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Reimagining and Reconciling Canada Day

Updated: Jun 30, 2023

Krista-Dawn, a white settler of Ukrainian-German Canadian prairie heritage serves as one of the Executive Directors of Servant Partners Canada. She shares her journey holding the tensions around Canada Day in the context of the colonization of Indigenous people and various injustices that still exist in our country today.

Join us in reflecting on our relationship to this day as shalom-seekers and on the journey of reimagining it toward justice and reconciliation!

The Canadian Native Flag was designed by Kwakwaka’wakw artist Curtis Wilson. His design for the flag is meant to represent First Nations in Canada to the public.

“So, what do you think about Canada Day?”

“I don’t want to celebrate colonialism!”

“I want to celebrate, I am proud to be Canadian!”

“There’s nothing done for our people on Canada day or any other day, so I just walk through it.”

“We must respect the people who built this country and have given me so many opportunities.”

These are four quotes from conversations I had with co-workers and friends who live on unceded and occupied ancestral lands of the Coast Salish Nations: the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), səl̓ilwətaɁɬ (Tsleil-Waututh), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), Stó:lō, and Shíshálh (Sechelt) peoples. The emotions behind each opposing convictions form a pit in my stomach.

Walking alongside my dear friends who are newcomers, settlers, new permanent residents and First Nations creates a tremendous amount of tension for me when I consider how to properly observe July 1st as friend, parent and follower of God that loves justice. It’s a day set aside to celebrate our country but instead, it often makes me want to pull the covers over my head and not get out of bed.

My relationship to Canada Day as a settler

I did not experience this same tension during my 20 years of living in the US. At that time, I had a sanitized 1980s version of Canadian history from my schooling and July 1st was the day that I was justified to boldly participate in the unofficial Canadian pastime: educating people that Canadians are NOT American. I flaunted flags, Nanaimo bars, Ketchup chips, and Barenaked Ladies music. There was much to be grateful for. I experience many benefits from this country: clean water, clean air to breathe, city infrastructure, government benefits, physical safety, access to good education and so it was easy to be proud to be Canadian.

But since returning to Canada as an adult, I have learned more about the honest history of my country. The benefits that I listed above are not shared equally among all residents in this country. I now know that as a Christian I am connected to the big “C” Church that implemented the governments’ residential school system designed for cultural genocide.* I learned A LOT during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission but also know that our country has a long way to go in actively pursuing all the Calls to Action**, living out a repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery and respecting the tenets of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.

Our history with the First Peoples of this land is not the only issue of injustice when I consider how I feel about being “Canadian”. Many newcomers - especially those coming as refugees or asylum seekers - struggle to access systems that are not available equitably, and many women of all races experience marginalization.

welcoming refugees Vancouver Canada ukraine
Tania, Krista-Dawn and her daughter Gabriella

My family has just hosted Tania in our home, a displaced Ukrainian mother. She had come from watching rockets fly over her home in Rivne to make a new life in Canada for her daughter. She is thrilled to celebrate her first Canada Day. She reflects:

“People have such freedom here. I want to learn how Canadians think about their country. I must respect the country that I live in now.” - Tania, Ukrainian newcomer

How might I live so that newcomers like Tania can have an example of holding the tensions of gratitude for the positive aspects of our country while reckoning with the vast diversity of unjust systems and experiences?

As a society, we are not naturally on a trajectory to get better at holding tensions. For years, my Instagram feed was instructing me to “cancel” Canada Day for very justifiable reasons. How could I possibly “celebrate” a country when the rights of my Indigenous friends and mentors have been ignored and their culture erased even though their ancestors lived on this land since time immemorial?

An Indigenous Perspective on Canada Day

Hector Hill Christian Indigenous elder mentor
Hector Hill, Indigenous elder and leader

Hector Hill, is a Gitxsan and Ts’imshian elder who lives in the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood and has been a long-suffering mentor to most of the Servant Partners staff in Vancouver. As we were discussing how he thinks of this day, he shares, “Even before I was able to read or write, I knew that we were not accepted into the community. This holiday is for settlers and newcomers, not for me.”

