As we approach this year’s ‘Canada Day,’ I find myself still reflecting on the call to cancel celebrations that was put forward last year. This day has often been called into question by the Indigenous Peoples of this land and more recently has become even more of a discussion.

Some settlers may be wondering “why should I care? My ancestors aren’t the ones who tore this land apart and colonized it.” I know that’s how I saw it for quite some time. 

The only education I had came from the Canadian schooling system. The same system that built this land on oppression and genocide. It wasn’t until I started to learn for myself and started working in spaces that were consciously amplifying Indigenous voices that I truly began to understand the horrible tribulations the Indigenous people of this land experienced and continue to go through.

As children of immigrants, it’s easy to feel as though Indigenous issues aren’t our problem. We often find ourselves uninterested in things that don’t serve to better us directly. Our parents come here with the Canadian Dream of giving us a chance at a better life. It’s instilled in us at such a young age that we need to focus on achieving our own successes and often fail to see the truths around us.

It’s a peril of the niche we’ve been born into. Having grown up in the west, many of us are more focused on ourselves as individuals and our cultural upbringings lead us to focus on the identities we identify with. We often can get trapped in the loop of ‘I’m not this so why should I worry about that’ - I’m not a colonizer, so why should I worry about reconciliation? I’m not Indigenous so why should I worry about Indigenous rights?

However, justice for Indigenous people is something that is relevant to everyone. We have settled on this land and continue to experience many benefits from the colonization that took place.

We’re quick to call ourselves Canadians, but even quicker to denounce the responsibility that comes with that.

The atrocities that took place against Indigenous Peoples are still relevant today. Just last year, thousands of unmarked graves were uncovered all over the country, revealing even darker truths about residential schools.  

Residential schools tore children from their families and worked to beat the Indigeneity out of them. The last residential school only closed down in 1996 — that’s less than 30 years ago. 

Calling it a history makes it seem like this took place hundreds of years ago. It isn’t just a history - it’s a current reality. 

Indigenous People continue to experience significant systemic discrimination and marginalization in all aspects of their life. The systems that we have in place today are a result of colonization which tried to eradicate Indigenous Peoples. 

These systems were made for a cultural and literal genocide of Indigenous Peoples and that cannot be forgotten. There is intergenerational trauma embedded into the lives of Indigenous people, however, there aren’t enough resources for their healing or enough acknowledgement of their traditional healing practices. 

The land we get to live, play and work on is stolen from Indigenous Peoples. Dr. Susan Dion,  a Lenape and Potawatomi scholar, professor and Vice-President of Indigenous Initiatives at York University drives this point home, stating “our ancestors didn’t choose to come here. This is our home. This is our land. There’s nowhere we can go. This is where we’re from”. 

This in itself should give us an innate sense of duty to respect the original caretakers of this land and to act as advocates for the rights of Indigenous Peoples. 

Not only is this land stolen, but harm continues to take place. How can we expect a system that was made to eradicate Indigeneity work in any way to support it? For far too long they’ve been left alone to demand justice for the wrongs that took place. 

Our laws punish crimes, but turn a blind eye when the creators of the law are the perpetrators themselves.

Pam Palmater, a Mi'kmaq lawyer, professor, activist and politician talks about how we can work to understand more about our responsibility as Canadians. “Today Canadians should reflect on how this happened, how historic and ongoing genocide continues, and be intentional about self-educating about the link between residential schools of the past and what’s happening today”. 

She continues on to say “here’s the fact: residential schools are not a thing of the past. The underlying policy to destroy our nations in order to steal our lands and resources continues in a wide variety of forms. The denial of membership to thousands of First Nations women and children, the current foster care crisis, forced adoption, forced and coerced sterilizations, the incarceration of Indigenous peoples and the ongoing theft of our lands and resources, extraction of our resources leads to violence against Indigenous [peoples and especially] women and girls.”

Now the question is - how can we help?

  1. Acknowledge the land - this land we live on is stolen. Understand the privilege you have as someone on this land and pay respect to the original caretakers that it belongs to by learning what territory you live on
  2. Educate yourself - there’s a lot to learn, but every book starts with one page. Here are some important places to start
  1. Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action
  2. Residential Schools
  3. 60s Scoop
  4. Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women / Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women (
  5. Effects of Generational Trauma in Indigenous Peoples
  1. Be an advocate and an ally - listen to and amplify Indigenous voices, challenge your local government officials and don’t stand by for the erasure of Indigenous culture and practices

Palmater sends out a call to action to us all.  “Every single [settler] Canadian benefits from historic and ongoing genocide of [Indigenous] peoples and have a moral and legal obligation to do what you can to end it”.

It's important that we all recognize the privilege we carry and work as allies for the Indigenous communities around us. 

About the author

Jessie Brar

Jessie Brar (she/her) is a writer, public speaker, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion professional and Mental Health Activist. She graduated from Queen's University with a degree in Psychology and has worked with several notable organisations worldwide to help raise awareness around important social justice topics and advocate for change. She is deeply passionate about her intersectional identities and is committed to being a life-long learner through her work. Check her out on Instagram - @jessieebrar.

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