Healthy Communities

Reflecting on July 1st (Canada Day):Our home on Native land

30 June 2023 - by YMCA of Greater Toronto
The Indian Residential School Survivors Society is available to survivors and their families at any time. Please call 1-800-721-0066 or 1-866-925-4419 to access the 24-7 crisis line. You can find additional support via online chat or Help Line at 1-855-242-3310. First Nations, Inuit and Métis youth can text 686868 for access to Indigenous volunteer crisis responders (via Crisis Text Line powered by Kids Help Phone) and adults can access this same service by messaging 741741. 

Many Canadians typically celebrate July 1st as Canada Day (formerly Dominion Day) to mark the dominion of the nation currently known as Canada. However, it is essential to acknowledge diverse feelings and perspectives, particularly those of many Indigenous Peoples on what is ancestrally known as Turtle Island.  

A time of reflection 

To many Indigenous communities, July 1st serves as a solemn reminder of the tragic legacy of the Indian Residential School System (IRSS), the devastating impact of the Sixties' Scoop, the epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relations in Canada, the enduring effects of the Indian Act, and the persisting lack of access to clean water in numerous Indigenous communities, including 23 in Ontario alone. These interconnected issues highlight the ongoing struggles faced by Indigenous Peoples in what’s currently Canada, resulting from genocidal policies and systemic injustices that have persisted since colonization. 

The Indian Residential School System sought to forcefully deny children their cultural identity, inflicting immeasurable harm that reverberates through generations. The Sixties’ Scoop further exacerbated the disconnection from Indigenous cultures, as many Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families and communities. The epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relations continues to demand urgent attention and justice, as Indigenous kin disproportionately face violence and are victims of systemic failures in protection and support. The Indian Act, a deeply discriminatory piece of legislation, has perpetuated inequalities and hindered the self-determination and sovereignty of Indigenous communities. Additionally, the lack of clean water in Indigenous communities exposes a fundamental injustice, as necessities for health and well-being are denied. 

Acknowledgement, advocacy, reparations and healing 

By wearing orange shirts and engaging in acts of remembrance, Indigenous communities bravely confront the painful history and ongoing injustices. Their goal is to foster collective healing, acknowledge the deep-rooted harm caused, and advocate for reconciliation and reparations. It is crucial for all Canadians to listen, learn, and actively work towards justice, equity, and meaningful change to address the intergenerational impacts and create a future that respects the inherent rights and dignity of all Indigenous Peoples across Turtle Island. 

As July 1st approaches each year, a range of emotions engulfs people across the country when reflecting on Canada’s history with Indigenous Peoples. Anger, sadness, disappointment, shame, and hesitancy shine through, while coexisting with a longing for sense of community and belonging. Many Indigenous individuals find pride in the strength of their ancestors, who have and continue to endure and persevere through immense hardship. However, it is crucial to recognize that the decision not to celebrate a typical “Canada Day” is not intended to admonish those who choose to do so. Instead, it serves as an opportunity to turn attention to the realities that exist beyond our red-and-white coloured glasses. 

Meaningful action 

While some argue that refraining from celebration may be seen as a performative act, it is important to understand that for many who choose to not celebrate, it represents a collective call to address the root causes of systemic injustices. Many Canadians believe that authentic reconciliation requires meaningful action, notably through the fulfillment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action document outlined in 2015.  

Recent movements like #CancelCanadaDay have gained traction, particularly after the tragic rediscovery of children's bodies at former residential school sites. These movements aim to draw attention to the darker chapters of Canadian history and call for a critical reevaluation of the historical narrative. By reimagining Canada Day, we can work towards a future where it represents freedom, prosperity, and equality for everyone in Canada. It remains important to recognize that these aspirations have not been fully realized, and there is still much work to be done. 

A more equitable Canada 

This July 1st, let us approach ‘Canada Day’ with reflection and empathy. It is not our intention to sway individuals to celebrate or abstain from celebration. Rather, we encourage a pause — a moment to reflect and gain a deeper understanding of the perspectives and experiences of Indigenous Peoples. By taking the time to educate ourselves about the genocidal actions inflicted by Canada and the enduring struggles faced by Indigenous communities resulting from this genocide, we can make informed decisions about how we choose to observe this day. To create a more equitable Canada, we must all stand together with open dialogue, empathy, and a commitment to meaningful action. 


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