[00:00:00] Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Today is Canada Day. Traditionally a day most of the country uses to celebrate the story that we tell ourselves about this land. It’s a good story, honestly. Or it would be if as many Canadians have learned over the past year, it were true.
News Clip: As of yesterday, we have hit 751 unmarked graves.
News Clip 2: Another disturbing find at a former residential school site, this time in Saskatchewan. It’s the second major find since the discovery of 215 unmarked graves at a residential school in Kamloops, BC.
News Clip 3: There’s going to be many more stories in the future. And this is Cowessess First Nations.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: I’m not pretending to speak for every Canadian today. I can’t and I shouldn’t, and I don’t want to, but I will offer up [00:01:00] myself as a type of Canadian that you might recognize. I’ve never thought deeply about this country on July 1st, other than to be proud to be Canadian, and happy to be able to enjoy all this country offers to me. I never had to think much about it. My family has been here forever. Canada’s been very, very good to us. And what I learned about Canada and its history was 99% positive. And yes, over the past 12 months, I have felt betrayed by what I was taught, but I’ve also felt embarrassed that I didn’t learn better on my own, that I didn’t listen to the other stories.
There are stories in Canada that are far older than my family’s, and stories that are far younger. Those stories speak very differently about what this country is [00:02:00] and what it offers. That doesn’t mean that they are all horrible stories, or that this country is something to be totally condemned, but they are different stories. And they’re stories that have rarely been told. And even more rarely, listened to, especially on July 1st. So today we’re going to hear three of those stories because you know my story about what Canada day has meant to me. I mean, you might not know mine personally, but my story is the one that gets written down. But many of us don’t know the other stories.
I’m Jordan Heath-Rawlings, this is The Big Story. First today, we welcome Eva Jewell, an associate fellow at the Yellowhead Institute. Eva is Anishinaabekwe [00:03:00] from Deshkan Ziibiing (Chippewas of the Thames First Nation). Eva, let’s just start with this: what, if anything, has Canada day historically meant to you?
Eva Jewell: Well, it’s always been a day of celebration for a settler colonial state that has never included me or my community or Indigenous peoples more broadly, and I’ve never celebrated a Canada day. So I was raised by my parents as Anishinaabe on my mother’s side, and Onkwehonwe on my father’s side. And my dad was very adamant that we are not citizens of the state, but in fact, we’re members of our preexisting nations.
And so things like Canada Day was not really in our family celebrations. And it actually wasn’t until 1956, that First Nations people were even granted Canadian citizenship. So Canada hasn’t really ever been, um, something that I, I don’t think, uh, anyway in my immediate [00:04:00] family and circle, has been celebrated. And Canadian citizenship, I need to remind folks is not actually something that our leaders even desired at the time. It was something that was, uh, it was an involuntary enfranchisement to the state because our leaders had always asserted that, uh, we are Nations.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: So what does the tone of Canada Day celebrations feel like to you then as you’ve seen them in years past?
Eva Jewell: Uh, I’ve always thought as kind of a celebration of, you know, a country that I guess, because it does do a lot of, uh, narration that it’s a great country, that it’s a human rights, um, leader on the international stage, um, that it’s this great country of freedom and multiculturalism. And I see that folks celebrate that, of course, but of course, as we know, and as we are coming to know these past few weeks, that Canada has been very good at hiding the [00:05:00] truth of its genesis.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Do you think that there is enough reflecting going on amongst Canadians that, that the day might be different this year, or, you know, is there too much momentum behind, to use your excellent way to put it, the narration of what we are as a country for it to change?
Eva Jewell: I hope Canadians are using this time to deeply reflect on the true origins of this country, and what it took to clear out the land and make way for this so-called Canada. And the truth is it took the genocide of Indigenous Nations to create the country that folks are enjoying and celebrating today. And I do see that there are some Canadians who are taking the day to either wear orange shirts or reflect meaningfully on, on what Indigenous peoples are currently grieving and mourning.
