Photo by Matty Flader / Photo Reporter
By: Elisa Do, Contributor
Cw: Indigenous genocide
For 140 years and counting, July 1, also known as Canada Day, has been a day where Canadians celebrate their homeland. This is a day where every Instagram story and Facebook newsfeed is flooded with people in red and white, tattoos of the maple leaf flag on their faces and booming fireworks lighting up the sky. But how many of us truly know what we are celebrating? What would we say to someone who asks the question, “What do you love about Canada?” or “What does it mean to be Canadian?”.
For decades, this nation has been plastered with a reputation of being welcoming, loving and even more so polite and righteous. Personally, I have my doubts about what is underneath this mask.
When the topic of Indigenous communities arise in conversations of history, do you picture communities of vibrant colours and peace or do you picture mass genocides and the robbery of land, many of which still continue today? Canada Day is a day to celebrate Canadian identity. But there would be no “Canada” if Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, had not approved residential schools and implemented policies to use starvation as a method of clearing way for Western expansion. We, quite literally, live on the brutality of the past.
A quick search for Canada Day history on the web will give you a refined version of the holiday from Canadian government websites.
One such website is the Canadian Encyclopedia, which proudly states: “Locally organized events sometimes provided opportunities for members of marginalized communities to demonstrate their belonging to Canada … and [on Canada Day] members of Indigenous communities participated in sporting events and musical performances.”
This quote makes me question whether such communities should have to find a sense of “belonging” to a colonized Canada at all.
The same article further proclaims, “Indian agents in some regions allowed members of First Nations communities to be part of local Dominion Day pageants wearing traditional costumes, while others sought to emphasize messages of assimilation and conversion.”
In this one sentence alone, the Canadian Encyclopedia has shown the dominance of the Canadian government, their lack of understanding on Indigenous communities, and the obvious acknowledgment of assimilation. When something as simple as clothing requires permission, when outfits of culture and heritage are deemed as “costumes” and ideas of assimilation are so blatantly stated, how can we continue to glorify our disfigurement of history?
In Daniel Heath Justice’s Why Indigenous Literatures Matter, Justice expands on the significance that colonialism has had on the reduction of Indigenous presence in history: “Colonialism is as much about the symbolic diminishment of Indigenous peoples as the displacement of our physical presence. If there are no more people there can be no more stories; without our stories, we’re reduced as peoples and as individuals.”
In diminishing Indigenous stories, Canada is robbing future generations of a true understanding of Canadian identity. I believe that ignorance of Indigenous stories due to diminishing Indigenous presence is far more terrifying than ignorance of Indigenous stories due to lack of effort put into educating yourself.
Colonialism is a deadly thing. It sits in our roots and lies deep below in the grounds we walk on. We can’t see it. And sometimes, you might not even feel it.
But just because you don’t see or feel it, doesn’t mean it’s not there; and it certainly doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do something about it. In choosing to write this piece I had many doubts, including doubts about myself. I do not identify as a member of any Indigenous communities and so I was worried for my lack of understanding and my ignorance about a community that is not my own.
But I am Canadian. And I do live on land that is not mine to claim. So, with all that I appreciate in Canada, I truly believe it is possible to become prouder Canadians if we first learn to accept and take appropriate actions to mend relationships we cannot afford to lose. So Canada, on July 1 of every year, don’t just celebrate for the sake of celebrating. Identify, recall, and challenge the assumptions laid out in history today.