At Kelowna’s Canada Day celebration, conservative leader Andrew Scheer said acknowledging Indigenous people on Canada Day is “obviously very important,” while maintaining that Canada Day is still, nonetheless, a cause for celebration.
“This is a day for everyone to celebrate Canada whether we are Indigenous Canadians, whether our families have been here for multiple generations or if we’ve literally just arrived,” said Scheer.
That opinion may not represent many in the Indigenous community and it certainly did not bode well with Okanagan Indian Band Chief Byron Louis.
“As an individual, I’d say I can’t really support that (statement),” said Louis. “(Sure) it’s something we take as a statutory holiday, but once you start getting deeper as an Aboriginal person, there are bigger issues on celebrating a day that (oppressed our community). It gets a little cloudy.”
Tensions between the government and First Nations rose in 2017 when Canada celebrated its sesquicentennial birthday, with the trendy tag line, “Canada 150.”
Indigenous people raised their voices and created an alternative, opposing campaign called, “Rethink 150: Indigenous Truth”; which encouraged Canadians to consider a different perspective on the extravagant marketing campaign.
Since then, the liberal government, in Louis’ perspective, created momentum for the path to reconciliation; something that he isn’t quite convinced Scheer will carry on if elected prime minister.
“The past Conservative Government was quite negative to our clan,” said Louis, referring to sweeping budget cuts to First Nations communities across Canada.
“Our constitution has the treaty rights right in there and our party has supported a lot of the work in terms of reconciliation,” said Scheer, citing former conservative prime minister Stephen Harper’s “historic apology” for residential schools over 10 years ago.
“It’s one thing to mean (the apology),” Louis responded, “it’s another thing to apologize because (we were) threatening to sue (the conservative party) and had a pretty good case.”
Although Scheer said “there’s a lot of common ground (and) there are some areas that (they’d) like to move forward on,” Indigenous-government relations will be “very positive” if the conservatives take a majority government.
“We don’t know what he’s about,” said Louis, recalling a number of incidents where he felt Scheer reported vague answers about Indigenous rights. “It does concern us.”