Every year, I get a holiday on my birthday: July 1. So I have a positive association with Canada Day. Red and white flags are seen everywhere. People wear “Canada Day” T-shirts and hats. Fireworks are shot off at various locations in my hometown of Edmonton, Alta. Lots of cake.
Yet as I grew older and became more engaged with the Indigenous community, I began to hear a different story. As more and more Indigenous people started to learn more about our history in Canada, a new perspective developed on this national holiday.
I am a Canadian Indigenous man who is a Sixties Scoop Survivor. My uncles and aunts, and my biological mother went to residential schools as well as my grandparents. Three years ago, when Canada was about to celebrate 150 years, I encountered some hostility from some fellow Indigenous people. Not hostility toward me, but toward this celebration.
The people I heard from didn’t want to celebrate with the rest of Canada, because of all the historical baggage through what has been termed colonialism. Colonialism from a variety of early settlers goes back to the 1400s. To make a long story short, the settlers brought with them many diseases and other unwelcome aspects, such as the use of alcohol, the fur trade, the greed for land already occupied, and the desire to take the supposed uncivilized ways of these savages out of the way and replace them with new settler ideology of being a civilized Christian. The Residential School system seemed to be the final nail in the coffin of oppression. That’s the bad news that both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people are still trying to work through.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Aboriginal Healing Foundation are a few groups that have tried to work with and for Indigenous people for years. Along with that, numerous Indigenous organizations and communities are working at the local, provincial, and national level of governments. This has been an all-consuming task for many Indigenous people that have been part of this process. Why? Because most Indigenous people have been affected in one way or another. All you must do is look at the statistics of Indigenous people in their involvement in the child welfare system, suicide rates, addiction rates, incarcerations rates, homeless rates, pregnancy rates, infant mortality rates, diseases such as diabetes, skin conditions such as eczema, and lateral violence against each other. There are also several prominent mental health issues such as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This is the present situation.
I know that in other parts of North America, my North American Indian relatives, and the people of Mexico have been going through this type of tension as well in a variety of ways. With the killing of George Floyd, an African American man in Minnesota, this brought to the surface more feelings of injustice and racism. African Americans have gone through their own history of oppression as well as the people of Mexico. Even people from other countries can relate with their own stories of injustice, racism, and oppression.
As Christians, we are to respond to these historical events in a different way than the world. As Indigenous people move forward, we are all at different levels of healing and understanding with regards to moving forward with our lives. As someone who was adopted out, I suffered with addictions in the past and have dealt with issues such as depression and anxiety and Adult ADHD. I could find a handful of reasons to not want to celebrate Canada Day, but I have chosen a different path.
I am a Christian, and Christians are supposed to be full of the fruit of the Spirit. Galatians 5: 22-26 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patient, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”
As an Indigenous person and a Christian, I have chosen to try and break the vicious cycle of resentment and enter the realm of the Spirit of God. Jesus, who was part of the creation of this universe, in all its plethora of wonder and awe, saw what has happened in the history of Canada and other parts of North America, and he knows all the details. The creator has seen every injustice and act of racism around the globe since the beginning of time. Nothing has gone by the eyes and ears of God. Still, someone must step forward and break the mold. Someone must blaze a new path. Someone has to say, “Yes, colonialism was terrible and outright abusive as a genocide, but I still have to live my best life in the time I have left on this earth. What will I leave behind as a legacy for my children and all those that come after me? What example am I giving to fellow members of the body of Christ?”
Notice that in this passage in Galatians, the apostle Paul is telling us to be filled with fruit of the Spirit, so that we don’t become conceited, so we don’t provoke one another, so we don’t envy one another. I witness, on a regular basis, Indigenous and non-Indigenous people pointing the finger at each other. I see my people filled with racism and anger. I see non-Indigenous people filled with racism and anger. I see racism when I am out with my family. We all see it on the news on a regular basis. Will we always be in a reacting mode or a moving-forward mode? This is a decision every individual must make. Not just in theory but in action as well.
We have to acknowledge the past for what it is and not sugarcoat it, just like when we read the Bible in the Old Testament and read about the stubbornness and rebellion of the people of Israel. Pharaoh and his people enslaved the people of Israel and held them in bondage for 400 years. Yet Israel was guilty of their own rebellion against God many times. Moses and his generation didn’t enter the promised land, but Joshua’s generation did. Both generations had their good qualities and bad qualities. Both generations had their own story of injustice to tell. Even the Egyptians had their own story to tell. They had to suffer by losing what they had. Pharaoh, in the end, lost his own son. The people gave away all their silver and gold when the people of Israel left Egypt. The Egyptians had great loss in their own way after the tables were turned.
As an Indigenous Christian I want to celebrate Canada Day for what it can be, not for what it was. I want to celebrate Canada for all the positive things I have encountered in my life up until this point. I want to celebrate the health care and education I have received all these years. I want to celebrate the fact that each province is uniquely beautiful with their own unique geographical attributes. I want to celebrate the beauty of the mountains, but also celebrate the rolling hills of the prairies.
I want to celebrate the fact that I can share my story with you and encourage you to join me in celebrating Canada. Not for its sin stained past, but for what we can all learn from it and make a new frontier. When the settlers came, they said, “Burn the ships; we are here to stay.” Whether you are from Canada, the United States, or Mexico, we can all relate to these tensions. I say burn the anger, resentment, and unforgiveness, and wave a new flag of the fruit of the Spirit. I say let’s move forward together with the fruit of the Spirit. There is no other way. Will you join me?