Conflicted on Canada Day: Being patriotic means owning ALL of our nation’s history
Yesterday I visited parks & landmarks in Ottawa with significance to Indigenous communities; Pindigen Park, Chaudière Falls and Pangishimo Park, to collect trash and pay my respects. I planned to do this on Canada Day, however due to probable rain I decided to do it a day early. As I’ve learned more about the unsettling colonial history of Canada and the truth about the genocide and forced assimilation of Indigenous people these past few years I find Canada Day to be a conflicting holiday.
Let’s be honest: I sometimes feel uncomfortable talking about colonialism. I know many descendants of immigrants and settlers feel this way. I think it’s natural to feel uncomfortable tackling this topic. Despite this I continue to read about it, learn about it, and most importantly, talk about it. I try to empathize with how it must feel to experience a collective reluctance to talk about it or general ignorance regarding Indigenous peoples’ past. I have felt a lot of shame regarding my ignorance.
We live in a ‘someone else’s problem’ society where our elected representatives toss out the word ‘reconciliation’ during election time but when the dust from voting settles, the word is just as empty as their promises. We have a clergy that apologized for the atrocities committed in their industrial school system but refuses to produce documents so we can put a name to all those children buried in unmarked graves. Our entertainment industry twisted the story of Pocahontas, probably the first documented case of a missing Indigenous girl, into the tale of an over-sexualized grown woman who not only welcomes the settlers, but falls in love with one.
Imagine living in a society that refuses to accept your truth until they find the bodies. No body, no crime, right? They killed their children then called them savages- in fact, the use of the term ‘savage’ was put in place systemically in most school curriculums. I choose to talk about colonialism because the alternative is far worse, and because I’ve benefited from it.
Being patriotic doesn’t mean ignoring the difficult parts of Canada’s history. Being patriotic means loving Canada so much that you face the uncomfortable and devastating history head on, to make the country a better place. Learn, grow, atone. To many Indigenous folks Canada Day feels like a celebration of colonialism. I didn’t understand that in the past. I understand it now. I know some folks are frustrated and feel as though Canada Day is being taken from them in the name of political correctness. It’s difficult to believe something and celebrate a holiday your entire life and then be forced to face a truth that leaves you conflicted. I get it, I was shocked to learn that Pocahontas was actually a child who was kidnapped, likely raped, and not a Disney princess. A nature-worshiping non-white Disney princess- I was all over that! I loved the always hungry racoon and the sassy hummingbird. We need to remember that the topic of human rights, while governed by politics in many ways, is not political.
We live in one of the most free countries in the world and we have that freedom because Indigenous, First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples lost theirs. They not only lost their freedom and culture- they lost their lives. We have the freedom to choose how we honour the land on this day. Some of us will enjoy fireworks. Some of us will honour Indigenous peoples. Some of us will do both! You do you, I’ll do me. I’ve participated in many red and white parties in the past. But based on my expanding knowledge of our history, being Canadian, to me, means paying quiet respect to the land, Turtle Island, and the first people on this day.
Picking up litter at Indigenous locations was one way I paid my respects. I’m cleaning up a mess I can manage, because many of these messes are beyond my control. Another way I pay my respects is to continue to have difficult conversations about colonialism. I fully respect folk’s decision to rock red and white. Please respect my decision to wear orange.
Miigwetch to the Indigenous, First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples of Canada who continue to face everyday with bravery and demand justice. 🧡
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