July 1 is about cottages, fireworks, beer, and the long weekend. As a white person born and raised in Canada, I was taught to believe that Canada Day was a nice summer tradition. Of course, as a kid growing up in the early ’90s, there was no obvious reason to think otherwise. By and large, the public education system did not—and does not—teach us much about Canada’s true history. Other than a Bristol board covered with pretty aboriginal art and a five-minute oral presentation, we needn’t think about aboriginal communities—or how they were (and are) robbed—at all.
Here is what we celebrate on Canada Day: On June 30 1867, midnight struck and church bells in Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick rang; Manitoba was added three years later. And, here are just a few founding facts we tend to skip over: Canadian explorers found the land to have great potential for farming, so out went the original tenants, the Metis, and in came our nation. What is now Canada’s Maritimes was previously occupied by Mi’kmaq. Lieutenant General Edward Cornwallis founded Halifax, and put a bounty on the scalps of Mi’kmaq’s people, children included. Until two years ago, a Halifax school was named after him.
Canadians with privilege don’t like to think about aboriginal issues. The refrain usually goes something like this: it isn’t our fault about what happened back then. However, it is our responsibility to acknowledge what happened instead of continuing to ignore the challenges aboriginal communities still face because of the devastation they were forced to endure, all in the name of Canada’s quest to become a great nation. We need especially care because our federal government keeps locking this issue away—inside of residential schools and the prison system (apparently, it is no longer civilized to murder, rape, and scalp).
The people of Attawapiskat still need homes and the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation’s right to go on their own land is being revoked. Instead of acknowledging these human rights issues, the federal government discredits them in the public’s eye. And the mainstream media stops paying attention when the issue is no longer hot, when Idle No More isn’t hip any longer.
National Aboriginal History Month (started in 1999) goes unnoticed the same way as Celery Month. June 21 is National Aboriginal Day. Though it started in 1996, I’ve rarely heard of celebrations for it—at least ones that are as widespread and on the same scale as Canada Day. According to the Canadian Charity, Evergreen, “1.3 million people self-identify as having First Nations, Metis or Inuit heritage or, Aboriginal ancestry.” That is a big demographic to simply ignore, on Canada Day, or any other.