My Reflection on Canada Day: An Immigrant’s Perspective
Author: Yang Wang
English Translator: Jovial Si
July 1st of 2021 marks the 154th anniversary of Canada. However, it was not celebrated with the joy and pride that were characteristic of this day in the past. The whole nation was disgraced by the heart-wrenching findings of the remains of more than 1,000 Indigenous children in unmarked graves across the country since May.
This land had been home to Indigenous peoples for thousands of years until it was taken by European settlers. Then from 1831 to 1996, Indigenous children were forcibly taken from their parents to attend government-sponsored residential schools, run by Catholic Churches, for the purpose of cultural assimilation. In the schools’ textbooks, Indigenous peoples were called “savages”. Many of the children were sexually abused or mistreated, and many died either at school or while escaping from school. Each and every little white bone in the unmarked graves at former residential sites marks the dark history not-so-distant from now, and the cultural arrogance and barbarity of the European settlers who committed it.
On second thought, perhaps there is not much point in singling out the European settlers. “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It corresponds to the darkness in human nature, and applies to any group of people. Children who lost protection from their families and were deemed culturally inferior would inevitably fall prey to those people.
I had a debate with my instructor on this topic in early June when I was taking a course. She said the intention of the residential schools was good, to give Indigenous children educational opportunities, and most schools were not as horrible as that. I said that the whole idea sounded wrong to me in the very beginning — if they really wanted to help the indigenous people, they should have gone into their communities and built schools or social organizations there, instead of taking children away from parents and putting them in the hands of strangers far away from their homes.
My instructor is quite a kind-hearted person based on what I have observed in class, and I believe her views represent the thoughts of many white people. The question is, did the Indigenous people willingly accept the arrangements? Did the residential schools truly do more good than harm to the well-being of the Indigenous people? Who should have the say over which culture is superior or better for humankind to live on this planet in the long run? As an observer who is neither white nor of Indigenous descent, I cannot help but have these questions in mind. Of course, my views are shaped by the modern society I am in. When we address this issue, however, the common values of the society two to three decades ago or even a century ago need to be put into perspective as well.
There are 139 residential schools listed in federal documents, and so far over 1,000 children’s remains have been found. No one can tell if more will be uncovered in the future. I don’t know whether the instructor would change her opinion in the face of such shocking, ongoing findings. What I knew was governments at all levels cancelled quite a number of Canada Day celebrations, and lowered the Canadian flags to half-mast. In his Canada Day remarks, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked the whole nation to “reflect on our country’s historical failures, and to “charter a new and better path forward”. Many people took to the streets, wearing orange shirts that symbolize solidarity with Indigenous communities. Also, some organizations called for lawsuits against the government and churches to hold them liable for the residential school tragedies.
I immigrated to Canada in 2010. During the ten years until 2020, I had found the Canadian society very open, inclusive, and culturally diverse. As a new immigrant, I rejoiced in this kind of social environment that was fresh to me, and I fully embraced the values so I praised the country from the bottom of my heart, without any reservation. The longer I live here, however, experiencing more people and things, the more I have become aware of the deep-rooted issues in the society. Then since 2020 I have seen the rise of racism along with the outbreak of COVID-19. Stereotyped thinking, arrogance, and xenophobia are like bubbles resurfacing from the bottom of some people’s minds. I therefore got to see more facets of Canada. I came to realize more how precious each and every color is to the fabric of a society. We all can do a part, through rational voices and positive vibe, to build a more balanced, wiser, and more humane social ecosystem. The value of diversity has never been so vital as it feels like today.
On the whole, I still think this is a great country. I am attaching a YouTube video of Steward Reynolds in the references because I couldn’t agree more with him. As a matter of fact, I wrote this article after watching his video. Let’s be honest with where we are, and keep pushing for improvement. Let’s celebrate for all the good things Canada has done, and help fix its problems. A nation is full of hope when its leaders and ordinary people have the willingness to reflect on its past and feel remorse about its mistakes, even though the healing of wounds won’t be an easy process.
I had planned to finish up here, but I just learned that – please forgive for my ignorance – on July 1st of 1923, the Chinese Exclusion Act went into effect. It put me in an even more pensive mood. How overbearing and heartless was the mainstream at that time to pass such a law on this supposedly festive day, that would result in the separation of countless Chinese immigrant families? How could they justify themselves to punish and humiliate the Chinese with this act, in return for their contribution, at the cost of many lives, of building the Canadian Pacific Railway for the country? Shall I still celebrate Canada Day? Would my celebration hurt my fellows who were affected by this Act, although they may have already passed away? Have they, or their descendants, received genuine apologies or compensations from the Canadian government? I pondered and pondered. Then I decided that on this day of next year, I would still raise a glass to this country, for its humanitarian spirit and achievements today, and to all the rational, kind, and friendly people living here. I believe my fellow people who had endured the hardship would be comforted in heaven to see their future generations live in harmony, equality, and prosperity with other Canadians, sharing the joys and tears of this land. Yet I would not celebrate the day in the same way like before. There would be a streak of black kept in my heart, in memory of those who were hurt in the past. I pray that our efforts today will let their souls rest in peace. I guess this is how a person grows mature, and so does a country.
