Q&A — ‘Remember the past’: Indigenous teen reflects on #CanadaDay2020

CBC Kids News • Published 2020-06-30 19:00

National holiday is an opportunity to push for change, Inuvik teen says


There are lots of reasons why Canada Day might feel a bit different this year.

Not only are many fireworks displays and public parties cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but ongoing anti-racism protests across the country have some people thinking deeply about what Canada is all about.

CBC Kids News asked 16-year-old Inuvialuit teen Mataya Gillis to reflect on #CanadaDay2020 from her home in Inuvik, N.W.T.

The following questions and answers have been edited for clarity and length.

Q: What would a typical Canada Day celebration look like when you were a kid?

A: It’d be, like, a parade, a big carnival, a big cake, all of my community gathering, and my family going boating after. When I was younger, it was one of my favourite days. It was just so much fun.

Q: What is it about Canada Day 2020 that feels different to you?

A: Because of COVID-19, we can’t really come together as a community, which makes me really sad because it’s one of my favourite things to do.

And also, every time I open up my Instagram feed or look in a magazine and read about other Indigenous people's stories, I'm just realizing how much racism there is towards Indigenous people and any other person of colour.

It almost puts a dent in Canada Day. It just doesn’t feel right to be celebrating freedom — or what Canada stands for — when me and other Indigenous people are still not being treated right.

Mataya Gillis stands on a city street with her arms in the air.

Mataya Gillis said she’s hopeful that an ongoing movement to put racism in the spotlight will have an impact in Canada. (Submitted by Mataya Gillis)

Q: Is there a time when you felt that you were treated unfairly because you were Indigenous?

A: When I was 14, I was asked by this older white guy if I had any kids yet. There are just so many examples. I used to get followed around stores when I was younger, probably because they thought I was going to steal.

Q: Given the ongoing anti-racism protests, are you feeling any hope on this Canada Day?

A: I hope Canada will move forward. I think, like, millennials and gen-Zers, we’re two really strong generations. We’re really big change-makers, and we will make a difference.

I think the protests will change Canada. I really think they will.

I just think we have to keep fighting for what we believe in. I’m doing my best. I'm signing petitions, I'm texting and emailing. You just have to fight in any way you can.

Mataya is Inuvialuit, meaning her people are from the Western Arctic. Here, she is posing with her mom, Melinda Gillis, left. (Submitted by Mataya Gillis)

Q: What message do you have for non-Indigenous teens on Canada Day?

A: As you celebrate Canada Day, remember the past. Remember the residential schools and all the racism in Canada's history and do your best not to repeat any of that — or do your best to stop it — because we are still seeing it today.

TOP IMAGE CREDIT: (Submitted by Mataya Gillis)

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