Canada Day Is Not A Celebration

July 1, 2021

Feminuity Team

Canada Day looks a little different in 2021, with social distancing measures still in place due to COVID-19. What is not different is the urgent need to reconcile Canada’s violent history and contemporary relations with Indigenous peoples. For those who know and live this history, Canada Day is not a day of celebration. Instead, it is a day that represents the ongoing violence against Indigenous peoples. 

If Canada Day looks a little different in 2021, we can also make it mean something different as settlers. 

Canada Day 2021 falls during a pivotal historical moment. Around the world, and especially in the United States of America, we’re witnessing a reckoning response to systemic racism through the Black Lives Matter movement. This has involved calls for police reform, a reevaluation of who is commemorated in public spaces, the removal, banning, and discontinuing of racist symbols, anti-racist education, and, of course, interventions and funding to support Black communities. As well, movements for Indigenous liberation have issued statements in solidarity with Black Lives Matter protests and acknowledged countless parallels in mistreatment and activist aims. 

Let’s build on this global momentum tasking us to engage critically with our past and forge a more equitable future by advocating against the erasure of Indigenous histories and modern-day stories of oppression. To do this, we must unlearn what so many of us have been taught and find ways to integrate these learnings into our Canada Day ‘festivities’ and everyday lives.

Here are some places to start:

Canada’s history is far older than 154 years. 

Indigenous peoples have lived and thrived on this land for over ten thousand years. To suggest that Canada is only 154 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. 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 of zeros to the end of it.” 

The words “Canada” and “North America” are anglicized names for what many communities call 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 – the story of Turtle Island 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. 

The RCMP are known as the ‘enforcers of the colonizers’ due to their mistreatment of Indigenous peoples.

During Canada Day, you may see members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) riding on horses in your communities. Established in 1873, the RCMP was initially 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 made to stop any opposition to its vision of a prosperous colonial state. As authors Brown and Brown wrote in An Unauthorized History of the RCMP, “It (NWMP) was designed to keep order in the North West, to control the Aboriginal and Metis populations, and to facilitate the transfer of Indigenous territory to the federal government with (in theory) minimal bloodshed.” The history of RCMP and Police in the United States have many parallels. 

Teegee, a member of the Takla Lake First Nation near Prince George, says Mounties are known in his community as nilhchuk-in, “those who take us away.” It references the Mounties’ historical role in removing Indigenous children from their homes and placing them in residential schools. The Mounted Police have history in the enforcement of residential schools, 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, mass incarceration, and criminalization of land defenders, for example. 

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 and serve protect us all? Read about the difficult history between RCMP and Indigenous peoples.

There are many socially acceptable terms and practices that are anti-Indigenous. 

There are many words and phrases that are appropriated and erased from their origin and cultural significance to Indigenous peoples. Here are a few examples to take out of your 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 the word "powwow" to describe a meeting/gathering/discussion. Powwows are celebrations of 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 to consider avoiding:

  • Instead of making dreamcatchers, consider buying one from Anishinaabe artists. They are sacred to Anishinaabe culture.
  • Avoid supporting the purchase of cloth “teepees” for kids/pets. This is disrespectful and can trivialize a traditional practice.
  • Don’t wear ‘war paint’ or 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 their marketing, don’t support them.

Here are some things you can do on Canada Day:

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

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

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

4. Advocate for the removal of statues and symbols that commemorate figures that committed significant injustice against Indigenous peoples. For example, many people advocate for removing the Sir John A Macdonald’s statue in Kingston, ON because it glorifies a genocidal colonialist. 

5. Sign these petitions and learn about their impact: 

6. Take one of these online courses:

7. Engage with these videos:

8. Engage with these podcasts:

What is lost during Canada Day is an honest conversation of what this day truly represents for many people. Let Canada Day be an opportunity to centre Indigenous peoples and an invitation to learn.