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Canada Day as seen through an Indigenous lens

‘Canadians need to take the time to learn what it is that we are trying to reconcile’ - Wenona Hall
Wenona Hall, associate professor of Indigenous Studies at the University of the Fraser Valley, with kids. (Devon Hall photography) Wenona Hall, associate professor of Indigenous Studies at UFV, with kids. (Devon Hall photography)

An all-out celebration of Canada Day would be “disrespectful” this year.

That’s because something significant has shifted since hundreds of unmarked graves were found so far in B.C. and Saskatchewan, according to Wenona Hall, associate professor in Indigenous Studies at University of the Fraser Valley (UFV).

“I think in general Canada Day has always been a bit of a challenge – and a contradiction – for Indigenous people,” Hall said. “Canada hasn’t treated us very well, so there are mixed feelings about it.”

With more Canadians embracing harsh truths about residential schools and how the system impacted survivors and their families over many generations, it could be time to reframe the institutions set up to destroy Indian culture.

“I don’t think we should be calling them ‘schools’ at all,” Hall said. “At best they were child labour camps, and at worst they were death camps.”

The UFV associate professor acknowledged that’s “strong language” to describe the government-sanctioned, church-run institutions “but the very least we can do for the survivors of this genocide is to start speaking the truth.”

The ground-penetrating radar used by local First Nations to find the unmarked graves of the 215 souls in Kamloops has led to a broader national sense of shared loss.

“We have always known about the lost children. That is where the paradigm shift is taking place, now that Canadians have concrete evidence.”

Her auntie told her they shouldn’t be thinking about the unmarked graves as a ‘discovery’ but as a ‘recovery’ instead.

Flags were lowered to half mast across Canada when the news came out.

“That was respectful. It showed we are mourning and that we are hearing the truth.”

It’s beyond sad it had to come to this point.

“We are all humans. We can relate to that terrible loss, and recovery of these children. So many Canadians are mourning with us too,” Hall added.

So instead of opting for a rah-rah celebration, Hall recommends that folks take the day on July 1 to educate themselves about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, and review the 94 Calls to Action, meant to “redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation.”

They could lower their Canadian flags to half mast, and while they’re at it, flying alongside the maple leaf could be the flag of the First Nation whose land the flag is on, she suggested.

Canadians could even wear their orange shirts instead of red and white on Canada Day, and do a little research to ensure they know the story behind Orange Shirt Day.

“We could celebrate Indigenous people instead,” Hall said, adding it’s a good time to raise levels of awareness, education and social justice.

“If we are sincere about reconciliation, Canadians need to take the time to learn what it is that we are trying to reconcile.”

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Jennifer Feinberg

About the Author: Jennifer Feinberg

I have been a Chilliwack Progress reporter for 20+ years, covering the arts, city hall, as well as Indigenous, and climate change stories.
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