Are you celebrating Canada Day this year? This is a question that has been asked a lot lately as we continue to navigate what it means to get “out of” Canada. Faced with evidence of the dark chapters in our colonial history, we must now determine whether Canadian identity is worth celebrating.
My family and I will celebrate Canada today, July 1, as we do every other day. This may come as a surprise based on who I am: an indigenous female leader, scholar and mother. This is indeed a controversial statement – especially after the discovery of unmarked graves in residential schools last summer, and I understand why many have canceled Canada Day celebrations.
This is not a decision I took lightly, but one I made after talking to the elderly, my children, my community – and it is in no way intended to be normative. I consider myself a native realist, never a native apologist. Simply put, I’m not here to justify or appease a privileged audience. I understand the ugly truths of Canada and I believe in fighting for social justice and finding a way forward together for our children and grandchildren – for the next seven generations.
Canada Day can be an opportunity to tell the truth: to share our tragic history (and sit in an awkward place). After all, reconciliation is only half the work that we as Canadians have to do, and rightly the second half. I consider it an essential part of my job as an Anishinaabe Kwe and parent to create a place where all children can thrive and build a Canada for them to celebrate.
How do we find our way forward? This journey begins with understanding our shared past.
Many of us are familiar with the Heritage Moment commercials of the 1990s and the exchange between an explorer and an indigenous man, who points to the land and says it is called ‘Kannada’. Though he points to the village, this historical misunderstanding creates an important idea.
What if we started rooting our celebration of Canada Day, and every day, in understanding our connection to the country? In many ways, my family is not celebrating the birth of Canada, but a stronger belief that precedes the concept of Canada’s “Confederation Rule.” Celebrating the land that has supported Indigenous people, non-Indigenous people – all of us – is an excellent place to start.
This celebration of “Canada” goes beyond the superficial; past “birth” days with flags, face painting and cakes with maple leaves. We are celebrating something much older and more powerful.
In no way am I suggesting an erasure of the harrowing dark chapters with which my people – the original people of this country – have had to deal.
This creates an opportunity for us to reexamine the original vision of our nation. Looking back on original treaties, including the Royal Proclamation, and honoring the original vision of our ancestors to share this land in a good way with good mind and heart and good humor. If we can shed light on those original beliefs, this will be a very different conversation.
In no way am I suggesting an erasure of the harrowing dark chapters with which my people – the original people of this country – have had to deal. The inconvenient truths about the attempted destruction of our cultures, languages and histories, and the discrimination and violence over hundreds of years of colonization, must be fully understood before we can move forward together.
So where do we start our celebrations on July 1? We can start by honoring the land – which my family will do with a smudge and sunrise ceremony. Use this as a moment to find out whose territory you stand on, what treaties govern this country, and who the original signatories were.
Purcell: There’s nothing to celebrate on ‘Canada Day’ if there’s no responsibility for indigenous peoples
Boswell: Canada’s flag has been through a lot, so wave it proudly on July 1st
I remember conversations with my grandmother about “Canada’s post-colonial era” – where she laughed and said, “Wait? Did I miss it? While Canada’s colonial origins linger, we are at a time when we can and should commit to for building a better Canada, a country based on social justice that allows all people to not only survive but truly thrive.If we want to celebrate Canada as a country of opportunity and a defender of human rights, everyone must have access have to those opportunities, and we all have a part to play. We’re not there yet. Canada’s original vision is one that needs to be revived for all of our children, grandchildren, and the next seven generations.
Dawn Lavell-Harvard is the director of the First Peoples House of Learning at Trent University in Peterborough. She is a proud member of the Wiikwemkoong First Nation, on Manitoulin Island, the first Aboriginal Trudeau Scholar, and past president of the Ontario Native Women’s Association.