As I’ve expressed on previous Canada Days, Canada is my country by choice, and I feel privileged and proud to be able to celebrate it every year. But, as I’ve been posting during this month now past of Indigenous History Month, this is a time of serious reckoning for my country. Because of the horrific discoveries of remains and unmarked graves of now in excess of 1000 children on the sites of former Residential Schools, celebration does not really seem appropriate.
I believe that virtually all normal Canada Day celebrations across the country have been cancelled in respect and support for the unimaginable grieving of the Indigenous people in Canada. The horrors and abuse, the intentional destruction of Indigenous pride, language, and culture, has all been brought back in nightmarish proportions for residential school survivors and their communities. Accordingly and appropriately, governments at all levels have announced that instead of returning to some semblance of Canada Day celebrations after having them cancelled last year due to COVID, we were all encouraged to spend this day in quiet reflection. Reflection of the full horror and implications of an appalling part of our history. Reflection on the sufferings endured by Indigenous Peoples in Canada in their own land by our governments and by churches. And, importantly, reflection on how the rest of us can help Indigenous people heal and move forward. And how we can form respectful partnerships as they move forward and we all move forward together.
One of the many things I love about this imperfect country called Canada is our commitment to multiculturalism, enshrined in our constitution, which supports and encourages “cultural freedom” for all cultures and ethnic groups that come to our country and add vitality to our society. Such a lofty aspiration – in my books – but there is no way this works with integrity without the first inhabitants of this land being at the front of the list for support and encouragement of their cultures. We have fallen gravely – egregiously – short in that regard and it is past time to make amends.
So, this Canada Day, please don’t think of it as having been cancelled. Think of it as a special day of taking the time to consider what work we have ahead of us to ensure that we become the country we aspire to. Think about what each of us can do to help Indigenous people feel supported and respected right across Canada. Think of how much more we’ll all have to celebrate as the Truth and Reconciliation recommendations start making real progress.
This year in my town of Fredericton the First Nations in New Brunswick held a Resilience Day, to which all non-indigenous allies were invited. It was a full day of activities, and an oldster like me didn’t have the stamina for the full schedule. But I did attend the healing walk and the ceremony at the Lieutenant Governor’s House, which included the placing of children’s shoes to honour those lost. It was very moving to see hundreds and hundreds of people come out. In fact, every aspect of the event was very moving. My hope is that the First Nations people found the day moving and also empowering. And I so hope that they felt supported.
Somehow I missed the 5:30 a.m. sunrise ceremony (!) and a drum ceremony at 10:00 a.m., but I was among the multitudes who gathered at the Public Library and walked the Healing Walk along the Wolastoq (aka St. John River) to the Lieutenant Governor’s House.
I was among the throng who gathered at the LG’s to hear moving words from Wabanaki elders and watch first the women and then the men lay shoes they had brought to honour the lost children, after which they knelt in prayer for a moment. One of the men who had brought children’s shoes to lay was our premier. (Oh, and for those readers who aren’t Canadians and may be wondering, orange shirts are a symbol of respect and mourning for the lost children. Every Child Matters.)
I didn’t stay for the feast and dancing, but I have it on authority that those festivities were a huge success. Thank you, New Brunswick First Nations organizers, for hosting such a meaningful and memorable day. Thank you for including your non-indigenous allies.
Happy Canada Day, everyone!