Leading up to our nation’s biggest holiday, Indigenous activists across Canada organized marches under the banner of “Cancel Canada Day.” To many non-Indigenous Canadians, the very idea was off-limits. Cancel Canada Day?
Whether it’s because of the parties and parades, the day off from work, or real love for the country, many Canadians look forward to July 1 every year. But for the people left behind by our government, including its Indigenous populations, the day is not a time of prideful reflection. Rather, it’s a time to consider what the country took and continues to take away from them.
“Cancel Canada Day” was launched at a time of national reckoning, and it was one of the multiple movements for increased awareness of Indigenous rights in 2020. This is what the rallies were all about!
What Is The Cancel Canada Day Movement?
Canada Day is a commemoration of the union of three separate colonies to create a single Dominion within the British Empire. When this new state was created, though, many sovereign nations were already on the continent, each with their own political and social structures. Many had also established what they thought were nation-to-nation treaties with the British. In 1867, historians estimate that between 100,000 and 125,000 First Nations, as well as 10,000 Métis and 2,000 Inuit, lived in what is now Canada.
Over the years, the three colonies expanded to ten provinces and three territories, and diseases, starvation, and forced movements fragmented and decimated the Indigenous nations. This is why, for many native communities, the day celebrating the birth of a new nation is more like the day their nations and cultures started to die.
This is the impetus behind Idle No More’s Cancel Canada Day rallies: to march against the “ongoing genocide” against Indigenous people while paying tribute to those who lost their lives at the hands of the Canadian state. The movement came at a time of renewed attention on police brutality and racism against Indigenous people in Canada.
The Cancel Canada Day Rallies Were Peaceful
Almost a month before Cancel Canada Day, video footage came out of an RCMP officer in Alberta forcing a First Nations Chief to the ground and punching him in the head. This, along with the earlier action in solidarity with B.C.’s Wetʼsuwetʼen First Nation in their fight against the Coastal Gaslink Pipeline, put a renewed focus on the true meaning of Canada Day for many of our nation’s citizens.
Contrary to popular opinion, Cancel Canada Day marches peacefully took place in cities across Canada. Some of the largest included:
- In Vancouver, roughly 200 marchers gathered to share experiences of discrimination, discuss the high rate of Indigenous children removed from their families, and bring awareness to the lack of clean drinking water in many First Nations communities.
- A rally in Saskatoon attracted a few dozen people. Event organizers spoke about Indigenous people’s struggle to find an identity within Canada.
- In Hamilton, a peaceful vigil was held to recognize missing and murdered indigenous women, girls, and two spirits.
- In Fredericton, New Brunswick, protesters took to the street for an anti-racism walk.
As these rallies show, July 1 is recognized as a day of mourning rather than of celebration, a concept that dates back to the day after Confederation.
Cancelling Canada Day Is Not A New Concept
Despite the shock among non-Indigenous Canadians at the very idea of “cancelling” Canada Day in 2020, it’s not a new concept. For many Indigenous peoples, the idea of celebrating Canada Day is an unfamiliar concept in and of itself. This is because, after July 1, 1867, the federal government took “responsibility” for Indigenous affairs from the colonies. This led to land seizures, 11 “numbered” treaties that mostly went unfulfilled, and the disenfranchisement of Indigenous people until 1960.
In an article from the Canadian Press, many interview subjects confess to never having celebrated this national holiday in their communities. “We have Canada Day parades, we have Canada Day celebrations downtown. On National Indigenous Day we don’t have cities or municipalities holding parades or holding events where concerts are played to celebrate Indigenous people,” said Wade Grant, an intergovernmental officer with the Musqueam Indian Band. 
This is a good point: most Canadians spend June 21 like they would any other day, not knowing it holds a special meaning for Indigenous nations across Canada. So when non-Indigenous peoples hear the phrase “cancelling Canada Day,” it shouldn’t come as a shock – there are many reasons not to celebrate.