By Jason Menard
Their hearts are in the right place, but their heads? The on-line petition requesting that Victoria Day — a 168-year tradition — be changed to include Canada’s native population is well-intentioned, but misguided.
After all, our First Peoples deserve better than second billing.
As Canadians of European descent, our forebears’ behaviour towards Canada’s First Peoples has been abhorrent, at best. Being added as an afterthought to a day that celebrates the very monarchy that was responsible for much of these atrocities is insulting.
And that’s not even factoring the negative connotations, stereotyping, and blatant racism that would run rampant attaching First Peoples to a celebration colloquially known as the “Two-Four.”
Assigning ‘days’ is the equivalent of adding a Twibbon to your social avatar — it can make you feel good that you’re doing your part to raise awareness of the issues without actually doing anything productive.
It’s most certainly not a panacea.
From genocidal behaviour at residential schools, to broken land claim promises, to socially-influenced poverty, substance abuse, and suicide, the issues at hand require more attention than a mere tacking on to an existing celebration.
Already Victoria Day is fractured. In Quebec, since 2003 the celebration is known as the Journée nationale des patriotes, which replaced the previous Fête de Dollard — in place since the 1960s — recognizing the New France hero Adam Dollard-des-Ormeaux.
Instead of adding a “yes, and” to an existing holiday. Let’s institute a new day in March, that we can call First Peoples’ Day. It can be joined by the addition of an official statutory dedication for Remembrance Day in October.
But beyond just literally “calling it a day” we need to give it some teeth. Both Remembrance Day and First Peoples’ Day should be used by our school systems to focus educational program on the stories, history, and continuing legacies that make these days so important.
As a nation, we have an odd relationship with our native population. We’re happy to have them represent us at international events and opening ceremonies, celebrating their cultural significance in front of the world. But once the camera lights go out and the eyes of the world look elsewhere, we turn a blind eye to the truth behind the pomp and circumstance.
Another day that people use to go camping, have backyard bonfires, or welcome only as a three-day weekend won’t mean a thing. If we do implement a ‘day’ it has to be part of a larger campaign.
We need to find solutions to the challenges facing Canadian natives. Instead of merely raising a glass in celebration, we need to turn our attention to the problems at hand.
Part of that comes from educating our next generation — and teaching them the truth. Not a whitewashed version of history (pun fully intended.) A full day, integrated as a statutory holiday into our public-school curriculum, is a perfect place to start.
I’m not a Monarchist; nor am I anti-Monarchy. While I appreciate the history and significance of Victoria Day, I’m less concerned with diluting our existing holiday than I am with not giving a proposed First Peoples’ day the attention it deserves.
Let’s march into the future with a day in March to examine our past, recognize the challenges of the present, and work towards a better future — a better future for Canada’s First Peoples and for everyone who followed.