There are also a faction of Canadians who are [00:06:00] very aggressively going forward and celebrating it, uh, and, and maintaining that nothing has been, nothing wrong has happened. And that all of this was in the ancient past or the people who enacted these genocides or were of their time or that they are not directly responsible for us. So why should they pause, um, while we mourn. And I think for those Canadians who are moving forward and celebrating, it is those Canadians whose apathy that the Canadian government actually uses to leverage their inaction on many of the meaningful changes that Indigenous peoples are calling for. So I think it’s all a part of the design of Canada, is to have loyal citizens to, uh, to be not particularly affected by, [00:07:00] uh, our genocide and our trauma.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: What could we do to use this day to really look in the eye everything that we’ve realized or everything, some people I guess, have realized about this country over the past few months? Is there a way to mark the day, um, with respect and sorrow and, and an eye to a better Canada, if that doesn’t sound too preposterously hopeful?
Eva Jewell: I think Canadians who are attentive to the tragedies, uh, the ongoing violence, are still going to gather because it’s a day off, right. And of course they have a heart and they can read a room and they might not be celebrating with Canadian flags and they may be wearing orange or wearing black. And if that’s you, there are many things that you can do to make it a meaningful day of gathering. You can just at least talk about the fact that over a thousand Indigenous children’s graves have been located in the last month. So just [00:08:00] talking about it, in a moment when we shouldn’t be silent about it, is meaningful as well.
But there’s also a space where you can move to where there’s action. Perhaps that day is thinking about contacting your MP or drafting a letter, choosing a particular call to action that you think is important and asking your MP to act on it or to act on all of them. You can just think about how do you benefit from Indigenous erasure and what’s your role in, in Canada today? What does a future look like where Indigenous peoples have equity and jurisdiction? What does the future look like when we can actually celebrate such a day?
And it’s been pointed out recently that Canadians spend an average of $91 a year on fireworks for Canada Day. And if you’re not purchasing fireworks, maybe you can donate the $91 to an Indigenous cause. One, I think is really important right now is the Indigenous, or sorry, the [00:09:00] Indian Residential School Survivors Society. Um, you can donate to your local Indigenous organization, uh, that relies on oftentimes government funding or, um, or seeks donations. So there’s many things you can do to make the day meaningful, to reflect and to also, of course, um, gather because that’s just what Canadians are going to do for their day off.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Our next guest is Donnovan Bennett. He is a senior writer at Sportsnet. He’s also a host there where he covers, among many other things, the intersection of politics and sports and race. Donovan, maybe you could just start by telling me what you hope or what you think the mood around Canada will be like today.
Donnovan Bennett: I think there’ll be two, if not three moods. So basing solely on what I’ve seen on social and some of the [00:10:00] conversations I’ve had, I think some people are going to be a little bit defiant, quite frankly, and say that woke culture’s run amuck and they’re not going to be dictated how they can celebrate Canada Day and how proud they are of their country. And if anyone doesn’t like it, they can go to another country. So I think people are really going to turn on the style, to use a football term cause I’m immersed with watching the Euro Cup right now, and really live up there Canada Day celebrations almost as a statement of fact that they have the right to do it.
Others, on the other end of the spectrum, are going to cancel Canada Day and it won’t be Canada Day, it’ll be just another day. And then I think in the middle, in somewhere along the spectrum, I suppose it’s where I find myself is I’m going to be really reflective. I don’t know how I’m going to feel on the day. I’m certainly not going to just dress up in red and white to take a photo and [00:11:00] post it on Instagram. But, I think throughout this period, which doesn’t seem to really be ending, we’re just moving the conversation from one type of racial or societal reckoning to another, I haven’t done as much thinking as I’ve done speaking. And so for me, I think it will be a time to be really reflective, to do some thinking, to do hopefully some reading and check in with why I’m so conflicted about my relationship with our country when that’s not something I would have said in the past.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Well, yeah, that’s what I’m wondering about is that that middle ground you spoke of, you know, um, I think we can all agree there’s probably some people who are just going to be defiant and reactionary. Um, but my question is for the people, for whom, and I include myself to an extent in this, for the people for whom the [00:12:00] past year plus has been sort of one reckoning after another to realize what it’s actually like for racialized people and Indigenous people in this country. I don’t think anybody in that group really wants to, to completely write it off as a, a day off as a day of celebration, but how can it be used to come to terms with what we’ve learned about our country over the past 18 months or so?
