"if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen
the side of the oppressor." - Desmond Tutu.

There must be a statutory holiday on June 21 Featured

Gurpreet Singh 

As National Indigenous Peoples Day draws closer, the demand for a statutory holiday on June 21 continues to grow. If an online petition on Change.org launched by Coquitlam-based indigenous educator and activist Jennifer Sherif is any indication, thousands of people support this demand. Already the number of signatures it has received so far has surpassed 19,500 and is likely to spike.  

The Canadian government first announced June 21 as National Aboriginal Day in 1996, to recognize indigenous communities and their culture. Last year, the Prime Minister announced his decision to rename it as National Indigenous Peoples Day.

Such recognition is symbolic in nature and a very small step towards decolonization and reconciliation with the indigenous peoples, the real inhabitants of Canada which was built on their stolen lands. Yet it works as a constant reminder to every Canadian that we are all on the traditional lands of the First Nations.  

It is unfortunate and disturbing to see that not many Canadians, especially new Canadians, are aware of this fact or remain indifferent when it comes to acknowledging the history of occupation, racism and genocide of the indigenous peoples through brutal institutions, such as the Indian Residential School system. Systemic racism continues to exist in the everyday lives of the indigenous peoples, who are a minority in their own homeland.

Celebrating National Indigenous Peoples Day may not be sufficient to address these issues, yet it provides non indigenous people of Canada an opportunity to learn more about this inconvenient history. In that sense, the absence of a statutory holiday makes things more difficult. It’s a shame that Canada Day, which is a statutory holiday that represents the colonization of indigenous lands, is celebrated with enthusiasm by most Canadians, including the immigrants, but June 21 is mostly passed as another day on calendar without much interest. The events organized on this occasion are largely remain ignored or poorly attended. Therefore, it becomes important to give Canadians a day off on National Indigenous Peoples Day, so that they have time to go to these events and learn more about the history of colonialism, make more indigenous allies and respect their concerns and grievances. The current Canadian establishment has let them down by failing to have nation-to-nation consultations over controversial projects such as Kinder Morgan or the Site C Dam, or to provide drinkable water in many First Nation communities, overcome poverty and impoverishment, and punish those responsible for structural violence against indigenous women and state repression against indigenous men,  who over-represent their population in prisons.

 

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