With the possible exception of “May 2-4”, Canadians have never really known how to treat a national holiday.
On New Year’s Day, most of us are hungover from celebrating the night before. But because many Canadians may observe different calendars such as the Chinese or Lunar New Year, and hardly anyone is in the mood to party on January 1st, we mostly lounge around trying to remember who we kissed at midnight. Or, if you are a parent of young children, you wake up as early as you always do, oblivious to the fact that you are now in a new year.
On the Easter weekend, those of us of Catholic upbringing try to remember not to eat red meat on Good Friday and to attend church on Easter Sunday. Other faiths have no idea how the holiday shifts to different weekends in different years if it is about the death of the same guy. But we all seem to buy into the logic that a giant bunny has left some giant turds hidden around the house that are apparently “chocolate”. So by all means, everyone should get the day off work.
Then there’s May 2-4, where we all scatter to the woods and drink our faces off. Just like Queen Victoria intended.
On Canada Day, Canadians celebrate the birth of our country, some by going back to the woods they had just found their way out of from May 2-4. But with the ongoing evidence of the atrocities suffered by Indigenous people at the hands of Canada, especially this year’s findings of children’s remains at various former residential schools, an all-out celebration on Canada Day seems like an all-out display of cruel indifference.
Then there’s some weird holiday in August that is known either as “Family Day” or “Civic Day” or maybe it’s just “August Day”? I don’t know. It’s a day in the middle of the summer that most people had off anyway. It should just be called “Another Day in August… DAY”.
Labour day, I recently learned, is supposed to be a celebration of the labour forces that helped build society. So really, it should be dedicated to those hard working people in the skilled trades. But somehow, puny pencil-neck types in other jobs who don’t know one end of a hammer from the other now get that day off to continue doing nothing laborious. (Thanks for that Labour Day. Seriously.)
And that brings us to Canada’s newest national annual holiday…The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation (NDTR) which occurred this past Thursday September 30 for the first time. It was voted into existence by parliament this past May, shortly after the grisly findings at the former residential school in Kamloops and is meant to be a day of education and reflection on Canada’s horrid history of Indian Residential schools. If there’s any holiday that it most closely resembles in tone, it should be that of Remembrance Day where we remember the brave men and women who fought for this country. We wear poppies, give moments of silent reflection and honour survivors with military procedures including jet flyovers and gun salutes (which almost certainly triggers veterans’ PTSD, which I have never understood).
On this NDTR, we are asked to wear orange in honour of the victims and survivors of residential schools. And while children in most modern day schools were indeed educated on the atrocities of those indigenous children this year, there wasn’t a national rallying point for everyone to focus around. Broadcasters did some specialized programming at various times, different cities marked the occasion with large public marches and our Prime Minister, well, he took a vacation to Tofino BC with his family but his public itinerary showed that he was in meetings in Ottawa all day. So he marked Canada’s first day of Truth and Reconciliation by being untruthful. Which he will now have to reconcile.
I hope those waves out there in Tofino were worth it Mr. Prime Minister. Because the ones you’re going to face back in Parliament will be a lot less fun. But enough about him, back to the new holiday.
I was encouraged to see how many Canadians participated in public events on this first NDTR. I was encouraged that my daughter came home from school with tough questions about why those Indigenous children were taken from their families (there is no answer of course but sheer cruelty and ignorance) and I was encouraged that a Canadian court on the day before NDTR, rejected a Canadian government motion trying to block compensation for indigenous children, which is in addition to the government’s ongoing battles against residential school survivors. Exactly why our government continues these battles I don’t know. Maybe it’s so their lawyers will eventually have a holiday dedicated to them instead.
But overall, while certainly not something to “celebrate”, I hope now that this National Day of Truth and Reconciliation is part of the Canadian calendar, we all eventually learn how to act on it and how to honour Indigenous people that have been summarily dishonored here for generations.
Wearing an orange shirt and declaring a day for truth and reconciliation alone isn’t going to make the necessary change all by itself. But hopefully if everyone takes the time to educate themselves, reflect and think of new ways they can contribute to the equality of Indigenous people, meaningful change will come. And while we will continue to honour the memory of victims and survivors with each new NDTR, may each year bring new true acts of reconciliation worth celebrating.