Saskatchewan·First Person

An immigrant reckoning: What Canada Day is and what it isn't

I am gradually beginning to see why Canada Day needs to be a day of reconciliation, not a day of celebration. 

Canada Day needs to be a day of reconciliation, not a day of celebration

Shoes, teddy bears and orange shirts laid on the front steps of the B.C. Legislature on June 9 in memoriam of the children at Kamloops Residential school. Bhoomika Dongol says she will be consciously and deliberately wearing orange this Canada Day. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

This story originally published on June 29, 2021.

This First Person piece is by Bhoomika Dongol, who lives in Regina and has worked in the non-profit sector for more than nine years. 

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Like many other newcomers, I was part of a mass-hysterical celebration for Canada's birthday on July 1, 2018. I must confess I basked in the glory of arrival to a land called Canada as I waved a rectangular red flag and witnessed celestial fireworks by the lake. 

Three years ago, I had no idea about how debated those celebrations were. I am gradually beginning to see why Canada Day needs to be a day of reconciliation, not a day of celebration. 

I try to educate myself every day, unlearning and relearning, to reshape my understanding of what Canada is. There are readily available books and articles by Indigenous writers that can teach many non-Indigenous people like me about decolonization, reconciliation, and the indelible past and present of Turtle Island, this land scraped by the claws of colonization. 

As immigrants, we all have unique stories of why we uprooted ourselves from our native land, displacing ourselves to what we subliminally envision to be a utopian destination. Our visions of utopia might just be an escape from ennui, but we'd like to believe that the grass is greener on the other side. 

In these three years of familiarizing myself with the Prairie landscape, I have also become aware of how I inhabit a land where settlers have displaced and are still displacing our Indigenous population - as long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the river flows. On most days, this feels like a comedy of errors. I displaced myself from one depressed land only to submerge myself into the pain of another.

It is funny how we trick ourselves into thinking we 'own' land.- Bhoomika Dongol

I have come to know that to inhabit a land is to absorb its sorrow and atone for its irrevocable past. I tread with an unbearable heaviness of being, the emotional baggage of homesickness encumbered by the looming guilt of inhabiting a stolen land. This grief for the loss of the land I called "home" for 35 years, combined with an indelible sense of atonement, makes me question the concept of home as a physical abode. 

The very notion of home is conventionally built around property and land ownership. It is funny how we trick ourselves into thinking we "own" land. 

Being an immigrant, the concept of home eludes me often. I do not have my answers yet about what — or where — home is.

What I do know is that three years ago, when I had celebrated Canada Day, I wore orange instead of the customary red. An orange vest I had brought from Nepal was the closest to red I could find for my naive, first-ever July 1 celebration. Somehow a part of me, without cognitively knowing, had decided to wear orange. Orange, for all the fallen feathers. Orange for all the little ones who could not find their way back "home."

This year, on July 1, I will be consciously and deliberately wearing orange. I am aware that wearing an orange shirt will not undo the harm caused by my naive celebratory impulses three years ago. What I continue to do on a regular basis is donate and support local charities that work directly with Indigenous populations and, most importantly, read and promote books by Indigenous writers, whose works resonate profoundly with my being. 

I will wear orange symbolically for this, the inception of my fourth year of being in Canada, being on Turtle Island, with hopes of impartially understanding what Canada Day is and what it isn't.

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Bhoomika Dongol is a strong advocate for resilient communities and has worked in the non-profit sector for more than nine years. Having worked in post-disaster scenarios in Nepal and South Asia, Bhoomika’s stories are inspired by stories of resilient people living during some of the most extreme and evolving circumstances.