What does Canada Day mean in 2021?

Do you celebrate or protest?

On Tuesday, the Village of Pemberton Council considered that question, and I feel they came up with the right response. Mayor Mike RIchman posted to Facebook yesterday:

Yesterday, Council and I were called upon to answer an important question. In light of the recent discoveries of mass graves at Residential Schools, should the Village celebrate Canada Day this year?

Like many in our community, we feel that a celebration right now, in the midst of such atrocious discoveries, is inappropriate.

We decided that a day of celebration for Canada this year was not something we were ready to engage in.

Virtual activities have already been prepared for our community’s youth, and supported by sponsorship from local businesses and these activities will go ahead.

July 1st remains a Statutory Holiday. I will use this time to contemplate individual and collective understandings of the history of Canada. To recognize that the country I call home, came to be through systems and institutions that instilled and continue to uphold racism against Indigenous peoples.

I would encourage you to spend this day in the spirit of reconciliation. Take this time to listen, to read and learn, to open hearts and minds.

Set the intention to help heal our country and support our Indigenous family, friends, loved ones, and neighbours.

Commit to rebuilding a Canada that treats Indigenous peoples with dignity, love, and deep respect. Not just today, everyday.

Kúkwstum̓ckál̓ap

Mike

On National Indigenous People’s, Natalie Livermore shared this post:

I currently live in the unceded territory of the Lil’wat nation but I grew up in the territory of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh nation. Today I want to show honor to this day by highlighting an artist that inspired me as a child. Rick Harry held teachings at my elementary school and I will never forget how he moved me with, not only, his talent as an artist and as a drummer but his willingness and openness in sharing culture and language with us as well.

Art by Rick Harry.
❤️🧡
https://www.xwalacktun.ca

She gave me permission to share it.

On Canada Day, I’d like to offer this. An acknowledgement of my own, speaking only for myself, inspired by Natalie. Because I both celebrate and protest Canada – those two contradictory things both inhabit my body, and stretch my mind with the uncomfortable tension.

When I became a Canadian citizen and was handed a copy of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, I cried, to be cloaked in something that speaks so clearly to its willingness to protect me, to protect my right to speak up, to move freely, to be myself.

AND, these basic rights have not been offered, have actually been systemically taken away, from the people who inhabited these lands, before anyone landed here from somewhere else, hoping for a better life, more riches, greater protections… before Canada was even a concept.

I grew up living on, (without acknowledging or knowing the names of,) the traditional territory of the Yagara and Yugambeh people, (a city adjoining Brisbane that was named after the Scottish commander of a brutal penal colony, Patrick Logan.)

I now live on the unceded ancestral lands of the Líl̓wat Nation, (near a town named after an Irish surveyor for the Hudson’s Bay Company who never set foot here.)

I pay respects to all Elders of the lands I have dwelled on, Elders past, present and future.

I don’t believe I need to dishonour the people I come from, (their stories and their displacement), in order to honour the people they, in turn, displaced. I do believe some re-balancing and acknowledging is in order. It feels itchy-stretchy to try and hold these seemingly irreconcilable things, without needing for one to cancel the other out, and it feels as though one fruitful way to stretch my own mind, is simply by acknowledging teachings that have been really influential and helped shaped the way I am experiencing life.

I have been deeply inspired by Richard Wagamese, particularly his teachings about humility in One Story, One Song. Wagamese was a member of the Wabaseemoong First Nation in northwestern Ontario. He was born near Minaki, Ontario, in 1955, and at the age of five was taken from his family by the Children’s Aid Society. His book Indian Horse left me reeling.

The old ones say that humility is the foundation of everything. Nothing can exist without it. Humility is the ability to see yourself as an essential part of something larger. It is the act of living without grandiosity. Humility, in the Ojibway world, means ‘like the earth.’ The planet is an epitome of a humble being, with everything allowed the same opportunity to grow, to become. Without the spirit of humility there can be no unity, only discord. Humility lets us work together to achieve equality. Humility teaches that there are no greater or lesser beings or things. There is only the whole. There is only the great, grand clamour of our voices, our spirits, raised together in song.

Richard Wagamese

I am inspired by Lyla June, singer, writer, activist, of Diné (Navajo), Tsétsêhéstâhese (Cheyenne) and European lineages from Taos, New Mexico, who has written beautifully about her European ancestors and the trauma they survived and brought with them as colonizers. (Check it out here https://moonmagazineeditor.medium.com/lyla-june…)

It has taught me that nobody’s pain cancels out the validity or existence of anyone else’s pain… but if we don’t acknowledge trauma, even historic or ancestral trauma, we’ll just keep pushing the pain around, onto others, unless we find a way to metabolize it.

I am inspired by Dr Robin Wall Kimmerer, botanist, enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, language reclaimer, and author of Braiding Sweetgrass for sharing the creation story of Sky Woman Falling, and for inviting me to think about what it might be like, not just to love the earth, but for the Earth to love me back.

I am inspired by Dr. Lorna Wanosts’a7 Williams of the Líl̓wat Nation for her tireless work speaking for Indigenous ways of knowing and for language reclamation and for sharing some of the most beautiful concepts I’ve ever encountered, Ucwalmícwts words like Stucum Wi, Nuk’want’uwal’wi, and Kat’il’a.

I am inspired by Pat McCabe, (Weyakpa Najin Win, Woman Stands Shining) a Diné (Navajo) mother, grandmother, activist, artist, writer, whose words have helped me reconfigure my attitude to prayer, to men vs women, even to menstruation. There are a lot more. And I’m grateful for the teachings they’ve shared. And I’m grateful for their survival, despite the efforts that were made to destroy them and silence their stories and dispossess us all of the wisdom in the perspectives they embody.

I didn’t learn about any of these people, or any of the First Peoples who preceded the colonizing of Australia, when I was growing up. I was educated by a system that had erased indigenous people, with intention. I continue to live in, and benefit from, a system, that continuously came up with policies, tactics, and actions, to intentionally erase indigenous people.

It is within my power to no longer be an accomplice of the erasure – by committing to seeing them, by turning towards indigenous voices, reading books and listening to podcasts bringing their voices and wisdom as gifts to me, by inviting their point of view, by grappling internally and making adjustments, growing.

I don’t feel today that I can say Happy Canada Day, just as it felt really dissonant to say “Happy Indigenous People’s Day.” I suspect the path that lays out for me, on this day, as every day, is to wake up and say, thank you for this day, thank you for the earth beneath my feet, all the blessings around me. May I honour the ancestors of this land. May I honour my own ancestors. May I keep moving steadily towards right relations.

May we all, together.

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