Donnovan Bennett: Great question. And I think that answer will be a little bit more personal for everyone depending on where they are on this journey. Because I think part of this conversation just to meet people where they are, you can’t expect people to all have the same amount of education on these issues and enlightenment on these issues overnight. So for many, it’s going to take a lot longer than a day to really fully understand the weight of, some of these issues.
For me, it starts w we’re talking about the current atrocity that we’re [00:13:00] examining how we have treated the Indigenous peoples of our country. I’m going to see a lot of posts on Instagram, people on docks, cottages, you know, feet up or the feet in the sand, on a beach somewhere, and they’re gonna take a photo of their favorite book. And I just wonder if that time might be better used, specifically now, reading the Truth and Reconciliation, understanding what it meant, understanding some of the horrible, horrible atrocities that happened that would make the Handmaid’s Tale seem like a fairy tale.
I wonder if people really did deep dive on the 94 calls to action that have been asked for that we haven’t seen really a fraction of them done. And yes, we’ve had a global pandemic recently, but we’ve had lots of time before that, since 2015, to get some of [00:14:00] these things done. The fact that they aren’t done is part of the reason why Indigenous communities are even more marginalized because of the pandemic right now, because we haven’t done things towards some sort of reciprocity or equity.
I think using the time, the given holiday that we have and the holiday that we were given coming to the Reconciliation Day on September 30th to really fully understand some of these issues and maybe why you feel the way you do about them, good, bad, or indifferent. And I really think that we need to do the work. And when I say we I’m talking about allies of all groups, because there is no education on these issues, you know, whether it’s our history in terms of Indigenous community or really [00:15:00] the lived experience of any marginalized Canadian, we don’t learn about it in our schools, certainly. So it’s almost like it’s a lie of omission that we’re not willing to own up towards in Canada. I learned more about American history than I did about the history of Indigenous peoples, or the history of African Canadians in Canada, or about the fact that our railroad was built literally off the back of Asian Canadians.
So I think we really need to do the work ourselves augment the fact that we’re not getting this traditional education, get a full understanding and maybe our views will be different. I’ll give you real life example. I get emotional when the national anthem plays and I’m at a sporting event with my grandfather, who’s in a landed immigrant from Jamaica. And he came here to give me a better life. And I’m so thankful to everything that this country has done for my family and for me, which is [00:16:00] where the confliction comes, because I understand that this country’s far from perfect. And we still have a lot of work to do, and it’s not equal for my family or me as it is for other people.
But as I’ve started to understand the history of colonialism and what has happened to Indigenous communities on their land, I’ve actually had a better understanding that, wait a minute, my family, many other families from different parts of the world, Commonwealth parts of the world, came to Canada for a better life because the life they had at their home country, wasn’t great because many of the same things that happened to Indigenous people in this country happened abroad in those countries. And so I’ve started to think about these systems that we so often just thought are the way they are and starting to analyze what my relationship to them is and how I feel about them. And so I understand that, yes, [00:17:00] my family came here to Canada for a better life and they have one, but part of my privilege is that they’ve had a better life despite the fact that the original inhabitants of this land have not been able to, even though they were here first.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Last question, uh, because I’ve heard your son in the background there, what are you going to tell him?
Donnovan Bennett: Sorry!
