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Why I am not celebrating Canada Day today…

Textured orange map of so called Canada
July 1, 2021

**TRIGGER WARNING** - This post discusses colonial violence, residential schools

With renewed calls to #CancelCanadaDay resounding across the country, some of West Coast’s team members shared their reflections this July 1st.


 

Today, I am sitting with the hard truth of Canada’s colonial past, and present, and mourning the enduring harms experienced by the people and the land. Without squarely facing these truths, I do not believe justice is possible. Grounded as it is in outdated and racist doctrines such as the doctrine of discovery, celebration of Canada’s asserted sovereignty over these lands can be a bitter pill to swallow.

But there is better medicine! This July 1st, I am taking time for reflection, to grieve, to be with family, and to feel the earth, the ocean and the wind, knowing that as humans we are part of an interconnected whole larger than ourselves. This truth allows me to dream that healing, and justice, may be possible.

- Jessica Clogg, Executive Director & Senior Counsel

 

Yesterday we learned of another 182 unmarked graves in Cranbrook. I won’t celebrate genocide (or colonialism or land theft) on this or any July 1st.

Instead of picnics, parties and fireworks, I’m planning a day of mourning and reflection, and doing my best to continue learning and practising Kwak’wala, the beautiful Indigenous language that licked my mother’s tongue before she was forced to learn English.

In Kwak’wala, children are our ḵ̓wa̱la'yu, our 'reason for living.' Can you imagine having your reason for living forcefully taken from you? Can you imagine the ongoing and generational grief when those children never returned?

As Kwakwaka’wakw people, when a tragedy happens in our communities, we stop to acknowledge loss. Potlatches that may have been planned for a year or more are postponed, as are meetings, feasts and gatherings. We stop out of respect to grieve and mourn, to pay attention.

I encourage others to join us in paying attention to the profound grief being experienced by Indigenous peoples, to work together to take compassionate action.

- Maxine Hayman Matilpi, RELAW Program Lead

 

I woke up this morning to a grey and smoked filled sky. A vivid reminder of how powerful mother nature can be. Rather than celebrating Canada, I will take time to grieve for Mother Earth and all that she has endured. I will pray for rain and send my thoughts to the Nlaka'pamux and Shuswap communities currently effected by the wildfires. The families and individuals in Lytton are in my thoughts and prayers as well as the children who were (and are still being) found at the residential schools across the country.

This is a painful time for Indigenous communities and so many of us are in mourning. The last thing I am thinking about is celebrating Canada, but I do feel called, to remember the story of Turtle Island and the beautiful resilience of our Indigenous communities and all the spirited beings that we share this earth with. The water, the trees, the animals, the insects, the water beings, the plants that grow above and below the ground. I will take time today to give thanks to my ancestors and honour the future generations who will inherit this land.

- Shelby Lindley, Staff Lawyer

 

I am the first generation in my family that was not forced to attend residential school. I grew up and currently live on an Indian reserve. Under Canadian law, I am an Indian under the Indian Act – an Act that has outlawed our cultural and legal processes, prevented us from hiring or becoming lawyers, forced us to attend residential schools, and denied us the most basic of human rights (the right to vote, leave the reserve, or pursue education without losing status), while opening our territories up for settlement and resource extraction. An Act, along with others, that continues to interfere with our rights to be as Creator intended us to be – ku us – human beings endowed with relationships and responsibilities within our territories.

On Canada Day, I will reflect on what it means to be ku us in this country and focus on ways to ensure my two-year-old daughter grows up proud to be ku us, and proud to be herself within a country that has tried to do away with everything that makes us who we are.

- Estella White, Staff Lawyer

 

I personally do not celebrate Canada day, however this year it felt important to be in community if there was an opportunity to do so in a good way, both for collective grieving and reflection on the harms that have been inflicted on Indigenous peoples (as well as others) in building the state of Canada, but also to affirm the care and compassion that exists within our communities because I feel that will be so necessary as a foundation to learn and grow towards something better.

I plan to attend “A Day of Reflection” hosted by various local organizations on Cas Yikh territory of the Gidimt’en Clan, Witsuwit’en Nation in Smithers, which is described as an event to “hold space for the truth and pain currently being felt in our community and beyond… [to] honour the many children who were taken and never came home, residential school survivors and their families through education, dialogue and reflection” and “to acknowledge, recognize and reflect on what it means to live together”.

- Gavin Smith, Staff Lawyer

 

July 1st is a complex day for me and my family. My great grandfather and grandfather arrived in “the Dominion of Canada” in the early 1900s and paid the $500 for the Chinese Head Tax. ($500 was the price of a new house in Vancouver at the time). Only one month after my grandfather arrived in May 1923, the head tax era ended, and was replaced by the Chinese Immigration Act, also known as the Chinese Exclusion Act, which banned almost all migration from China to Canada. The Exclusion Act came into force on July 1, 1923, a date that is also known as “humiliation day” amongst Chinese Canadians. The Exclusion Act forced the separation of my family and many others for decades. While the Act was repealed in 1947, some immigration restrictions on the basis of race and national origin remained in effect until 1967.

