More calls to cancel Canada Day in Vancouver

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Organizers and activists are calling on the City of Vancouver to “cancel Canada Day” this year.

The calls come after the City of Victoria on Friday confirmed that it would be cancelling its Canada Day celebrations, in light of the recent discovery of the remains of 215 Indigenous children at a former residential school site in Kamloops last month.

Radio broadcaster, and Tlowitsis Nation member, Gunargie O’Sullivan says many people struggle around the time of Canada Day, and cancelling celebrations is the bare minimum that can be done, considering how Canada has failed Indigenous families and children.

“Cancel Canada Day for 215 years maybe … I think we asked for too little, and that we got side-tracked by these little hash-tags instead of focusing on what it is we want outside of half-mast lead, cancelling Canada Day.”

She says cancelling celebrations can provide an opportunity for Indigenous people to claim their identity and Nation.

“You hear them say, ‘I am Squamish; I am Musqueam;’ And I think that this is a great opportunity for Indigenous people, especially those who claim sovereignty … a chance to actually pull out their flags and their colors,” she says.

She’s asking those who usually celebrate the holiday to instead use it as a day of reflection on the history of anti-Indigenous racism.

Read More: Victoria cancels Canada Day celebration in wake of Kamloops discovery

“I want the average Canadian … I want you to really, really reflect on how you are treating Indigenous people. When you see us, how does it make you feel — does it make you feel like you want to dismiss us, or do you want to invite us,” O’Sullivan says.

Haida artist Tamara Bell says she has never celebrated Canada Day.

“For me, as Indigenous people, Canada Day has always been a false narrative … when you look at the narrative and the origin stories of Canada, we really have been living a lie. And I think, now, we’re beginning to see the truth.”

Bell says celebrating Canada Day after the discoveries at former residential school sites across the country is reprehensible.

“I think Vancouver has to cancel Canada Day. I think that as we travel across the country, we have to begin to look at … do we live in denial and dance on the bones of children and pretend nothing is happening? Or do we take responsibility and comprehend the genocide that has been perpetrated against Indigenous people since the birth of Canada.”

Come July 1, Bell says Canadians need to ask themselves how they’re going to honour and respect Indigenous people, adding that Canada needs to enact the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations, along with UNDRIP.

“How is it okay that we can continue living our lives without addressing these horrific problems that exist within this country?”

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However, Vancouver City Councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung says cancelling Canada Day is a question for the community at large, as there are no civic-led Canada Day celebrations in Vancouver.

“The larger ones [celebrations] that happened through … say the Port of Vancouver with the fireworks or other federal parties, so Vancouver doesn’t have a sort of formal Canada Day celebration to have a discussion about canceling at this time,” she says.

Kirby-Yung says Victoria has been able to cancel their celebrations, as they are civic-lead.

“When we have had Canada Day festivities, they’ve been community led within different communities,” she says.

She says that while Canada Day still has meaning for people from all over the world who call it their home, First Nations must be centred in any conversation about Canada Day moving forward.

Greens city councillor Pete Fry says in a statement to NEWS 1130 that what happened in Kamloops, and at residential schools across the country, should give all of us pause to thoughtfully consider the history of Canada and how we reconcile that.

However, echoing Kirby-Yung’s assessment, Fry says Vancouver doesn’t program an official Canada Day – “so there’s nothing to cancel.”

An immigrant himself, Fry says he is proud to be Canadian, but thinks “it’s ok to also question and challenge the mythologies and the truths of our country.”

“We can’t change the past, but it should and can inform our future,” Fry says.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available for anyone affected by residential schools. You can call 1-866-925-4419 24-hours a day to access emotional support and services.

– With files from Kier Junos

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