Aerial shot of Toronto

Canada Day Is Not A Celebration

Feminuity Team

In May 2021, 215 unmarked graves were found near the Kamloops Indian Residential School. This discovery sparked increased media attention on residential schools and the historic and ongoing practices of settler-colonialism in Canada. What followed the Kamloops discovery were hundreds more unmarked graves around Canada, and these discoveries have not stopped. This past April, 40 unmarked graves were discovered near the former St. Augustine’s Residential School in B.C. For many, this information is not new. The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation’s Memorial Register conservatively estimated that 4,130 children died in the residential school system. While this issue is not currently dominating the news cycle, understanding the history and current realities of Indigenous peoples in Canada is more important than ever, especially as we think about Canada Day. For many who understand the violence of “Canadian" History, Canada Day is not celebratory and full of festivities - it is a time for mourning, reflection, learning, unlearning, and reconciliation. Let's review some essential learnings and actionable items.

Canada’s History Is Far Older Than 156 Years

Indigenous peoples have lived and thrived on this land for over ten thousand years. To suggest that Canada is only 156 years old is to erase the rich history of the people living on the land before us. In fact, the history of civilization on this land spans back 14,000 years. During the particularly elevated Canada 150 celebrations just a few years ago, Inuk filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, said, “Every single time I see a Canada 150 logo, I want to take a Sharpie and add a couple of zeros to the end of it.” 

“Canada” and “North America” Are Anglicized Names For Turtle Island 

Settlers’ renaming of Turtle Island to North America reflects the anglicization 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 do), the story of Turtle Island exists in many Indigenous oral traditions. It is a creation story that tells how this land we inhabit came to be. 

The RCMP Are Known As The “Enforcers of The Colonizers” Due To Their Mistreatment of Indigenous Peoples

During Canada Day, you may notice members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) riding on horses in your communities. Established in 1873, the RCMP was known as the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP). The NWMP was created to advance the agenda of the newly established Dominion of Canada. In other words, it was founded to stop opposition to its ideal of a prosperous colonial state. As authors Brown and Brown wrote in An Unauthorized History of the RCMP, “It was designed to keep order in the North West, to control the Aboriginal and Métis populations, and to facilitate the transfer of Indigenous territory to the federal government with (in theory) minimal bloodshed.” 

Teegee, a Takla Lake First Nation member near Prince George, says Mounties are known in his community as nilhchuk-in, “those who take us away.” It references the Mounties’ part in removing Indigenous children from their homes and placing them in residential schools. The Mounted Police have a history in the enforcement of residential schools, the erasure of Indigenous languages, and the Sixties Scoop. They continue to play a role in the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous women, girls, and Two-spirit people, the “Millenium Scoop,” mass incarceration, and criminalization of land defenders. 

Thinking critically about the RCMP and learning about their history prompts us to ask hard questions. Such as, do the systems we claim to protect serve us all? Read about the difficult history between RCMP and Indigenous peoples.

There Are Many Socially Acceptable Terms and Practices That Are Anti-Indigenous 

The history of residential schools, the origin of the RCMP, and the erasure of Indigenous existence are not a “thing of the past.” On the contrary, their legacy continues to inflict harm on and oppress Indigenous Peoples in small and large ways, such as how we speak or act. Here are a few examples for settlers to take out of their vocabulary:

  • Avoid calling things your “spirit animal.” The use of “spirit animal” in popular culture infantilizes and patronizes a long-standing Indigenous belief system. 
  • Thinking about picking up bridesmaid sashes that say, “Bride Tribe?” Maybe rethink that one. Using the word “tribe” in this way trivializes Indigenous tribe affiliations. 
  • Correct people (or yourself) when using "powwow" to describe a meeting, gathering, or discussion. Powwows celebrate Indigenous cultures, including dance, food, art, music, etc.
  • Instead of using the term “Indian,” use Indigenous, Native, or First Nations, depending on the people you refer to; learn why this is important and more ways you can be an ally towards the Indigenous peoples.

What we support and how we spend our time can have implications. So, here are some actions for settlers to consider avoiding:

  • Instead of making dreamcatchers, consider buying one from Anishinaabe artists. They are sacred to the Anishinaabe culture.
  • Avoid supporting the purchase of cloth “teepees” for kids or pets. This is disrespectful and can trivialize a traditional practice.
  • Don’t wear “war paint,” put feathers in your hair, or dress up as “Native people.” This is cultural appropriation.
  • Consider refraining from supporting sports teams that use racist terms, logos, and “Indian mascots.” These commodify and dehumanize Indigenous peoples.
  • Be critical and reflect on where you spend your money. For example, if a company or business reinforces Indigenous stereotypes through marketing, don’t support them.
  • Consider avoiding participating in “smudging.” Due to this practice becoming trendy, white sage is overharvested, and Indigenous communities are often unable to access it.  

Here Are Some Things We Encourage You To Do On Canada Day

Settlers acting in solidarity with Indigenous Peoples on Canada Day is about more than just avoiding certain words or practices. It’s also about taking an active role in learning.

Learn About Whose Land You Are On 📍

Learn about the lands you are on, the history and culture of those people, and any inequalities or injustices that they are experiencing. 

Have A Conversation 💬

Have a conversation with a fellow settler and acknowledge the complicated feelings around benefitting from colonial structures.

Google #MMIW

Google #MMIW (murdered and missing Indigenous women). Indigenous women are more likely to experience sexual violence than women of any other demographic.

Avoid Fireworks 🧨

Instead of buying fireworks, consider supporting:

Read The Truth & Reconciliation Report 📃

Read the Truth and Reconciliation report from 2015. It has 94 calls to action of which only 13 have been completed. 

Google Two-Spirit

Heteronormativity and archetypal gender roles are post-colonial. Avoid enforcing your ideas of gender and sexuality onto other cultures. Start by Googling “two-spirit.”

Be Public About Your Solidarity

Be public about your solidarity. The more non-Indigenous people who are vocal about their solidarity with Indigenous peoples, the more momentum there will be. Use #SettlersTakeAction to help start a movement.

Amplify and Engage with Indigenous Voices 📣

Amplify and engage with Indigenous voices on social media, such as: 

Advocate For The Removal of Hateful Statues and Symbols

Advocate for the removal of statues and symbols that commemorate figures who committed significant injustice against Indigenous peoples. For example, in June of 2021, the statue of Sir John A. Macdonald in Kingston was taken down and put into storage after 12 days of protests against the glorification of a genocidal colonialist. 

Wear Orange 🧡

Wear orange or black in solidarity with the Every Child Matters campaign.

Sign Petitions 📋

Sign these petitions and learn about their impact: 

Take A Course

Engage with These Videos

Read These Books

Engage with These Podcasts

Repurposing Canada Day is not anti-Canadian. Changing the way we observe Canada Day to be more aligned with the values our country is proud of is an act of love toward our nation. While it’s true that we can’t change the past, we can change the future and make a new normal for Indigenous peoples in Canada. It’s on all of us. 🧡

Important Note

This blog is not meant to be a static guide, but rather a compilation and reflection of our learnings to date. Everything changes - from technologies and innovations to social norms, cultures, languages, and more. We’ll continue to update this blog with your feedback; email us at with suggestions.

About the Author

This resource was written collaboratively by members of the Feminuity team.

Give Credit Where Credit's Due

If you wish to reference this work, please use the following citation:

Feminuity. "Canada Day Is Not A Celebration"