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Oh, don’t apologize. But he’s gonna, he’s gonna be a kid one day that wants to, that wants to partake in the fireworks and the good feelings and everything. What are you going to tell him?
Donnovan Bennett: I’m going to tell him that his Gigi’s, which are his great-grandparents moved here, left the wonderful country to come to this wonderful country, uh, so that he could have a better life and that already, no matter what I do, just him waking up in this country every day, his life is so much better than theirs in many ways. He’s set up with such success and that is something to [00:18:00] be celebrated, but it is incumbent upon him to make sure that’s the same for others, for other families who come here from different parts of the world, just like our family. It’s incumbent upon us to make sure that that remains the same for his children and his children’s children, so that there is a continual legacy, but it also is important that that for the first time ever becomes the same for the people who were on this land before any of us. And I’ll tell him the first real philanthropic act of our country was Indigenous leaders giving support and shelter to settlers. And that act was paid back by culture being stolen, the land being stolen, and then being disrespected. And it’s going to take a long time to build back that trust after that. And he could be a part of that process if he [00:19:00] does the work.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Lastly, we have Fatima Syed, who you know from previous episodes of this podcast, who you know from guest hosting this podcast, and we are so happy to have her back. Fatima, you actually wrote an essay about your experience as an immigrant, but also as a potential ally to Indigenous people. So in light of that, I guess I want to know how will Canada Day change for you this year versus what it’s been in the past to you?
Fatima Syed: I think for over a decade, I’ve had this perception of what Canada is and what it means to me, to my community, and to all Canadians. And I think every year that I’m here, it gets shattered a little bit, that perception, as you learn more and more about the real history of this country, um, the history that wasn’t included in the citizenship guide [00:20:00] that we obsessed over for years until we got our citizenship. That wasn’t taught to me when I went to university and studied, it wasn’t taught to my parents who didn’t have any education here, but, uh, you know, even in the communities and workplaces they interacted in, they never encountered, uh, Indigenous history.
And I think this year particularly, in the wake of all these discoveries of, um, mass graves at residential schools, or forced assimilation schools that I’m trying to call them now, um, which have confirmed just how deeply fraught Canadian history and Canadian legacy is, how deeply fraught the very founding of Canada is.
It’s hard to celebrate that country because I don’t understand it. I don’t fully know it. And I wonder what else I [00:21:00] don’t know. And what else I’m going to learn, not just in terms of how many more mass graves we’re going to find, but how many more things have we not talked about or have we buried deep out of shame or guilt, or just the process of colonialism. And because I don’t recognize that country, I don’t have the urge to celebrate this year. And that’s an incredibly difficult feeling and incredibly difficult emotion, but that’s where I’m at as a Canadian.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Is there a way to confront what so many of us, including myself, have learned about the country we live in over the past few months or year, and still mark the country that has given a lot to so many people, your [00:22:00] family, and my family included?
Fatima Syed: You know, I’ve been talking to a lot of people about this as I think we all have. And a friend of mine said to me that a thing can be good and bad at the same time. Like Canada can be good in terms of, you know, opening its arms to welcome immigrants and refugees. Um, but Canada can also be really, really crap in how it’s treated its Indigenous people. And those two things aren’t easy to reconcile, but just as a human being can be good and also bad at the same time, I suppose so can a country.
So I think it’s okay to be a proud Canadian, which I am, but also feel truly ashamed of your country. It’s because we’re proud Canadians that we want our country to be better, that we don’t want this to be our [00:23:00] country. And I think that’s how you celebrate Canada, right? That we are fortunate to be in a country where we can have this conversation and we can continue having this conversation so we can improve.
