In their words: What Indigenous leaders and political figures are saying this Canada Day
Canada Day is being marked differently this year for many, as the nation continues to reflect on the country’s colonial legacy and the ongoing injustices faced by Indigenous people. Coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions still in place, it’s another year of muted celebrations.
Here’s what political figures and Indigenous leaders are saying about Canada Day 2021.
Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde
“I encourage all Canadians to learn about our shared history, and the many contributions First Nations peoples have made, and are making every day. I urge everyone to reflect on the darkness of the past and commit to doing better as a country. Every single Canadian and government has a role to play, and we must all work together to improve understanding and create an equitable, just, and stronger country for all… There remains much more work ahead of all of us. We cannot lose the momentum. We must continue to see action for transformational change, change that will bring justice to survivors of residential schools, ending gender-based violence and systemic racism that continues to plague Canada's institutions. Change that will see our children and families in homes with clean drinking water, and homes free of mould. Change that will support student success, and a reconnection to our lands, our languages, ceremonies and culture. Change that sees our people and nations thriving, and change that leads us to real and lasting reconciliation,” said Bellegarde in a video address.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
“Today is an opportunity to celebrate our country and everyone who calls it home. But it's also an opportunity to reflect on what we've achieved as a country, and what more we have to do. This past year and a half has been difficult. The pandemic has changed our daily lives, taught us hard lessons and kept us apart. But if this difficult time has taught us all one thing, it's that in times of challenge or crisis, Canadians are there for one another… And we as Canadians must be honest with ourselves about our history… The truth is, we've got a long way to go to make things right with Indigenous peoples, but if we all pledged ourselves to doing the work, we can achieve reconciliation… Because Canada's history also shows us that we can do hard things… Now, as we work to finish the fight against COVID-19 and build back better, I know that the same values that Canadians have lived this past year: hope, hard work, kindness, resilience, and respect, will carry us forward. My friends, what makes Canada special is not the belief that this is the best country in the world, it's the knowledge that we could be…. So today as we celebrate this amazing place we all call home and the people we share it with, let's also recommit ourselves to doing the hard work together,” said Trudeau in a video address.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole
“This is our national day of celebration where Canadians of every background can come together and give thanks for living in a country that has welcomed millions to our shores… From Vimy Ridge to Kandahar, generations of Canadians stepped forward bravely to uphold our values, with thousands paying the ultimate sacrifice far from home… Canada is a great country and our commitment to freedom and dignity for all people also means we must acknowledge the injustices of our past and the inequalities of our present… The road to reconciliation does not start by tearing Canada down, but by recommitting to building Canada and all its people up. We can celebrate the country that we are and the one we aspire to be… Let us also use Canada Day as another opportunity to thank the frontline healthcare workers, essential workers, charity groups, faith organizations, and volunteers who have stepped up to help their neighbours during this crisis,” said O’Toole in a statement.
Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault
“Today is about celebrating what makes Canada beautiful, diverse, and strong. It is also a time for reflection, learning, and recognition. Our history has been stained with painful atrocities and too many people in Canada continue to face racism, violence, and hatred every day. Working towards building a Canada in which everyone has every opportunity to flourish requires active listening, acknowledgement and collective action. Recognizing the knowledge, struggles and perspectives of Indigenous Peoples, the first ones to care for this land we love, is essential in the path towards healing and reconciliation… There are many wonderful events and activities happening from coast to coast to coast, and around the world this Canada Day,” Guilbeault said in a video address.
Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society Cindy Blackstock
“We do need to learn from the history, but we need to understand that the injustice is or not over, and that's what the survivors of residential schools wanted us to understand… They didn't want to see the harms that happened to them happen to their grandchildren, and it is happening. And therein lies the opportunity for every Canadian to demand from the government, to demand from the churches, and to demand from ourselves the full implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation commissions calls to action… I think that Canadians all have an opportunity with the upcoming federal election for members of all parties to have a copy of the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions calls to action at your doorstep, and whoever comes knocking for your vote, tell them that you expect these things to be fully implemented, and if they don't implement them, they don't get to your vote,” said Blackstock in an interview on CTV News Channel.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Marco Mendicino
“There are few greater gifts in this world than to be a citizen of Canada. As the son of an immigrant family, I take pride in being part of a Canadian tradition where each successive generation welcomes the next… For my family, and for many Canadians, this Canada Day will be a little different. The pandemic has tested us in ways we never thought possible… Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians are in mourning… There will be many steps on the road to reconciliation, and our new Citizenship Oath will be a small part of that… It’s often said that Canada is an unfinished project that every generation of Canadians shapes anew,” said Mendicino in a statement.
Tk'emlups te Secwepemc First Nation Kukpi7 Chief Rosanne Casimir
“This year has been a hard year with the COVID pandemic and then the findings of 215 unmarked graves at the Kamloops Indian Residential School. This finding has opened deep wounds for survivors and intergenerational survivors. There have already been more and more findings of the lost children. Our hearts go out to the other communities who have recently confirmed unmarked grave sites and missing children on the grounds of other residential sites. We stand with you in this harsh truth which is part of the history we need all Canadians to acknowledge and come to terms with so we may heal as a Nation. There were lots of calls for cancelling Canada Day celebrations from across this country. The best way to honour our country, and the diversity of its citizens, and in particular, this year, our future generations, is to understand our real collective history. For Tk'emlups te Secwepemc, we would like to encourage all to learn more about the colonial legacy of the residential school and the intergenerational impacts that it has had... Racism is still alive in Canada. And it is not just First Nations that face the ugly face of racism. There are stories regularly in the news about race-based crimes against various ethnicities. Canada is about diversity. We should be standing together in solidarity, regardless of our background… We are all a part of Canada,” Casimir said in a statement.