Wed. Jun 19th, 2024

Both First Nation peoples and Chinese Canadians are the victims of the mistreatments of the mainstream Canadians and the paternalistic policies of the early Canadian government. Both ethnic groups got their “official apologies” from the state of Canada. However, have apologies established harmony for them in reality? 

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Apologies Do not Automatically Accomplish Reconciliations

For the Canadian Indigenous Peoples, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission states that ending impunity and providing justice for residential school victims are its fundamental objectives. It opens up space for a dialogue without fear of sanction on those who testify and provide information, guiding and inspiring a process of truth and healing. In the case of the Chinese Canadians, Stephen Harper’s government issued a full apology for the Head Tax and Chinese Exclusion Act. For both groups, the Government of Canada’s actions were nevertheless significant steps that enabled the First Nation peoples and Chinese Canadians to move forward as equal and full members of our society. However, I do not want the public to think that reconciliation with the Canadian Indigenous peoples and Chinese Canadians has been “accomplished” because the major players (The government of Canada and major church organizations) are participating in the reconciliation process.

Damages Go Far Beyond Residential School and Head Tax

We need to recognize that the damage to these two ethnic groups goes beyond Residential Schools and Chinese Exclusion Act.

Canadian society as a whole seems unaware of testimony and dialogue by the Truth Reconciliation Commission. Many Canadians believe that “reconciliation” has already happened. However, the “reconciliation process” has not established harmony and reconciliation in reality. The actual reconciliation process should include both sides, the victims and perpetrators. Canada’s Truth Reconciliation Commission fails to accomplish further goals as it does not mandate to have the perpetrators in the reconciliation process. The First Nation victims might testify to the commission, but their speeches mostly only reach the researchers. Meanwhile, our government is still somewhat reluctant to engage with the Indigenous peoples in a meaningful dialogue about what the issues are that are most important. The Canadian government tries to keep the apology and reconciliation within residential schools while keeping other historical injustices away from their agendas. The government seems to remain silent on the Euro-centric idea of land ownership. One “discovers” an empty land and is therefore entitled to possess it. The controversy over lands claims has been ignored. Under those circumstances, the damage of past wrongs remains.

As early as the construction of the Pacific Railway, there was racism and discrimination against the Chinese Canadians. The Chinese workers did blasting and many dangerous tasks they were asked to perform while getting paid less than their white counterparts. Following the railway’s completion, the decrease in the demand for inexpensive labour resulted in the increased Anti-Chinese sentiments. The legislated racism began in Head Tax, which aimed to restrict Chinese immigration. After being victims of heavy tax upon arrival in Canada, the government passed the Chinese Exclusion Act on July 1, 1923, to prohibit all Chinese immigration. Although Harper’s government issued a full apology to Chinese Canadians, the damage will never be completely restored. Many Chinese elders could not forget Canada Day of 1923 because it was a day when the government used “all the legitimate means” to expel the Chinese — A day that shattered many dreams of family reunions and new lives. Many of them still feel unwelcoming because of Canada’s racist exclusion in the past. For this reason, many Chinese Canadians refer to July 1 as “Humiliation Day” and refuse any celebrations.

Conclusion: Justice and Respect are the Keys in Reconciliation

From the experiences of both First Nation peoples and Chinese Canadians, we can see that government apologies have not established complete harmony. While full apologies constitute a significant cornerstone towards reconciliation, these apologies have not brought “true justice and respect” to the victims. The justice goes beyond that of residential schools and the Chinese Exclusion Act. A true reconciliation not only would conciliate the Indigenous and Chinese victims but also would give the proper respect to them for what happened in the past. In other words, a true reconciliation must appease the victims and appreciate what they have pioneered in the development of Canada.

Thus, we must understand and acknowledge that the prosperity of today’s Canada can be linked to efforts of the First Nation peoples and Chinese Canadians: The free land Canadians did not pay for and the inexpensive and exploitable Chinese labour. Both ethnic groups are the “Unsung Heroes” whose lands, resources, and labours are used for the competition of Pacific Railway that linked all provides together and accelerated economy. The Government of Canada needs to acknowledge the building of Canada as a “multicultural effort” by groups of peoples and that all Canadians are all beneficiaries of the pioneers — “Every single ethnic group, not just the English and French Canadians.” All in all, only justice and respect could bring upon reconciliation and establish harmony for the Chinese Canadian and First Nation communities. Canada, both government and society, must pay the proper respect and recognize their efforts in building Canada because this nation owes them for what happened in the past.


Chan, Arlene. “Chinese Head Tax in Canada”. The Canadian Encyclopedia, 03 June 2020, Historica Canada. Accessed 3 September 2021.

Chan, Arlene. “Chinese Immigration Act”. The Canadian Encyclopedia, 07 March 2017, Historica Canada. Accessed 3 September 2021.

Burney, Shehla. Coming to Gum San: The Story of Chinese Canadians. Toronto: Multicultural History Society of Ontario, 1995.

Oh, Victor. “TEN YEARS SINCE CANADA APOLOGIZES FOR THE CHINESE HEAD TAX”. Senate of Canada. 23 June 2016. Accessed 3 September 2021.

James, Matt. “Recognition, Redistribution and Redress: The Case of the “Chinese Head Tax”.” Canadian Journal of Political Science, vol. 37, no. 4, 2004, pp. 883-902.

“Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Statement of Apology”. CBC News Canada. 2008. Accessed 3 September 2021.

Lavallé, Omer. “Canadian Pacific Railway”. The Canadian Encyclopedia, 15 July 2021, Historica Canada. Accessed 3 September 2021.

“Library and Archives Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission Web Archive.” Government of Canada. Library and Archives Canada, 2019, Accessed 3 September 2021.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Canadian Publications From 2013, and Canada. Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future: Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015.

Mittelstedt, Meg. “Touring BC’s ‘Hidden’ History Shared by Chinese and Indigenous People”. The TYEE. 13 October 2014. Accessed 3 September 2021.

Llewellyn, Jennifer. “Bridging the Gap between Truth and Reconciliation: Restorative Justice and the Indian Residential School Truth and Reconciliation Commission” in M. Brant-Castellano, L. Archibald, M. DeGagne, eds. From Truth to Reconciliation: Transforming the Legacy of Residential Schools (Ottawa: Aboriginal Healing Foundation, 2008) 183.

39 thoughts on “Canadian Indigenous People and Chinese Canadians: Have apologies Truly Established Harmony for Them?”
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