Let's Make Canada Day a Day for Learning: 5 Things To Know

by Amy Ge, Associate (Feminuity)

 
Image of Lake Louise with boats in the water
 
 

For most, Canada Day invokes images of backyard barbeques, weekend getaways to the cottage, and spending time with family and friends to celebrate our country. What is lost during this holiday, however, is an honest conversation of what this day truly represents. Instead, this Canada Day can be an opportunity to centre Indigenous peoples and learn about their experiences in this country. 

Here are some things to remember during July 1st:

1. Canada’s history is far older than 152 years. 

Indigenous bands have lived and thrived on this land for over ten thousand years. To suggest that Canada is only 152 years old is to erase the rich history of the peoples who lived on the land before us. As Inuk filmmaker, Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, says, “Every single time I see a Canada 150 logo I want to take a Sharpie and add a couple zeros to the end of it.” 

2. The words “Canada” and “North America” are anglicized names for what many communities call Turtle Island. 

Settlers’ renaming of Turtle Island to North America is reflective of the white-washing of our country’s origins. While Indigenous communities are not all the same – their cultures, languages, and ways of life differ as much as countries – the story of Turtle Island is one that exists in many Indigenous oral traditions. It is a creation story that tells the tale of how this land we currently inhabit came to be. 

For example, in certain Ojibwe versions, Turtle Island came into existence after the Creator instigated a great flood that submerged the Earth. The Creator wanted to cleanse the world of feuding peoples in order to start life anew. The animals that survived the flood – the loon, the muskrat, and the turtle – were asked to swim deep beneath the water to gather soil that could be used to recreate the world. Every animal attempted the dangerous dive, but only the muskrat succeeded and lost his life in the process. Nanabush, a supernatural being who has the power to create life in others, then took the soil from the muskrat’s palm. He used it to form a new Earth on top of the turtle, who offered his back as a foundation. This is how the land we live on came to be known as Turtle Island.

3. Most communities still lack clean drinking water and internet connectivity.

Two years ago, the Canadian government allocated half a billion dollars to celebrate Canada’s “150th birthday”. The funds were apportioned for festivities such as a re-enactment of the 1967 Centennial Canoe Race and securing a performance from Bono and The Edge (of the band U2). Meanwhile, people of communities such as Lytton First Nation in British Columbia were, and still are, experiencing a distressing lack of clean water. Residents can’t drink their tap water without boiling it first or else they will fall ill with diarrhea and vomiting. Despite touting ourselves as a “privileged” country, many Indigenous communities across Canada are subjected to contaminated water, water inaccessibility, or risk due to faulty treatment systems.

Along with poor infrastructure, many Indigenous communities have no access to Wi-Fi or internet connection. A stable internet connection opens infinite possibilities for knowledge gathering and sharing, collaboration, and exploration. In our increasingly connected world, the right to internet access is undeniably a human right because it is intrinsically tied to the freedom of expression. The unequal access to the internet in this country is partially why Indigenous peoples, who are 3.9 percent of the population, represent only 1.4 percent of all individuals with post-secondary STEM credentials. While governments have pledged money again and again to address these issues, the problems remain harrowing.

4. Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people face disproportionately high rates of violence.

Our nation is facing a tragedy of epic proportions. Violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people (Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual) is shockingly high. Indigenous women 15 years and older are 3.5 times more likely to experience violence than non-Indigenous women. Not only is violence against this group more frequent, but it is also more severe. Between 1997 and 2000, the homicide rate for Indigenous women was nearly seven times higher than the rate for non-Indigenous women. Indigenous women’s groups have documented the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women between 1980 and 2012 to be over 4,000. This is a crisis that continues to afflict Indigenous communities as this type of racialized and gender-based violence is often under-reported or subjected to the inadequate inquiry by law enforcement.

5. Indigenous peoples continue to demonstrate resilience and resistance.

Despite our country’s tumultuous history and on-going agenda of colonialism and genocide, Indigenous peoples continue to demonstrate remarkable leadership and ingenuity in their resistance efforts. Indigenous activism has spearheaded many efforts to bring awareness and solutions to issues that the government or public have failed to rectify. 

For this July 1st, consider supporting some of these organizations who are doing phenomenal work:

Families of Sisters in Spirit (FSIS) is a volunteer, grassroots, anti-colonial, self-determined organization led by families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. With the support of Indigenous and non-Indigenous allies, FSIS is dedicated to documenting the crisis of violence affecting Indigenous women and girls in Canada and working towards a solution.

Walking With Our Sisters is a massive commemorative art installation comprised of 1,763+ pairs of moccasin vamps (tops) and 108 pairs of children’s vamps created and donated by hundreds of caring and concerned individuals to draw attention to this injustice. 

Idle No More (INM) is one of the largest Indigenous movements in Canadian history and hardly needs an introduction. They have been the facilitators of hundreds of teach-ins, rallies, and protests across Turtle Island and beyond. As part of their vision, INM “calls on all people to join in a peaceful revolution, to honour Indigenous sovereignty, and to protect the land and water”.

Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) builds the capacity of Indigenous communities and tribal governments to develop mechanisms to protect our sacred sites, land, water, air, natural resources, the health of both our people and all living things, and to build economically sustainable communities.

The Native Youth Sexual Health Network (NYSHN) is an organization by and for Indigenous youth that works across issues of sexual and reproductive health, rights and justice throughout the United States and Canada. 

Centre for Indigenous Innovation & Technology (CIIT) is founded by Jarret Leaman and seeks to provide a space to work with various partners to gain a better understanding of Indigenous impact on the Canadian Technology and Innovation sector. Its goal is to combine technical and social innovation to increase better social outcomes for Indigenous peoples and communities.

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It is important to remember the words of Commissioner Qajaq Robinson who said, “The holiday is problematic when it only reflects a palatable history of the country. But it doesn’t mean non-Indigenous people opt out because they feel ashamed.” The Nunavut born commissioner added, “I don’t think it accomplishes much if we bow our heads in shame and hide in our living rooms”.

We still have the right to be proud of our country and celebrate the connection we have as collective inhabitants of it. But we can’t ignore our country’s dark past, and in many respects, its present. Only when we’ve accepted this stark truth that we can begin to heal, reconcile, and create solutions. Only then can we become a country worthy of the grand praise this nation receives every year on Canada Day. 

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Feminuity Team