Fireworks. Parades. Tossing around the Canadian flag. Singing "O Canada." These are the things we usually associate with Canada Day.
This year, however, some community advocates have decided against celebrating on July 1, calling for a national moment of mourning after hundreds of unmarked graves were found at former Indigenous residential school sites in British Columbia and Saskatchewan.
Proponents of "Cancel Canada Day" argue that the holiday is insensitive to the dark history of colonization and residential schools and that Canadians should instead be commemorating reconciliation — not glorifying the country that took part in its harms.
Over the past few weeks, the hashtag #CancelCanadaDay has gained considerable traction on social media, as more people called for a day of critical reflection to open up conversations about the country's past wrongs and move towards a more inclusive and equitable future.
“We will not celebrate stolen Indigenous land and stolen Indigenous lives," Idle No More, an Indigenous-led social movement, said in a release urging readers to take part in the campaign. "Instead, we will gather to honour all of the lives lost to the Canadian State — Indigenous lives, Black lives, migrant lives, women and trans and 2Spirit lives — all of the relatives that we have lost."
According to a recent poll, 14% of respondents are in favour of cancelling the national celebration.
Hey Canada are we family? If so I think you should cancel your birthday party & join Indigenous peoples in a day of mourning & collective reflection in honour of 100's of kids who died in residential schools. #genocide#CancelCanadaDay#residentialschoolshttps://t.co/iW0tZig4xf— Pam Palmater (@Pam_Palmater) June 30, 2021
The total is over 1,500 unmarked graves near former residential school sites. Don’t be shocked or desensitized. The very least we all can do is spend tomorrow reflecting on how to make this country better. Celebrating now is ignoring the truth. #honourthechildren#CancelCanadaDayhttps://t.co/W0Pa5Nww5j— David A. Robertson (@DaveAlexRoberts) June 30, 2021
How you can support #Indigenous people on #CanadaDay2021#WearOrange Learn about our true shared history. Follow the #CancelCanadaDay hashtag to learn more. Meegwetch https://t.co/rV1s4h61cn for this great graphic! pic.twitter.com/iWMULyoqdg— RoseAnne Archibald (@RoseAnne4NC) June 27, 2021
But the debate over whether or not to scrap it has polarized people both within and outside of the Indigenous community.
For Terry Teegee, regional chief of the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations, the issue at hand isn't whether to commemorate Canada Day, but rather how to do so in a way that respects the history of the country and starts a conversation about the work that still needs to be done.
“I think what this country is finally realizing and contemplating and thinking about is the lived reality of Indigenous peoples,” Teegee told the Globe and Mail. “[Canada Day] opens that door for conversations about the current state of affairs with Indigenous people.”
The government has also weighed in on the controversy, saying that celebrations will go ahead as planned, but with a focus on reconciliation and Indigenous representation.
At a press conference held on Tuesday, Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault emphasized that the government was committed to putting forward a Canada Day that was as inclusive as possible for all Canadians.
“We have so many things we need to work on together and I think this Canada Day ... will be a time of reflection on what we’ve achieved as a country but on what more we have to do,” Guilbeault told reporters on Friday, echoing comments from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last week.
However, municipalities such as Victoria, Saint John, Fredericton, St. Albert, and Calgary have already scaled back their Canada Day activities in light of the recent revelations, noting that they would be “damaging” to reconciliation efforts.
Other cities such as Toronto have opted for a moment of reckoning, lighting up their iconic landmarks orange — a colour that’s been adopted by activists to bring attention to the plight of Indigenous children and communities across the country.
Meanwhile, community organizers are continuing to call on Canadians to use this opportunity to reflect on the country’s colonial history. Here’s how you can do your part.