For him, participating in a celebration of Canada would come “when the Indian Act is taken down, when my family can own their home (instead of the government) on the reserves, when action is taken to find the missing and murdered Indigenous women.” He doesn’t criticize those who choose to celebrate their own positive experiences of the country.

“As a Christian, I have forgiven people. The way I do it fits for me. For those who want to celebrate, I hope they enjoy themselves and look at what changes they need to make within themselves for a better future in Canada. We can’t change the Prime Minister, the Queen or the Pope, but we can change ourselves.” - Hector, Gitxan and Ts'mshian elder

As we consider how to relate to Canada Day, what might be an authentic way for you to recognize the honest history of your country? How can you hold your own positive experiences and negative experiences of the life Creator God has given you as you live in Canada? There is likely something that is supportive to you in this country that you could be grateful for, while considering what your responsibility to do in creating a more just way of living together. How can we inspire a new imagination for a better way forward for all people - Indigenous and settler - who live on this land?

Hector offered us an invitation to reflect upon who we want to be as we live in this country and forge a better future for us all. All of my friends had ideas for how to thoughtfully live with the tension of the day, so I share them with you to spark your imagination. Humility and curiosity are key character traits necessary to pursue honest relationships building on a day like Canada day.

Ideas to Re-imagine Canada Day

  1. Consult with a diverse group of friends before you host a Canada Day celebration. For example, The Forks at Winnipeg revamped their celebration because they invited youth, First Nations and newcomers to imagine with them a day to celebrate together.

  2. Did you know that the oldest treaty made in Canada - the Two Row Wampum - was a beautiful picture of respectful brotherhood: two vessels traveling down the same river? Learn about this initial treaty to jumpstart your imagination for a new way of marking this day with mutual respect.

  3. Deepen your exploration of your own current and story of your ancestors: What is the history of the land you are currently on? How did your ancestors come to live on the places they called home? This connection to your own story will give you ideas of something you could do to either repair or follow in the good work of your ancestors on this day.

  4. Give to organizations that are doing good work of restoration and welcome. Organizations like Indian Residential Schools Survivor Society and are doing excellent work to build a healthier future for all.

  5. Wear orange on the day instead of red or white to remember the children who are not with us.

  6. Forgive someone - Whether they are in your past or present, or maybe even yourself, what would it mean to forgive and let go? Releasing unforgiveness and bitterness, creates greater freedom in your acts of hospitality and justice work.

  7. Take a moment of contemplation with a breath prayer that honestly conveys your feelings about this day. Contemplative activism allows space for you to listen to yourself and God so that we may listen to others better. Write your own or try this one: Breathing in: Your grace is enough for me Breathing out: Your love drives out fear.

  8. Write your elected official and advocate for justice on an issue you are passionate about. There are templates and information on how to find your representative on all three levels of government here.

  9. Take 30 minutes to do this following expressive art reflection, either alone or with the people you will be with on July 1st.

An Expressive Art Reflection for Canada Day

Collect a rock, white glue/modge podge, markers and some pieces of coloured paper: scrap paper, tissue paper, collage images, construction paper whatever you have on hand.

Choose a variety of paper colours or images that represent how you are feeling about the challenges of living in this country at this moment in time. You could choose to write words on the paper if you like.

Choose a variety of paper colours or images that represent the positive, supportive resources you have as you live in this country at this moment in time.

Layer your colours/images all over your rock with the glue.

Take a few moments at the end to observe what the rock looks like. How does it speak to you? What emotions arise as you “see” this representation of your experience today? How does this rock motivate you to build a better future for yourself and those you love in the coming year? Write a word or phrase on it that expresses that idea.

Keep this multi-layered touchstone in a place that will remind you of the complexity and beauty of your life in this country. May this Canada Day be a seed of hope that will bear fruit through your actions in the months to come.


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