What I choose to celebrate on this day called 'Canada Day'

I was going to ignore Canada Day. It is a holiday I don’t celebrate. But everything I see — on TV, on Facebook, on Twitter, flags everywhere I look — makes it hard to forget what is happening around me.
This flag was designed by Curtis Wilson, from the Kwakwaka’wakw territory, B.C. (The Flag Shop)

I was going to ignore Canada Day. It is a holiday I don't celebrate. But everything I see — on TV, on Facebook, on Twitter, flags everywhere I look — makes it hard to forget what is happening around me.

As a First Nations person without a treaty or any agreement with Canada, I am not a part of Canada and do not want to celebrate a country that took First Nations' lands away without legal means and has colonized our people, through laws and policies, to be the poorest of the poor.

I am tired of saying this — I have been saying this since the early 80s and nothing changes. I don't want to sound like a broken record so maybe a change in messaging will help.

I want change. I want progress. I want to change the narrative for positive action to happen.

Today I am celebrating the following:

I celebrate that First Nations stand strong as nations of people who are committed to protecting and practicing our rights and way of life.

I celebrate that our title is still intact and that no matter how much governments want to say the land is theirs, they still have to settle honourably with us. We were here first and the land was not taken in war, by treaty, or discovery or terra nullius and our title still exists.

I celebrate the Nisga'a, the Gitxsan, Wet'suwet'en and Tsilhqot'in who brought Aboriginal title to the courts until we got a positive ruling.

I celebrate all the generations of ancestors who have fought before us for our land, our resources, our rights and title. Ancestors that were warriors against the colonizing governments who seek to deprive us of everything they have become rich on.

I celebrate the foundations the "old Guard" laid in fighting for our rights and the fact that we have built on those foundations to have our issues elevated to the forefront, and that our issues are prominent in the media every day.

I celebrate our leaders, our elders, our chiefs, our matriarchs, our youth, and our children who are raising their voices to bring attention to issues such as missing and murdered Indigenous women, the need for implementation of the 94 calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the need for First Nations prior and informed consent before there is any development in our territories. 

I celebrate that our people have kept alive our laws, our protocols, our knowledge, our culture and language despite all the attempts to assimilate us.

I celebrate our young people who are learning on the land, in our communities by our knowledgeable people, and in universities. They are developing new skills and mechanisms to join us on the front lines in the fight for what is ours.

David Suzuki, third from the right, and Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, centre, joined protesters at the Site C protest camp at Rocky Mountain Fort. (Yvonne Tupper/Facebook)
I celebrate those who stand with First Nation people in our fights against developments that will take away in whole or part our ability to exercise our rights. Some of those developments include mega projects like Enbridge Northern Gateway, Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline, Site C Dam, and other projects that deal with pipelines and tankers. Support for First Nations is growing and we are not alone and are a force to be reckoned with.

I celebrate Mother Earth and that we are able to live upon Turtle Island and can survive on everything that grows from her or runs through her. I celebrate that there are many who are speaking out against climate change and the full scale development of Mother Earth's resources, the pollution of her air and waters, and changing environmental life cycles that can never be recreated. 

Mostly, I celebrate the fighting spirit that lies within First Nations peoples across Canada. The spirit that never lets us stop restoring what was once ours, for rebuilding our nations and way of life.

I celebrate the never-ending drive to make a better world for our children, grandchildren and many generations to come, where they can exercise their rights. I celebrate the fact that we will never give up until there is justice, settlements, compensation, restoring our lands and resources, and that governments need to understand that.

'I am refusing to be negative'

On this day that is called "Canada Day," I am refusing to be negative and repeat the same message I have been giving for too long  because it hasn't worked.

Today, I focus on what I celebrate for this part of Turtle Island. We are here to stay, we will not be silent and we will continue our struggle on the land, in the courts, in international forums, in the media, whatever works. 

On this day called "Canada Day," I hope Canadians stop and think about what is missing and wrong in this great land that is still First Nations land, and look for ways to change the narrative we have been bogged down in for far too long.

A version of this article was initially published on First Nations in BC Knowledge Network: A space to exchange information between First Nations communities. It has been edited and republished with permission of the author.


Dr. Judith Sayers (Kekinusuqs) is a strategic adviser to First Nations and corporations, providing advice on many issues including relationship building and negotiating equitable agreements. Judith is the former chief of the Hupacasath First Nation, located in Port Alberni, B.C.