I'm not even Inuit or First Nation and it's complicated for me and I feel like it should be complicated for all of us.
And I feel like if we all knew -- if we had the benefit of our education of our true collective history it would be complicated for all of us. So for me, Canada 150 -- it is not to say there aren't good things about our country.
There are very good things about this country, but it seems inappropriate to me to be celebrating the last 150 years because first of all it feels like -- it indicates -- it communicates -- that there was nothing before the last 150 years, which is completely inaccurate. It indicates and communicates that all there is to celebrate is the last 150 years, which is actually completely opposite of what the reality is...
For me I think the day we have to celebrate -- truly celebrate -- whatever that year is, is when we can look at ourselves and people know who we are as Canadians...I think we could really be worth celebrating if we're celebrated for the courage that we have to look at ourselves as Canadians, as a country and say we had the courage to acknowledge the wrongs, acknowledge the mistakes, acknowledge the terrible decisions that were made and the treatment of indigenous people in this country and we chose to turn that around.
JENA MERKOSAK, 26,
POND INLET, NU
Pond Inlet Health Centre Summer Student
The number is not very significant for me because Inuit has been in our territory for thousands of years. And so when Canadians celebrate Canada 150... like good for them, good for you, you're celebrating the Confederation of Canada. But for me it's just another Canada Day.
I like how the whole thing has stirred up some conversations amongst Canadians, and we're using this opportunity to educate southern Canadians and urban Canadians who our not quite educated about us.
I'm also learning a lot about my culture, and so when I go back to my roots and I'm talking with my grandmother or my parents, and I when I'm re-learning the traditional way of life -- especially like seal skinning -- it's an example in that for me that feels like I'm decolonizing myself. I'm going back to my own roots rather than going to like the books and reading about how World War 1 and World War 2 was like.
When I'm skinning the fat of the seal, I'm celebrating my ancestors. I'm celebrating and remembering all the hard work that they have done out on the land, with limited resources. But today, I can do it at home on the comfort of my floor with all these resources....When I'm doing that - when I'm practicing that - I'm thinking about my mother, how she taught me, and how my grandmother taught her and then from generation to generation to generation.