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

Just Posted

Summer Stories Around Town program encourages outdoor reading in Elk Valley

With storywalks and clothesline stories in Fernie and Sparwood, everyone can get reading

School District 5 identifies funding needs in yearly budget report

The SD5 board presented three main projects that need increased funding in the coming years

From baseball stars to forest fires: Southeast Fire Centre water bomber has an interesting past

Tanker 489 is stationed in Castlegar this year, but in the 1960s it belonged to the L.A. Dodgers.

Student athletes recognized for outstanding seasons

Fernie Secondary School students got their awards in a drive by ceremony last week

The Elk Valley celebrates Canada Day

Creative socially distant Canada Day festivities were held in both Fernie and Sparwood this week

B.C. sees 25 new COVID-19 cases, community exposure tracked

One death, outbreaks remain in two long-term care facilities

VIDEO: Vancouver Island cat missing 18 months reunited with family

Blue the cat found at Victoria museum 17 kilometres from home

COVID-19 cases identified in Kelowna, after public gatherings

Those who were downtown or at the waterfront from June 25 to July 6 maybe have been exposed to COVID-19.

VIDEO: Alberta man rescues baby eagle believed to be drowning in East Kootenay lake

Brett Bacon was boating on a lake in Windermere when he spotted the baby eagle struggling in the water

Conservationists raise concerns over state of care for grizzly cubs transferred to B.C. zoo

‘Let them be assessed now before their fate is sealed,’ urges B.C. conservationist Barb Murray

B.C.’s COVID-19 job recovery led by tourism, finance minister says

Okanagan a bright spot for in-province visitor economy

National Kitten Day aka the ‘purrfect’ day to foster a new friend

July 10 marks National Kitten Day, a special day to celebrate all things kittens

Lower Mainland YouTubers claim to be Kelowna display toilet ‘poopers’

RCMP can not speak to legitimacy of video, will be investigating

Haida matriarchs occupy ancient villages as fishing lodges reopen to visitors

‘Daughters of the rivers’ say occupation follows two fishing lodges reopening without Haida consent

Most Read