Chief Dan George's speech Lament for Confederation on Canada's 100th year "birthday"

From Vancouver Sun

This day in history: July 1, 1967


 This day in history: July 1, 1967


On Canada's 100th birthday, Chief Dan George silenced a crowd of 32,000 with his 'Lament for Confederation' at Empire Stadium.

Photograph by: Glenn Baglo , Vancouver Sun file photo

On Canada's 100th birthday, Chief Dan George silenced a crowd of 32,000 with his "Lament for Confederation" at Empire Stadium. George's mournful speech began with, "Today, when you celebrate your hundred years, oh Canada, I am sad for all the Indian people throughout the land."

George - chief of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, a Coast Salish band in North Vancouver - was also an author, poet and an Academy Award nominated actor. But above all, he was an activist and an influential speaker on the rights of native peoples of North America. Some of this activism may have stemmed from the fact that, at the age of five, George was placed in a residential school where his First Nations language and culture were prohibited. His "Lament for Confederation" - a scathing indictment of the appropriation of native territory by white colonists - was his most famous speech.

What follows is the complete text:

Lament for Confederation

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.

For I have known you when your forests were mine; when they gave me my meat and my clothing. I have known you in your streams and rivers where your fish flashed and danced in the sun, where the waters said 'come, come and eat of my abundance.' I have known you in the freedom of the winds. And my spirit, like the winds, once roamed your good lands.

But in the long hundred years since the white man came, I have seen my freedom disappear like the salmon going mysteriously out to sea. The white man's strange customs, which I could not understand, pressed down upon me until I could no longer breathe.

When I fought to protect my land and my home, I was called a savage. When I neither understood nor welcomed his way of life, I was called lazy. When I tried to rule my people, I was stripped of my authority.

My nation was ignored in your history textbooks - they were little more important in the history of Canada than the buffalo that ranged the plains. I was ridiculed in your plays and motion pictures, and when I drank your fire-water, I got drunk - very, very drunk. And I forgot.

Oh Canada, how can I celebrate with you this Centenary, this hundred years? Shall I thank you for the reserves that are left to me of my beautiful forests? For the canned fish of my rivers? For the loss of my pride and authority, even among my own people? For the lack of my will to fight back? No! I must forget what's past and gone.

Oh God in heaven! Give me back the courage of the olden chiefs. Let me wrestle with my surroundings. Let me again, as in the days of old, dominate my environment. Let me humbly accept this new culture and through it rise up and go on.

Oh God! Like the thunderbird of old I shall rise again out of the sea; I shall grab the instruments of the white man's success-his education, his skills- and with these new tools I shall build my race into the proudest segment of your society.

Before I follow the great chiefs who have gone before us, Oh Canada, I shall see these things come to pass. I shall see our young braves and our chiefs sitting in the houses of law and government, ruling and being ruled by the knowledge and freedoms of our great land.

So shall we shatter the barriers of our isolation. So shall the next hundred years be the greatest in the proud history of our tribes and nations.


From the Globe and Mail

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper smiles while wearing his tradition native head dress after becoming "Chief Speaker" at a Kainai Chieftainship ceremony on the Blood Indian reserve in Stand Off, Alberta, July 11, 2011. (Todd Korol/Reuters)


White people, here's your one-time Canada Day special: Native people apologize back!


Canada Day has always been a mixed bag for Canada's native people. It makes us think of many things: patriotism, flags, sunburned cottagers, barbeques and exploding fireworks. That's the good stuff.

For some, though, it's a reminder that it was four years ago when Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized to the first nations, Inuit and M├ętis inhabitants of this country for the imposition and effects of the infamous residential-school system.

Since then, much has been said and written about that apology: Did it go far enough? Too little too late? What's next? That is something I am afraid only educated, wealthy white men in positions of power can decide.

However, some in the native community feel that perhaps we are being a little lax in not issuing an apology of our own.

We are not without some culpability. In the centuries that have passed since that fateful day of contact, we ourselves have been negligent and irresponsible in not acknowledging our liability in many regretful incidents and events in the past.

So in the spirit of cooperation, I would like to offer up these apologies to the people of Canada on behalf of the NAFNIP (native/aboriginal/first nations/indigenous people):

We hereby apologize for being so inconsiderate as to occupy land that, one day, your people would want. Even though we did not have a postal system or an Internet, this was an inexcusable oversight. We hope you are enjoying it.

We apologize for having so many politically correct and incorrect names for you to call us - everything from native to aboriginal to first nations to wagon burner to status-card number 48759375876-1.

In retrospect, to make things easier for you, we should have stayed in India, where we were originally thought to have come from. Unfortunately today it is really hard to get decent palak paneer on the reserve.

We hereby apologize for not understanding the subtle connections between God, children and sexual abuse. Some are still struggling with appreciating this association.

They are forgetting that, early in the Bible, it says, "Let there be white. And it was good."

We apologize for wanting rights to minerals and other natural resources that exist beneath our feet. When you negotiated for our land, you meant to the Earth's core.

We did not fully comprehend that when we were put on reserves where our rights to the land only went two or three feet below the surface.

Anything that falls down a sewer grate basically belongs to the Federal Government.

We apologize for being so concerned about the disappearances of so many native women.

We did not realize that the professional attitude of most law-enforcement agencies towards this issue was basically "out of sight, out of mind." From now on, we'll report any native women that go missing as white women with dark tans. That should speed up response time.

No need to thank us.

We hereby apologize for straining the Canadian health system due to our propensity towards diseases like diabetes. I know it has been said we put the word "die" in diabetes, but being introduced to all that Kraft Dinner and potato chips was definitely worth giving up the steady diet of salmon and deer.

I am sure the vegetarians are happy.

We apologize for launching so many land claims against the federal and provincial governments. One of our most ancient teachings tells us it is our sacred responsibility to make sure as many lawyers as possible are fed and looked after.

Where would they be without us?

We hereby apologize for wanting autonomy from the Federal bureaucracy of the DIA (Department of Indian Affairs). ... Wait a minute, make that DIAND (Department of Indian and Northern Development). ... Sorry, but I think it's now called INAC (Indian and Northern Affairs Canada). ... No, I have just been informed the Ministry's official name is now AANDC - short for Aboriginal Affairs Northern Development Canada. ... Now I forget what my original point was.

And though it had nothing to do with us, we are sorry for obvious reasons for the unique acronym of a once-testy office known as the Government of Ontario Native Affairs Directorate.

Finally, and perhaps most of all, we apologize for helping Canada/Great Britain win the War of 1812 against the Americans. There are many in the native community who feel Barack Obama would be a far more interesting leader than Mr. Harper.

But in our defence, who could have guessed?

Drew Hayden Taylor is a playwright and filmmaker who lives on the Curve Lake First Nation in Central Ontario.