P.S. The original Chinese version of the above article was published on Chinese New Star Times in Toronto on July 7 (https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/Yyh8dCbVTNGKh8O209Xi-g). After I submitted the article, I had some further thoughts. I asked myself, why did the pain become more poignant when I knew my own fellow people were hurt? Is it out of human nature or am I too narrow-minded? Or maybe both? I feel I can understand better now the relentless pursuit by Indigenous and black communities of justice in the context of their histories. It’s easier for on-lookers than for victims to say “let it go” or “let’s move on”. On the other hand, if we don’t let it go, there’s no way for us to truly move on. Perhaps the key lies in our ability to thoroughly correct mistakes both in mind and in action, and asking for thorough reconciliation with sincerity, so that all of us can surpass the past, and move forward together.
Canada Day 2021, brittlestar (Stewart Reynolds), June 30, 2021
‘Humiliation Day’: July 1 has added meaning for some Chinese-Canadians, Jennifer Kay Lee, CBC News, June 29, 2017
How Canada Day is being observed in 2021, Alexandra Miekus and Shelby Thevenot, CIC News, July 1, 2021
Canada Day muted as country reckons with treatment of indigenous, other minorities, Steve Scherer, Reuters, July 1, 2021
Special thanks to EAWLC member, translator and interpreter Ms. Jovial Si for volunteering her time and translating the article from Chinese to English. For questions regarding the translation, please contact Jovial at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For screen-reader users, the article ends here. Below is the original Chinese version THAT YOUR screen-reader may not be able to pick up. If you would like to leave a comment or share your perspective, please jump to the next headings.
文章写完、投稿后，我不禁问自己：为什么自己族人受到伤害才更有切肤之痛。是天性使然，还是自己太狭隘，或兼而有之？感觉更能理解原住民和黑人对过去的执着与追究了。作为旁观者，比受害者更容易说放下、let’s Move On。另一方面，不放下，又确实没法move on。大概关键在于现在的人们是否能够在思想上、行动上彻底清算过去的错误，用十分的诚意，换回受害者的彻底放下，大家一起move on。这算是对反思的反思吧，一并记录下来。
特别鸣谢东西联学社（EAWLC）会员、英语翻译及口译工作者 Jovial Si 的无私帮助，义务提供了本文的英文翻译。如对翻译有任何疑问，请直接联系译者： email@example.com。
10 thoughts on “My Reflection on Canada Day: An Immigrant’s Perspective / 2021年加拿大日随感”
Below comments are from Mr. Ian White:
“I reflect that the final dismantling of the residential school system came after Canada adopted its Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the 1980’s. It is hoped that, with this fundamental protection for human rights in place, atrocities like the Residential School system and the Chinese Exclusion Act will never happen again. It is, of course, one thing to protect people’s rights in law, and another to shift what passes in people’s minds. We still have work to do!”
Canada, like many countries, has made many mistakes and has much to regret in its past. But it is a good thing that we are recognizing those mistakes and discussing them now. Only constant efforts to suppress racism and other hatreds will help us improve.
My best friend is genetically half Chinese, half Eastern European Jewish. On both parent’s sides, his ancestors experienced persecution because of who they were. He has learned from this past and works hard to help make Canada a better place. The rest of us must learn from his example.
Below comments are from a white Canadian born female friend:
“Job well done! I thoroughly enjoyed your article about reflecting upon Canada‘s day. You had some very pointed points to make. So right about power corrupting and that we all could be tempted to have similar thoughts.
So right about how one looks at things differently when they are directly affected. But you have a positive outlook for the future and that’s what counts.”
Below comments are from E.M.J., a white Canadian born friend:
“I find the whole subject very distressing and your approach is relatively balanced. I struggle with an assessment of the past through modern eyes. That blanket cruelty that was practiced and accepted around the world for centuries and I don’t think there’s an exception to that. None of it’s right or should have happened, but it did. People thought and behaved differently and we can be grateful that we are doing a slightly better job. Pointing fingers and blaming is not helpful, acknowledging and moving on is better for everyone. ”
Below statement is from Mr. George Elliott Clarke sent over to us:
“The horrific revelations of definite hundreds and probable
thousands of unmarked graves of Indigenous and Metis
children, ripped from the bosoms of their parents and
homes, and essentially incarcerated in Federal-government-
sanctioned and religious-order-operated “Residential
Schools,” reminds us that a process of “Truth and
Reconciliation,” whose end goal is “healing,” can only
succeed when History (which is Truth) is fully recovered
and “Reconciliation” (which is Justice) provides restitution
and reparations to people and persons who have endured grievous
wrongs and/or criminal policies and acts.
