Do the Origins of Canada Day Make it Worth Celebrating?

Canada Day. The red and white. The fireworks. The crowds. The drunken odes to “our home and native land.” The celebration of the great white north. To most, Canada Day is just a time to embrace our small, yet indignant sense of patriotism, and partake in the annual, country-wide, festivities. Canada sort of gets a bad rep for being “too diverse,” (pfft as if there is such a thing), “too spread out,” or “too multicultural” (seriously?) to be truly united and connected through the pride of our country.

Heck, do you even consider yourself Canadian? Primarily, I don’t. Despite my Canadian citizenship, I first and foremost consider myself to be of an Indian nationality, and Canada more as my home. If I’m asked where I’m from, my response is “India!” In fact, my sister will have the same answer even though she was actually born in Houston, Texas and I, New Delhi, India. And I know I’m not the only one! Being a nation full of immigrants, aboriginal and First Nations communities, blended cultures, and second generation migrants, it’s not too difficult to understand why we as a nation don’t necessarily have that collective national glory that our American friends south of the border just can’t seem to get enough of.

I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, however. Our lack of hurrah certainly doesn’t mean we love our country any less, or have a disregard for the freedoms and opportunities Canada provides. It just goes to show that perhaps as a nation, we aren’t as willing to accept a blanket term and our citizens (for the most part) are aware and considerate of our many origins.

However…

Canada Day is a day that this all kind of goes out the window. People think that we don’t care about our country? We’ll show them! Look at all of our hockey and Timmies and maple syrup! Do you see this face paint? There is definitely no shortage of Canadian patriotism on July 1st, especially this year with the upcoming celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary.

But what — are we really celebrating? According to the world wide web, it’s a commemoration of July 1, 1867, the date the British North America Act (BNA) was put into action, uniting the then separate colonies of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick into the single dominion we know today as Canada. But other than the coming together of three colonies, what all did the BNA act outline? Well, for many First Nations, the beginning of the end.

The BNA Act was pure European Colonialism, wrapped up all nice in a neat little bow. It imposed restrictions and bans against rituals, ceremonies, and all religious Indigenous traditions. Reserves were put into place, thousands crammed into government mandated areas, required to relocate “in the national interest.” Indigenous individuals required permission for everything from selling a cow, to conducting business, to contacting a lawyer. Not to mention the beginning of the horrendous legacy that is residential schools. Children were removed from their homes, by force if necessary, and completely isolated from their family and culture. Maybe the BNA Act marked the beginning of a Canadian confederation to some old white dudes, but to the many indigenous peoples who had inhabited the land for thousands of years prior, it signified the loss of a way of life.

With all of this in mind, it makes a lot of sense that celebrating “150 years” of Canada has brought about some controversy. A movement known as #Resistance150 strives to bring awareness to the indirect celebration of colonialism in Canada and the wrongdoings committed against the First Nations communities. To many, Canada is much older than 150 years of age, and celebrating the enactment of BNA Act is really just salt in the wound. Similar feelings have been expressed towards Columbus Day in the US, the holiday that glorifies Christopher Columbus’ “monumental” discovery of the “new world.” In general, such holidays tend to romanticize and exonerate colonial, early European bureaucratic ways of thinking, and discredit the hardships of indigenous cultures.

With us being a country that tries our best to accept and correct our past wrongdoings through our acceptance and promotion of multiculturalism, this celebration can almost seem like a step backwards. It’s not that Canada has nothing to celebrate. I mean we have again been ranked second best country in the world, we actually have a functional healthcare system (cough cough), we have a progressive, internationally recognized and respected PM, and are responsible for so many incredible global-scale achievements.

It’s definitely not fair to say that Canadians have nothing to light some fireworks for. Maybe this just isn’t best day to do so. Maybe there’s another way to show our pride and respect for our country’s name that integrates ways of decolonization. There is no such thing as a “real” Canadian, and there must be a way to represent and celebrate that collective and divergent consciousness. But until then, I think it’s fair and fine to celebrate Canada, it’s valid and perfectly understandable to be proud of the country you call home, just also be aware and compassionate towards the cultural foundations it was built upon.

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