July 1st is also my mom’s birthday. She and my grandmother were able to join my grandfather in Vancouver in 1951, when my mother was two years old. So we have always celebrated my mom on July 1st, while remembering that immigration laws grounded in the ideology of white supremacy caused pain, separation and hardship for our community.

This year, we will be celebrating mom’s birthday with the first family gathering in 18 months. I will hug my little nieces and grieve the loss of the children whose remains continue to be confirmed at residential school sites across Canada.

- Eugene Kung, Staff Lawyer

 

This year I’m choosing again not to celebrate “Canada Day.” Instead, I will gather with a small group of colleagues and friends to collectively vision towards a truly just, equitable, and healthy society including all beings in that vision. What could it look like? Feel like? What needs to change to get there? Then, I’ll make commitments to my Self, my family, my community, and the land to find ways to live that future now. And then…a swim! With an abundance of gratitude to the cool waters around us.

- Georgia Lloyd-Smith, Staff Lawyer

 

For me, July 1st is an important day to continue in the process of learning and absorbing the truth about the harm Canada has inflicted upon Indigenous peoples – in the past, and to this day. It’s also a time to consider the actions that each and every one of us can take to start undoing this harm.  

Instead of celebrating colonialism today, I’ll be reading, watching and listening to Indigenous voices, sharing in the grief, and connecting with the land and water that I’m so grateful to be surrounded by here on xʷməθkʷəy̓əm, Skwxwú7mesh and səl̓ilwətaʔɬ territories. I hope that the tough conversations we’re having across Turtle Island today will nurture a deeper understanding among all of us who live here, about the difficult truths at the heart of so-called “Canada,” and the difficult work needed now on the path to reconciliation.

- Alexis Stoymenoff, Director of Communications

 

I remember going to get maple leaves painted on my cheeks in False Creek on July 1st when I was a kid. When I became a teenager, I’d go to watch the fireworks in an overcrowded English Bay. If we were up in Ashcroft we might go into town and watch the parade with red freezies in our hands and sticky red juice running down our chins. I know friends who came to Canada to seek a better life for themselves and their families celebrated Canada Day because it was a celebration of life itself. We just didn’t ask why.

I think settlers have performed this song and dance because we were sold an incredible idea about what Canada is, about who ‘Canadians’ are: the idea that we are an open-hearted, vast land, filled with tolerant and inclusive communities. That we are kind and good. That we are a sophisticated and diplomatic place, both on the inside and out. But these stories are only real if we believe in them, and just like there’s a time when you have to stop believing in Santa or the Easter Bunny, we have to stop celebrating Canada Day because it’s time to grow up.

Could some collective exercise in self-reflection undo the harms caused by this particularly well-branded variety of colonialism? Canada needs to stop worrying about its own birthday party so much, and instead think about what it did to cause people to decline the invite to attend.

- Julia Kidder, Communications & Engagement Specialist

 

Rather than celebrating, I will be using the time to learn more about this country’s past and ongoing treatment of Indigenous peoples. I will also reflect on the lessons that have been shared with me by Indigenous teachers, colleagues, and friends. I’ll give thanks for the people who carry these lessons and whose ancestors have been taking care of Turtle Island since time immemorial. I’ll express my gratitude by continuing to find ways to support and serve Indigenous communities.

- Rebekah Smith, Summer Law Student

 

This year I have many things to celebrate, but Canada is not one of them. I do not take any pride in the ongoing colonization, dispossession, and oppression of our settler-colonial state, nor the role that my settler ancestors may have played, passively or actively, in this colonial project. Instead, this July 1st, I plan to spend time on the land, amongst friends, encouraging deeper conversations and reflections about what it means to decolonize our lives. This work starts with an acknowledgement of the harms that this country continues to inflict on Indigenous peoples. There are still many open wounds from the history of cultural genocide in this country, and I want to help heal those wounds, not pour salt into them or hide them behind a red and white flag.

- Jack Jones, Summer Law Student

 

On what is known as Canada Day, I choose to reflect upon and mourn the ongoing oppression and genocide of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples across the country. I've been thinking about what practicing allyship means, what it looks like to truly and meaningfully stand in solidarity with Indigenous folks, and I realize that this journey of learning and unlearning will be ongoing for the rest of my life. Today, I recommit to centering Indigenous voices, demanding change through civic actions, celebrating Indigenous joy, and alleviating labour in any way I can.

- Hanna Araza, Summer Community Outreach Coordinator


For those impacted and looking for support, please contact the Indian Residential School Survivors Society (IRSSS) – a BC-wide organization dedicated to providing emotional support and services to Indian Residential School Survivors and Intergenerational Survivors. IRSSS Toll-Free Line: 1-800-721-0066 | 24hr National Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419 | KUU-US Crisis Line: 1-800-588-8717 | Tsow-Tun-Le Lum: 1-888-403-3123. Learn more and donate to support the IRSSS: https://www.irsss.ca/

 

Author: 
West Coast Environmental Law staff