Canada Day is going to look different this year, and not just because of COVID-19.
For the second year in a row, a lot of small Alberta towns, including Ponoka, are celebrating Canada Day quietly.
For some, that is simply because plans weren’t able to be pulled together in time with restrictions lifting the same day, or out of respect for Indigenous communities that are in mourning as the remains of Indigenous children continue to be uncovered in unmarked graves at former residential school sites across the country.
The Town of Ponoka has stated that they decided against hosting their usual Canada Day activities as a precaution because COVID-19 is still a concern, with the local population still needing their second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and children also being unvaccinated.
They are co-hosting fireworks along with the Ponoka Stampede Association in celebration of the lifting on restrictions, but also encouraged citizens to take time to reflect on these “tragic discoveries and our country’s painful legacy as we work towards reconciliation.”
While some are eager to have anything to celebrate and have something festive to look forward to, others may be feeling like with the recent news, there isn’t much to celebrate.
I’d suggest that both feelings are valid, and both have their place.
There’s no denying that the last year-and-a-half has been difficult, and with so many celebrations, milestones and events curtailed, modified or cancelled, some were hoping to be able enjoy the traditional park activities, face-painting and pancake breakfasts iconic of Canada Day.
However, I’ve always been a firm believer that if you’re going to celebrate a holiday, you should know the history, and know what it means to you so you’re celebrating for the right reasons, rather than just following traditions ignorantly.
The truth that residential schools are not just a “dark chapter” in Canada’s history as the long practice spans almost the same length of time Canada has existed as a country, is becoming inescapable.
As others have pointed out, these aren’t truly “discoveries” and these children aren’t being “found” either — the Truth and Reconciliation Commission told the government these graves existed and there were stories and knowings in Indigenous communities about them.
This isn’t a revelation, Canada is just finally starting to really listen to Indigenous voices that have been crying out for these children for decades. These children aren’t being found. It was known they were there. They are being recovered; reclaimed.
It’s also an inescapable fact that Canada as we know it today wouldn’t exist without imperial colonialism, and the damaging, long-lasting effects of those racist, entitled ideologies are evident today.
“Where do you think all the gold came from?” Hella asks Thor in the popular cinematic film, “Thor: Ragnarok” before piercing the golden ceiling painted with idyllic images to uncover the wartime conquests that lead to Asgard’s prosperity.
It’s just a movie, however, it came to mind as a powerful parallel of where you might say Canada is today, with facing stark truths of our history that have been suppressed or forgotten that are now being brought to light.
So what about Canada is worth celebrating on July 1? Undoubtedly there are good things about Canada as well, including sacrifices soldiers made for freedom in both world wars, and advancements in science and medicine, such as the Canadarm or the discovery of insulin.
However, this year, maybe it would be more appropriate to simply acknowledge the atrocities that were committed in our past, in order to make a better legacy for the future.
Perhaps reflection should be incorporated into Canada Day celebrations, with more Indigenous culture included, so the holiday can become about making a commitment to do better, to move towards reconciliation, so this country can become a place that all of its people can feel proud of.
That, however, is going to take a lot of work.