Greg Sturm (left) poses with native dancer Barry Albert during a Canada Day celebration, Monday, July 1, 2013 in London, Ont. Indigenous communities and leaders are sharing their Canada Day frustrations. THE CANADIAN PRESS//Dave Chidley

‘No celebrations’: Indigenous communities, leaders share Canada Day frustrations

Canada Day comes this year as Indigenous Peoples absorb reports of confrontations between the police and Aboriginal people

Jess Housty can’t remember the last time Canada Day was celebrated in the Heiltsuk Nation.

Housty lives in the coastal B.C. town of Bella Bella where the Heiltsuk Nation is known for its efforts to help conserve and protect the Great Bear Rainforest.

“I can recall a lot of celebrations here, we’re a community that loves to come together and celebrate things but Canada Day is not one of those things I remember bringing the community together,” she said in an interview.

Canada Day comes this year as Indigenous Peoples absorb reports of confrontations between the police and Aboriginal people, as well as accusations of systemic racism in British Columbia’s health-care system.

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the director of the University of British Columbia’s Residential School History and Dialogue Centre, has been appointed by the provincial government to investigate accusations that some B.C. emergency room staff played a game to guess the blood-alcohol levels of Indigenous patients.

She said Celebrations like Canada Day, Victoria Day and St-Jean-Baptiste Day are symbols of colonialism.

Canada Day also comes after recent anti-pipeline protests by First Nations and the Black Lives Matter movement, which adds to the complexity of the national celebration, she said.

“This is a Canada Day like no other Canada Day for some time,” said Turpel-Lafond, who is also a law professor at the university.

“Are we the just, rights-respecting society we think we are and we need to be?”

READ MORE: Threats, racism being directed at COVID-19 checkpoint staff: Remote B.C. First Nation

A recent poll of 1,000 people commissioned by Historica Canada found that Canadians have a lot to learn about the historical and cultural contributions of Indigenous Peoples and other Black, Asian and minority ethnic Canadians.

Fewer than six per cent recognized figures such as Indigenous filmmakers and human rights activists, or the first RCMP officer to wear a turban.

Byron Louis, the chief of the Okanagan Indian Band, says he can’t remember the last time Canada Day was formally celebrated in his community.

“It’s a stat holiday so we’ll take it, other than that there is no celebration in our community,” he said. “What exactly is there to celebrate?”

Louis said there has been an erosion of the relationship between the Canadian government and Indigenous Peoples, which makes it difficult to join in the celebration.

“When you look at the last 110 years of our relationship, it was nowhere near what our relationship was when we first established contact,” he said.

Wade Grant, an intergovernmental officer with the Musqueam Indian Band, said he would like to see a greater emphasis placed on days that honour Indigenous Peoples.

“We have Canada Day parades, we have Canada Day celebrations downtown. On National Indigenous Day we don’t have cities or municipalities holding parades or holding events where concerts are played to celebrate Indigenous people,” he said in an interview.

Grant said he understands the aspirational aspect of Canada Day, but as someone of mixed heritage whose grandfather was forced to pay the Chinese head tax, he would like to see more discussion of what other races have experienced in Canada.

Chief Judith Wilson of the Neskonlith Indian Band said she views Canada Day as a chance to better educate others, explaining how she helped organize a skit depicting the writing of a letter in 1910 from Indigenous chiefs to Canada’s seventh prime minister, Sir Wilfrid Laurier.

The scene recreated the chiefs of the Secwepemc, Syilx and Nlaka’pamux peoples relaying grievances over their treatment by the federal government. Wilson presented the scene during Canada Day celebrations in Chase, B.C., to show the public the issues Indigenous people have faced.

Housty said she would also like to see a greater recognition of what Indigenous communities are facing.

“I don’t think we can say everyone in Canada has grappled with the reality of what systemic racism is in this country,” she said. ”The fact that it isn’t historical, it’s something that is alive and present and a lived reality for people around us.”

Nick Wells, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Canada DayIndigenous

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Comments are closed

Just Posted

Hwy 1 flooding causes massive delays on certain Arrow Lakes ferry routes

Motorists have been waiting around three hours to get on ferries

RDCK: spring flooding financial relief available

The provincial funds are for those affected by flooding in May and early June

Nakusp celebrates Canada Day with parade

Around 50 people from various business and organizations participated in parade

QUIZ: Put your knowledge of Canada to the test

How much do you know about our country?

Selkirk College offering employees voluntary resignations

The college is canvassing employees for those who may want some time off or reduced work loads

Police issue warning after baby comes across suspected drugs in Kamloops park

The 11-month-old girl’s mother posted photos on social media showing a small plastic bag containing a purple substance

Collision results in train derailment just east of Golden

The derailment occurred Sunday night, according to a statement from CP

Lower Mainland woman says llama farming neighbour shot her 11-month-old pup

Young dog was on owner’s Maple Ridge property when it was killed on June 21

B.C. records 31 new cases, six deaths over three days due to COVID-19

There are 166 active cases in B.C., 16 people in hospital

B.C. highway widening job reduced, costs still up $61 million

Union-only project scales back work to widen Trans-Canada

Greater Victoria nanny pleads guilty to child porn, sexual interference charges

Johnathon Lee Robichaud pleaded guilty to slew of sex crimes

Most Read