Instead of fireworks, let’s have, you know, solidarity parades. Instead of, you know, just ignorant flag-waving and just wearing red and white, let’s truly understand what that flag is, was, and what we want it to represent, not just around the world, but right here at home, because this moment is about home. It’s about the fact there were so many people in our homes that were not treated well, and in fact were killed without us even knowing it. I think that’s how you’re a proud Canadian. You recognize that you have the space in the [00:24:00] room to think, to converse, and to demand better in a moment like this and to help shape that better in a moment like this.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: You know, I am really concerned about the push to, quote unquote, cancel Canada Day, not because I think we should celebrate like normal, and because I feel, like, as proud of my country as ever and all that, cause I really don’t and I’m really struggling with how to celebrate it. But what really worries me when I see that stuff is that it cedes ownership of what Canada is to the people who don’t want to care about any of this, and just want to be able to party and wrap themselves in a flag and et cetera, et cetera. And it makes it almost a culture war issue with, with those people on the side of Canada. And, and that’s really terrifying to me because I want to have ownership of what my country is. And I want a hand in shaping [00:25:00] how we do this. And, and I feel like if it gets split down the lines of we should cancel Canada Day, or we shouldn’t, then we’re never going to come out of this better. Does that make sense?
Fatima Syed: It does. And this is, you know, I’m concerned as well because this is in a literal moment. It’s a deeply introspective moment that we’re responding to with literal language. I don’t think anyone wants to cancel this country, or anyone feels any less patriotic for saying that let’s not celebrate it this year, because frankly, there’s very little to celebrate.
I want to engage those people who get worried when we say cancel Canada Day, because I want to understand what their fears are. Because I’m not questioning anyone’s Canadian-ness. I genuinely want to know what are you worried about? Because if it’s the fact that, you know, being Canadian is [00:26:00] your very identity and that July 1st means that much to you because of that, I respect it. I totally respect that feeling. But at the same time, the way I would push back is to say, but do you understand that there are so many people living in the same geographical space that you are, that don’t feel the way that you do because they don’t feel the way that they do, and because their loss is so great, maybe just this once, let’s talk about what Canada means to everyone and not just a few. Let’s talk about who wrote Canada’s history. Let’s talk about why we’re celebrating Canada Day.
You know, I’ve, I’ve been, I’ve been doing a lot of Googling and researching and actively trying to read. And I looked up the history of Canada Day and it sort of was shaped and reshaped around Indigenous inclusion. Immigrant inclusion, [00:27:00] you know, governments and leaders, time and time again, wanted to create this beautiful day of celebration of all the very different facets of Canadian community. And by doing so, they inadvertently, and I can’t say whether they did this consciously or unconsciously, but they suppressed history. You know, they didn’t talk about genocide. They didn’t talk about displacement. They didn’t talk about, um, injustices that, that this country has also done to the very communities that Canada Day was designed to celebrate.
And, and I wanted to bring this. It’s not just Indigenous communities, right? The part of the problem is there’s so much. I recently learned that July 1st is also the day the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed in Canada in 1923.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Yeah.
Fatima Syed: And this was the act that prevented families from being reunited while fathers and husbands slaved and died on the railroad. Indigenous communities were the ones that took these Chinese workers in and healed them and gave them [00:28:00] community. Indigenous people have, have been sort of supporting all the communities behind the scenes, and we don’t know it. Not a single Indigenous person is named in the citizenship guide or in our school textbooks. So I’m not saying don’t be a proud Canadian. I’m saying being a proud Canadian means recognizing that unfortunately we live in a land that is inherently flawed. The entire founding of it was flawed. Its entire history was flawed, and we don’t even know the half of it.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: That was Fatima Syed. Before that, we heard from Donnovan Bennet. And first we heard from Eva Jewell who’s an associate fellow at the Yellowhead Institute and Anishinaabekwe from Deshkan Ziibiing (Chippewas of the Thames First Nation). That was The Big Story. Thank you for listening to those stories. I hope you think about them today and every Canada Day from now on. You can find us as always in your [00:29:00] favourite podcast player, you can talk to us anytime on Twitter at @TheBigStoryFPN.
Thank you for listening. I’m Jordan Heath-Rawlings, The Big Story will be back on Monday.
Back to top of page