Knowing what I now know, through all the learning that I have done with the amazing kids in my Upstanders Academy and my various camps and workshops, I am not comfortable celebrating Canada Day as I have celebrated it in the past.
I can’t celebrate as I have celebrated in the past knowing that:
* there are Indigenous communities without access to clean, safe drinking water;
* more than half of the children in Canadian foster homes are Indigenous, despite them making up less than 8% of the country’s child population;
* the overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples in federal custody has reached a new historic high – accounting for more than 30% of the federal inmate population, even though they only account for 4.3% of the population in Canada;
* (even more heartbreaking) Indigenous youth made up 46% of admissions to correctional services in 2016-17 while making up only 8% of the youth population;
* the remains of children who died at residential schools are still being uncovered;
* a significant funding gap for education for Indigenous children results in a graduation rate for First Nations youth living on reserve of 35.3%, compared to 78% for the general population; and
* the suicide rate for Inuit is nine times higher than the non-Indigenous rate in Canada.
In an effort to decide how I want to celebrate Canada Day this year, I have been reading and learning from all the amazing Indigenous artists, leaders, writers, social justice warriors, and community builders that I follow, some of whom I am honoured to call friends. Like this article by my friend Cody Coyote: There is nothing to celebrate on ‘Canada Day’ when accountability toward Indigenous people is lacking
And this video that looks at the good that Canada achieves in welcoming and supporting immigrants and refugees, while at the same time acknowledging and holding space for the trauma and pain it has inflicted on Indigenous peoples as explained by my friend Asha Frost: Diverse City – A Tale of Two Canadas
And I thought this was a fantastic editorial from the Winnipeg Free Press: No, Canada Day Is Not ‘Cancelled’ – I especially loved this part – “if this country is serious about its commitment to reconciliation, there needs to be room for multiple ways to celebrate, commemorate or contemplate Canada Day, which means the look and feel of certain Canada Day celebrations — especially at meeting places with deep significance to Indigenous people — will change.”
And then my friend Jenn Hayward wrote a beautiful, inclusive post stating that she is not going to shame anyone for celebrating Canada Day, but she is asking if her friends could first write a letter to their MPs about any of the issues listed in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Final Report. She wisely suggests that we can do two things, it is an “and” situation, not an “either/or” – we can take time as a family to write a few letters and then go and celebrate the things we like about Canada.
All of this together helped me come up with my plan for how I am going to celebrate the day:
1. Write a Letter to our Prime Minister
As you may know, I have created 7 templates to help kids and families write letters to our Prime Minister about issues affecting Indigenous people. For each template, I provide a video you can watch to learn more about the topic. You can access all these templates on my blog post here.
2. Wear Orange
I am going to wear my Every Child Matters shirt instead of wearing red.
3. Donate to an Indigenous Organization
I have seen a number of posts asking people to donate what they would normally spend on Canada Day decorations to an Indigenous organization. There are plenty of great organizations out there – I will list a few of my favourites here: Assembly of Seven Generations (A7G), Màmawi Together, Justice For Indigenous Women, The Art for Aid Project, and the Northern Birthday Box Project.
After all this learning, reflecting and taking action, I will then go and celebrate the day with friends and family.
When we talk about Indigenous justice and Reconciliation, we are not just talking about a dark chapter in Canada’s history – we are also talking about today. People I love and care about, and people I don’t know but care about because of our shared humanity, are hurting and angry. Re-imagining how I celebrate Canada Day is the least I can do to help let them know they are loved and not alone.