Jean Becker

Jean Becker is the University of Waterloo’s senior director, Indigenous initiatives. Becker, who is Inuk and a member of the Nunatsiavut Territory of Labrador, has a long track record of building reciprocal relationships between post-secondary institutions and First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities.


Many Canadians were shocked when the Tk'emlúps te Sewépemc First Nation uncovered the remains of 215 Indigenous children at the B.C. residential school and more recently the Cowessess First Nation uncovered 751 unmarked graves near a residential school in Saskatchewan. What are some of the ways people can mark Canada Day?

As an Indigenous person, I would suggest Canadians use the day to reflect on the difficult history of Indigenous/Canadian relations. In 2017 the Director of the Sudbury N'Swakamok Friendship Centre commented in regard to Canada's 150 celebrations, "Frankly we don't have any reason to celebrate. The fact of the matter is that Canada does not celebrate the original people, it celebrates itself.” This statement clearly indicates that for Indigenous people, we have never been included in the development of this country.  

During 100-year celebrations of confederation, an Indigenous perspective was delivered by Chief Dan George at the Vancouver Empire Stadium to 32,000 people on July 1, 1967. He began: "How long have I known you, Oh Canada? A hundred years? Yes, a hundred years. And many, many seelanum more. And today, when you celebrate your hundred years, Oh Canada, I am sad for all the Indian people throughout the land." 

That address remains relevant today and if anyone has not read it they should. It will help Canadians understand unresolved historical and contemporary points of dispute between Indigenous people and Canada. 

In addition to Canada’s residential school system for Indigenous children, what are some of systemic issues that people can research and reflect on during Canada Day and beyond? 

The list is long. A starting point could be the Indian Act of 1867 which established separate laws to govern some Indigenous people that remains in effect today. Canadians could reflect on the treaties across Canada. These are legal, binding documents that cannot be arbitrarily ignored or dispensed with, without the agreement of both parties. The failure to uphold treaties remains a serious impediment to peaceful relations between the original peoples and Canada. Canadians could reflect over the gap in the quality of life between Canadians and Indigenous people in this country, Indian hospitals, modern Indigenous education, Indigenous people and the police and justice system, the Child Welfare system and Indigenous  children, missing and murdered Indigenous women, Indigenous people and the health system among many others.  

Many Canadians are not aware of Indigenous history in Canada. What are some good resources for people to read, view and engage with? 

The internet is a good resource if you use reliable sources and understand where your information is coming from. The many volumes of the Final Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1996) may be daunting due to the sheer volume of information, but is an invaluable resource as is the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (2015) and Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Olive Dickenson's 1992 text Canada's First Nations: A History of Founding People's is an excellent Canadian history told from an Indigenous perspective.  

Tom King's highly readable The Inconvenient Indian is both entertaining and a critical reflection of the history of the relationship between Canada and the United States and Indigenous people in both countries. Maria Campbell's classic 1973 book on her experiences as a Métis woman, Halfbreed was recently re-released with a new foreward by Campbell and includes pages that were withheld by the publisher in the original edition.  

A contemporary Métis story is illustrated in the best selling book From the Ashes written by Waterloo alumnus Jesse Thistle (MA ’16).  Bob Joseph’s 21 Things you may not know about the Indian Act is an excellent primer for understanding that legislation and the impact it continues to have on First Nations people today.  

There is a body of work by an established group of Indigenous authors and playrights who are now our elders in Indigenous literature. Tomson Highway, Lee Maracle, Jeannette Armstrong, Drew Hayden Taylor, Thomas King, Gregory Scofield, Maria Campbell, the late Basil Johnston, and on and on. There are so many resources today that richly illustrate Indigenous experiences in this country, both historic and contemporary, that I think you could devote your life to reading them all. Google Indigenous Canadian authors and you will find more material than you can imagine in every genre from prose to poetry to plays.