Sask. residents asking themselves tough questions about what Canada Day means

While July 1 is often a day for celebration and patriotism, some say the events of this past year have shown that this country still has a lot of work to do before it deserves to be truly celebrated.

Many say July 1 shouldn't be a celebration, but a day to listen and learn from Indigenous people

Findings of potential unmarked graves at former residential schools has sparked calls for the cancellation of Canada Day festivities this July 1. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

While July 1 is often a day for celebration and patriotism in Canada, some say the events of this past year have shown that this country still has a lot of work to do before it deserves to be truly celebrated.

The movement to cancel or boycott Canada Day 2021 has gained a lot of traction over 2021. The terms "Cancel Canada Day" and "No Pride in Genocide" have been trending across social media. 

The announcement last week that 751 unmarked graves had been found at the site of a former residential school at Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan was one of several recent incidents prompting many to ask how Canada plans to deal with its dark past and racism. At the forefront of this issue is the ongoing treatment of Indigenous peoples.

"I think we need to take leadership from the people who have lived here since time immemorial, whose land we are living on," said Rhonda Rosenberg, executive director of the Multi-Cultural Council of Saskatchewan. 

A woman in a ribbon skirt walks past 751 unmarked graves discovered near the former site of the Marieval Indian Residential School during a vigil on Cowessess First Nation, Saturday. (Mickey Djuric/CBC)

Rosenberg said Canada Day needs to be re-imagined as something other than a celebration of confederacy. She encourages citizens to take the time to think about what needs to change. 

"We do also need opportunities to come together and to build relationships and to appreciate each other. But right now, July 1 is not the right date for that. It's more of a day to to learn what it took to move us to get federation and the costs that continue to be paid by Indigenous people." 

Rosenberg said future iterations of Canada Day could focus on activism and addressing ongoing colonialism.

Canadian newcomers

Newcomers — some of whom fled very difficult situations in their home countries — are often prominent among Canada Day celebrations, celebrating their new lives. 

Rosenberg said the way Canada portrays itself to attract immigrants is a rosy but flawed picture.

"That they will be respected, that we're diverse and welcoming and inclusive and multicultural. And it doesn't give a very realistic picture of ongoing colonialism or the racism that a lot of newcomers here actually find themselves facing," said Rosenberg. 

She said the racism is often shocking to newcomers, who have a very different impression of Canada.

There has recently been movement on making sure that newcomers understand the not-so-rosy parts of Canada's history as well. 

There have been changes to the citizenship oath to reflect that Indigenous rights are enshrined in section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, and that Indigenous peoples have been present in Canada since time immemorial.

The government is also working on a new citizenship guide to make sure people understand the role Indigenous peoples play in Canada's past, present and future.

A time to listen

Jade Roberts from Saskatoon is the creator of the podcast Still Here, Still Healing, which is now in its second season. 

Roberts never got to ask her father about his residential school experience. He died when she was a teenager.

So in 2019 she set out to gather other survivors' stories. Her mission is to bring awareness to the history and lasting impacts of residential schools as well as the ongoing impacts of colonization.

Roberts said the death of her father motivated her to seek out the stories of others and start the podcast. (CBC Saskatoon)

Roberts said listening to residential school and Sixties Scoop survivors on her podcast has helped her not only understand her family more, but understand intergenerational survivors like herself and how the trauma affects communities as a whole. 

"I want people to hear first-hand our stories and take something educational away. Like what can they learn from the things that we've been through? What can they learn about Canada? What can they learn about Indigenous culture?"

Roberts said that in order to learn, people need to listen. 

"I think this is so important right now. People need to recognize and acknowledge that Canada has been built on genocide and the colonization of my people, and that's not really something to celebrate," said Roberts.

"So with the conversations right now to cancel Canada Day, I think people really need to be listening and taking part in supporting Indigenous people during this time right now. I just think it's great timing to to really stand up for what we believe in and take action."

Support is available for anyone affected by the lingering effects of residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.


Laura is a reporter for CBC Saskatchewan. She is also the community reporter for CBC's virtual road trip series Land of Living Stories. Laura previously worked for CBC Vancouver. Some of her former work has appeared in the Globe and Mail, NYLON Magazine, VICE Canada and The Tyee. She holds a Master of Journalism degree from the University of British Columbia. Follow Laura on Twitter: @MeLaura. Send her news tips at

With files from Blue Sky