Today is Canada Day.
I’ll start by wishing you, “Happy Canada Day!”.
Or should I?
For most of my life I’ve had a complicated relationship with Canada Day. I’ve not known exactly how I felt about it, and most of the time I was at least uncomfortable with it.
Growing up, Canada Day was a big day that kind of kicked off summer. It was the statutory holiday that people longed for before summer holidays started. People would have huge parties and barbecues with their families and communities. It was a day to drink, party, get together, enjoy summer, and usually finished with a flashy fireworks show.
My favourite parts of Canada Day were always the food and the fireworks. There is something so magical and enchanting in the twinkling dancing lights of fireworks but also how they bring people together from different corners of a community.
Where it has always felt complicated for me, is when I think about how we are celebrating Canada while knowing that Canada as we know it was created by colonialism and the assimilation, oppression and destruction of other cultures. Namely, the many indigenous people’s of Canada. It was also created on the backs of slavery, and the oppression and exploitation of black people. Canada has also participated in the oppression of women and LGBTQ2+ people. Not to mention our involvement in many different wars and conflicts throughout history. And these issues are not only historical as their legacy continues today.
Another problem that is often highlighted for me on Canada Day is the conflicting messages about our environment. We love to talk about how beautiful our country is and how much the outdoors is important in many of our cultural practices and yet, we continue to significantly contribute to its destruction.
In my family, we often talked about this on Canada Day. We were reminded as kids that countries are complicated things and that we shouldn’t just blindly love them or wave a flag without knowing our collective history and thinking critically.
So, how do we celebrate our country when it was created through systems of oppression and the harm of millions of people? What exactly are we celebrating, and what is Canada?
For a long time I just basically didn’t celebrate Canada Day. I felt it was wrong to celebrate it because of all of the reasons listed above and I think that is one valid response. But I’d be wrong if I didn’t admit there were also years where I just wanted to participate in Canada Day like every other “normal” family. There were times I just wanted to turn off my brain and conscience, drink beer with my friends, and not worry about it like other people seemed not to.
But I’ve shifted my stance in the last few years and have found a way where I feel I can both participate in the celebration, which I think can be positive, while acknowledging the terrible things my country has done (and is still doing).
I would like to recognize that I am not a member of a racialized group, nor am I an indigenous person. Because of this, I can never truly understand or speak to their experiences of inequality and injustice and I don’t claim to have all of the solutions.
However, I am a cis-gender woman who has experienced sexism and gender-based discrimination. I also identify as pansexual and have experienced hate because of my sexual orientation. It is scary to think that my country has not always recognized my rights, or respected and valued who I am, who I love, and that there are still people in power in this country who would see those rights limited if not taken away.
Knowing all of this, I think there is a way to Celebrate Canada Day. And I use celebrate a little loosely here.
I think we can celebrate Canada Day in the following ways:
I think Canada Day should be an opportunity to learn about and acknowledge our problematic history of oppression in all of it’s forms including how it manifests today.
I think Canada Day should be seen as an opportunity to celebrate our progress and talk about what work still needs to be done.
I think Canada Day should be a day where we talk about what values we should uphold in Canada and explore what we mean when we say something is Canadian. It should be a day to talk about all the ways of being Canadian.
Canada Day should be a day where we honour our relationship with nature and our beautiful landscape by committing to protect it through fighting climate change.
Our celebrations should honour the many different cultural practices and traditions that make up Canada, not just colonial traditions. Ceremonies should be created by people of diverse backgrounds that represent the many nations that make up Canada.
Canada, at least for me, isn’t just about Mounties, canoes, postcard landscapes, beavers and moose. It’s about diversity, inclusiveness, freedom of expression, natural resources, equality, respect, breathtaking natural beauty, environmental justice, social justice, peace, and culturally abundant cities. And most of all, it’s home which is something so much more profound and visceral.
Let’s celebrate today by talking about the country and the home that we want to be and commit to working even harder to get there.