Today marks another Canada Day, and much like the rest of the country, most of our 33 designated communities will be celebrating the birth of Canada in one form or another.
Pancake breakfasts, parades large and small, softball games, musical performances, ceremonial drum dances, and fireworks will all bring out Northerners in their communities today in the name of the one thing that we all still share — Canadian citizenship.
It will be a joyous occasion and a chance for people from all backgrounds and ethnicities to share the moment with other Canadians. And there is much to celebrate this year. Canada has continued to show, year after year, dominance in quality of life surveys, in human development indices covering education, political stability, gender equality and environmental stability and health and wellness.
In areas such as arts, culture and sport, Canada has exploded in recent years given how our international pop musicians have consistently been among the top on the Billboard charts, for example, and our athletes topping major sporting competitions — among them the Toronto Raptors taking the 2019 National Basketball Association championship.
Still, it is worth remembering that in the North the experience within Confederation is a unique one. It has been less straightforward in its historical narrative, and at times has been contentious. Much of Canada’s success has often been masked by the unequal reality of the North.
The Northwest Territories — all 1,144,000 square km of it, with just more than 44,000 people — is often an afterthought within Canadian Confederation. If it can be found on a map by southern Canadians at all, the territory is often considered an exception to the understanding of what is Canada and who Canadians are believed to be – namely Eurocentric residents in urbanized, pluralized, population-rich, interconnected cities, towns and villages huddled close to the U.S. border.
But our territories deserve much more attention and consideration as a part of the overall Canadian experience and how Canada imagines itself as an ideal nation-state. A little more than half of the population is Indigenous and, other than Nunavut, represents the highest proportion of people with First Nations, Inuit or Metis background than in any Canadian jurisdiction. In the North, it is clear there is a much different experience. Many communities are non-tax based, are powered almost exclusively on diesel and face exorbitant costs to everyday items like groceries and transportation that no southern Canadian would tolerate.
That reality has brought challenges over the years for Northerners to attain the same levels of success enjoyed in other areas of the country. The wealth of resources and natural landscapes remain endless and pristine and much of this is due to the pride and self-determined approach that Indigenous governments have increasingly taken with the land over the years. But a lack of infrastructure has often made it difficult for Northerners to access resources to build communities, create wealth and happiness and an overall good quality of life.
The after effects of colonialism, much of which is beginning to be discussed in the North with the recent Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls report and the Truth and Reconciliation report have begun to include Northern cultures, languages and experiences into the overall Canadian experience.
The loyalty and commitment that is shown in our celebrations across the territory today, come with the hope that the North can continue to look to the rest of Canada for support in years to come. For decades, the country has been building the infrastructure needed to support the quality of life seen in much of southern Canada. Highways, railways, skyscrapers, power stations and major housing developments have exploded in the south to complement much of its successes.
Projects that are on the table in the North, including the Slave Geological highway corridor, the Mackenzie Valley Highway, the Taltson hydroelectric dam, an eventual Arctic deep water port, and other upgrades to communities, are specifically tied to this relationship and the North’s development and success. The North needs these things to succeed and help from other Canadians to ensure it. We can’t afford to wait any longer.
On that note, we wish everyone throughout the NWT and Canada a Happy Canada Day.