By Vivian Collings
While seas of people wearing red and white could be seen at numerous Canada Day celebrations across the county, many chose to stay home and wear orange to honour the people who first inhabited the land.
This past Friday, July 1 marked 155 years since the Dominion of Canada was established and the country became a self-governing nation within the British Empire.
Riley Maracle, an Indigenous Canadian who grew up in Haliburton County and is a Haliburton Highlands Secondary School alumnus, explained how the meaning of Canada Day has shifted for him as he’s gotten older.
“I think growing up [Canada Day] was celebrated more in our house because we were happy where we lived, but as time’s gone on and I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned more and more about who came up with the day,” Maracle said. “Now, I more so use it as a time to reflect and understand that July 1, 1867 wasn’t the day that Canada was founded, it was just when a label was put on it by settlers. I reflect and remember my ancestors who suffered as a result.”
Indigenous peer navigator at Point in Time Centre for Youth, Children, and Parents, Ashley Wilson, said that Canadians should recognize that the idea of celebrating on July 1 is difficult for many Indigenous people and allies.
“This country was built on the goal of relinquishing the land from it’s original inhabitants, and acknowledging this history and the lasting impacts it continues to have on Indigenous people today is important,” Wilson said.
September 30 is the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada and is also known as Orange Shirt Day. It is a statutory holiday for Canadians to wear orange in recognition of the dark legacy of the Canadian Indian Residential School System.
The Residential School System, funded by the Canadian government, took over 150,000 Indigenous children from their homes from the 1870s until the last one closed in 1996 with the intention of destructing their culture through attempted assimilation into Canadian society.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report estimates that there are around 3,200 unmarked graves, most of which belong to children, at past residential school sites.
Haliburton resident Erin Lynch’s favourite colour is red, but she wears orange on both July 1 and Sept. 30 to honour and remember Indigenous people who have faced hardship as a result of the colonization of Canada.
“On Canada Day, many people celebrate how great it is to be Canadian, but I think we need to acknowledge Canada’s tumultuous relationship with Indigenous People, whether its colonialism, residential schools, or the continued systemic racism that exists today,” Lynch said.
Wilson said that Canada Day celebrations also put her in a difficult position.
“While I am grateful for many freedoms and opportunities this country has given me, I must acknowledge the privilege that I have as a white-passing Indigenous woman for allowing me that,” she said.
As an Indigenous peer navigator, Wilson sees the struggles that Indigenous populations face first-hand while providing outreach to the community, and she chooses to wear orange on July 1.
She said, “Compared to the non-Indigenous population, Indigenous people in Canada have shorter life expectancies, lower incomes, lower education levels, lower employment rates, struggle with food insecurity, and many don’t have access to safe drinking water. How do I celebrate a country where there is a sliding scale of who has access to services?”
Maracle said that the best thing that Canadians can do to better honour Indigenous people on July 1 and beyond is to take the time to learn about past and present Indigenous issues like residential schools and the fact that many reserves have never had clean drinking water.
“It’s about taking the time to to learn, understand, and figure out what has happened in the past. It’s important to educate yourself and others on this day,” he said.
Wilson said that Land Acknowledgements are a step in the right direction, but they are only the beginning.
“It is the positive actions of the people in this country that will allow us to move towards reconciliation.”
See the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation website nctr.ca/records/reports/ for more information.