There is a perfectly acceptable way to celebrate Canada Day, while at the same time putting the spotlight on the country’s abominable treatment of Indigenous people.
Cancellation isn’t the way to do it.
The Forks North Portage Partnership announced last week it’s cancelling its traditional July 1 celebrations, including fireworks and live bands on the downtown Winnipeg main stage. In its place, it will host a "New Day at The Forks" event.
A spokesperson for The Forks is now claiming, incorrectly, it’s not "cancelling" Canada Day. Of course it is. The name has been removed and the event will not be a celebration of Canada. That’s called cancelling.
"We acknowledge the anger and hurt Indigenous communities are feeling, and we know we have a role to play in the healing process," said The Forks chief executive officer Sara Stasiuk.
The Forks and all organizations — businesses, not-for-profits, government agencies — and individuals have a role to play in the healing process, including re-evaluating how non-Indigenous Canadians benefited, and continue to benefit, from colonialism at the expense of Indigenous people.
It doesn’t mean we have to stop celebrating Canada.
The City of Selkirk found the right balance. It’s holding Canada Day celebrations, while promoting a message.
"As we work towards reconciliation, it’s important to recognize Canada’s history and acknowledge the harms and wrongs this includes. We reflect on what it means to be Canadian and how that experience has been and continues to be inequitable for many. We reflect on what sort of Canada do we want to build together, for the future," the city says.
“As we work towards reconciliation, it’s important to recognize Canada’s history and acknowledge the harms and wrongs this includes." – City of Selkirk
"All Canadians are encouraged to take time to educate themselves, listen to truth and reflect on how they can contribute to reconciliation, strengthen relations and make our country a more inclusive, safe and welcoming space for everyone."
Many cities continue to hold Canada Day celebrations but are doing so with a focus on the country’s colonial past and how it affects today’s social order.
Vancouver organized its 2022 celebrations with input from Indigenous groups and is calling it "Canada Together." The theme is "weaving together the fabric of a nation." The focus is on hope and reconciliation.
Edmonton is celebrating Canada Day and shares this message: "Canada Day marks the anniversary of Confederation and also offers us time to grieve, learn, reflect, commit to understanding the truth and move ahead towards reconciliation."
Cities such as Saskatoon and Regina have similar themes, with celebrations and events that include Indigenous entertainment and stories from knowledge keepers. Like many cities, they’re using Canada Day to draw people into the conversation, not push them away. They’re celebrating Canada while also reflecting on, and learning about, its complex past and the structural racism that shapes today’s society.
The ongoing discovery of potential gravesites near former residential schools has over the past year captured the attention of Canadians about the impact of colonialism like never before.
It has forced us to rethink how Canada was created, including how the lives and livelihoods of Indigenous people were sacrificed to benefit non-Indigenous Canadians — and how those inequities continue today. It has acted as a catalyst for the country to confront its racist past and its racist present, whether in health care, administration of justice, child welfare or housing.
That doesn’t mean we give up on Canada, including the one day a year set aside to celebrate the nation-state we all share.
There are many things to cherish about Canada, including a collective compassion (and a legal framework) to pursue a more equitable society. Dominion Day, as it was once called, is an opportunity to remind ourselves of the responsibility we all have to work towards that goal.
The Forks is Winnipeg’s most significant meeting place. It belongs to all of us. Decisions made by those who operate it can have a profound influence on the rest of the city.
Cancelling Canada Day is causing others to second guess whether they should celebrate the country they live in. That’s wrong. The Forks North Portage Partnership has made a mistake. This decision should be reversed.
Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.