'You're celebrating colonization': 4 Indigenous people share why they won't be singing O Canada on July 1

Four Indigenous people share what they will be doing to mark Canada's 150th anniversary of Confederation.

Four Indigenous people share their perspectives on Canada 150

Shane Henry used to celebrate Canada Day until he learned what the day meant to his Indigenous community. (Victoria Dinh/CBC)

For Shane Henry, it used to be about donning the red and white to celebrate Canada on July 1, but this year — on Canada's 150th anniversary of Confederation — he's not feeling so patriotic.

"Putting a bunch of flags on my skin and jumping in praise saying, 'Oh, look at our great country and look at all that we've accomplished' — that part of it isn't so comfortable with me anymore," explained the University of Saskatchewan PhD student and researcher with the Saskatoon Tribal Council.

The reformed "Canada Day nut" said it wasn't until he began working with different government organizations and non-profit groups that he realized what Canada Day really meant for his Indigenous community.

Henry, who has a Métis, Ukrainian and Cree background, said he became jaded after realizing the divisive and patronizing way the federal government has dealt with First Nations issues.

"When the promises don't pan out, you're just going to get people who are more and more cynical."

Canada Day has been a time when I've reconsidered my identity.- Erica Violet Lee

He said that it's important for those who don't understand Indigenous perspectives to start challenging the narrative behind Canada's Confederation.

"Forge relationships with people that are different than yourself. Have uncomfortable conversations," Henry advised, adding that he has lost many friends over the years trying to spark similar discussions.

"Having conversations that speak to race, that speak to gender, that speak to issues of oppression and contemporary society are very challenging."

Henry said this year he'll be spending July 1 in the company of loved ones. 

"I want to do something with my family to show that, you know, after 150 years of forced segregation, assimilation, cultural genocide, that we're still alive and kicking … We still struggle but we're proud of who we are."

Celebrating Indigenous knowledge

Real Carriere says his home community in Cumberland House, Sask., celebrates Indigenous knowledge every year on July 1. (Victoria Dinh/CBC)

Drawing attention to and celebrating Canada's 150th year, or any other anniversary of Confederation, completely ignores the history of Indigenous peoples —  a group that's been here for more than 150 years, said Real Carriere.

"For Canada 150, if you're celebrating the beginning of this country's 150 years, if that's what's in your heart, if that's what you understand, you're celebrating colonization," said the University of Saskatchewan lecturer in Indigenous studies.

In his home community of Cumberland House, Sask., Carriere said they have a celebration every year on July 1. It's not about Confederation, though, but centred on Indigenous knowledge. For Carriere, that knowledge "is what makes this land possible."

He said to better understand the relationship created between European settlers and Indigenous peoples in Canada over the past 150 years, he likes to pinpoint the first moments of contact, which predate Confederation.

I'll go check out the fireworks, but as for eating cake and singing O Canada and all that stuff —I don't think so.- John Noon, Thunderchild First Nation band councillor

Carriere said that when European settlers first arrived, they believed their societies, ideologies and religion were superior to those of the land. This reinforced the premise of terra nullius — the belief that no state had previously held sovereignty over the land.

"So that's the moment, for me, that sets the path that we're on today."

Disrupting Canada 150

Erica Violet Lee says it's 'problematic' to celebrate the idea that Canada is only 150 years old. (Victoria Dinh/CBC)

As an Indigenous woman growing up in an inner city neighbourhood of Saskatoon, Erica Violet Lee said she didn't identify with the idea of Canada.

"Canada Day has been a time when I've reconsidered my identity," said the Indigenous community organizer, student and writer.

Instead, she uses July 1 to address what really matters to her. This means connecting with people in her community who are fighting for social justice. That means advocating for "simple things" such as having a grocery store in the neighbourhood, access to better health care and education, or for equal representation, said Lee.

"All of these are basic things that we deserve as people, as Indigenous people and as people in Canada," she said.

She said the notion that Canada is only 150 years old is problematic and it's a concept she's working hard to disrupt. She hopes others will realize this is about Indigenous people finding resilience in the darkest of places.

"I see Canada 150 as a cause for our celebration, but we're not celebrating the same things as Canada. We're celebrating still being on this land despite attempts to remove us, despite women going missing, we're still here."

More work needs to be done

John Noon says he treats Canada Day like any other day. (Victoria Dinh/CBC)

"The relationship between Canada and our people — it's been tragic," said Thunderchild First Nation band councillor John Noon. "You look at the assimilation policies, you look at residential schools, you look at colonization, you look at underfunding … it's hasn't been the greatest."

He said instead of celebrating Canada's 150th year of Confederation, the country should be reminded of the work that needs to be done to establish a nation-to-nation relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples.

"I'd like to see our people prosper in this society, and I think the original signers of the treaty, that's what they wanted, for us to share nation-to-nation."

Noon said he will spend July 1 just like any other day.  

"If there's fireworks — because, you know, it's fireworks — I'll go check out the fireworks, but as for eating cake and singing O Canada and all that stuff — I don't think so."


Victoria Dinh

CBC Saskatoon reporter

Victoria Dinh is a journalist with CBC Saskatoon. She is also a co-host, writer and producer of the CBC investigative podcast, The Pit. Get in touch with Victoria by emailing