The recent headlines that have shocked and disgusted most
Canadians are also the signatures of the actual violence
of the project of White Supremacy and imperial settler colonialism
that have been too often erased by the propaganda of
patriotism and the bromides of multiculturalism. We can only
truly progress as a democratic society promising liberty,
equality, opportunity, and dignity, when we demolish finally
the hierarchy of ethnicities that pits European Caucasians
against Black/Indigenous/People of Colour “Canadians,” that
ranks settler institutions above Indigenous cultures, and
that continues to police harass, over-incarcerate, and
marginalize Black and Indigenous people especially. We
must own our collective, racist history, so that we can
repudiate its authors and attend to its repercussions. We
also need to declare the project to create Canada as “a
white man’s country” a failed, inhumane, tyrannous, and, yes,
genocidal effort that had to mandate suspension of civil
liberties (as when Japanese Canadians were interned in
labour camps) as well as suppression of human rights (as
when Indigenous children were forced to Christianize and
Westernize–“or else”). We must not accept the false belief
that apologies for past injustices or promises of “good
behaviour” now represent any actual repudiation of the
racism–pure-and-simple–that has wrecked and wasted, ruined
and restricted, so many BIPOC lives and hopes, and continues
to raise havoc respecting Indigenous Women and Girls in
particular as well as to torture all those Black and Brown People of
Colour challenged about, not just their citizenship, but
their very existence as human beings, in every encounter
with White Supremacist and/or settler authority. We also
must not accept the false belief that current governmental
and constitutional arrangements are “good enough” to allow
for the transformation of this society. The first thing
that should be done is to replace the settler Constitution
with one that puts Indigeneity at the centre of our national
being so that “our home on Native land” is governed by
Indigenous principles of environmentalism, pacifism, and
respect (not just tolerance) of differently spirited persons
This moment of reckoning with a past of violent, institutionalized
racism must not become one marked by the paralysis of grief or
even the stasis of apology, but rather must be understood as
the catalyst toward obtaining a truly egalitarian society–with
empowerment of Indigenous peoples, all women, all visible
(marginalized) minorities–readily achieved via governmental
powers of appointment (ministers, boards, agencies, commissions,
senators, courts) and the people’s power of the educated vote
versus the colossi of corporate and moneyed propaganda. Indeed,
we need to understand that, for transformative justice to be
achieved, we need to identify those actually responsible for
past and ongoing societal crimes (such as the mismanagement of
nursing homes), hold them accountable, but also overthrow the
myth of White Supremacy and the Settler Superiority Complex that
made and continues to make the seizures of children, the wrongful
incarceration and injury of children, the miseducation of
children, and even their lonesome deaths and loathsome burials
a predictable outcome of their governors’ indictable offenses.
The people of Canada can say “Happy Canada Day”–truly–once
we create the Canada that we have always wanted and yet have
always been denied by those who insist on maintaining “the Vertical
Mosaic,” with Indigenous and Black people at the bottom,
silenced in prisons, suffering in poverty, or, worse, their
children disappeared and their graves desecrated. Good people,
we can and must remake Canada in our collective image, not that
of the land-thieves, slave masters, environmental destroyers,
labour exploiters, and jingoistic imperialists of yore.”
Below comments are from Mr. Martin J. Copeland:
“This is really well written, and I couldn’t agree with you more. As you know, I’m Jewish, and my parents lived through perhaps the worst of humanity, having gone through the holocaust. Like so many other minorities, we are a people that have learnt to let go and move forward, and cherish every breath we take. My hope, like yours, and the majority of people, is we can all come together as one. At the end of the day, we are all human beings and we need to respect and admire each other at all times. Hopefully, at some point in our future, we will experience people coming together rather than moving apart. And hopefully, we can leave a better world for our children.
…it’s important to me that every Jewish person continues to do good and make significant contributions to our Community. And yes, unfortunately, there is still a significant amount of discrimination against the Jewish population. In fact, while it’s not well publicized and likely will surprise you, there are more hate crimes in Canada against the Jewish people than any other ethniticity. Read
Below comments are from Mr. H.Masud Taj:
“Thank you; makes me view July 1st in a new light.
This is another immigrant’s view when I was Interviewed by Canadian Immigrant Magazine (https://www.academia.edu/49640193/Interviewed_by_Canadian_Immigrant_Magazine)”
Below comments are from Ms. Wyne Tsang:
“Deeply thank you for sharing the authentic you. Every person needs to find whatever that makes sense for them in order to avoid insanity. Making sense is a continuous process as revealed in your life. Every time you discover new information, it will take work and time to assimilate into your sensible world view. Keep going. That is life.”
Below comment is from Ms. Christine Malec:
“Thanks for sharing this. It helps me to maintain hope that Canada is still a place and an idea worth working on.”
Evil is in your pride
Let’s scratch that
You have reasons
To believe you are superior
You created new tools and used imaginatively
Dreamt beyond the cornfields of your native land
Your growth courage exploration
Incomparable unimaginable beyond belief
You accepted the offer
You really can transform stone into bread
The world belonged to you
Hissed the slithering serpent
You are the pride of kings and nobles
You can skim over oceans
Fly over deserts
Your brothers’ land
Your sisters’ children
Decompose your neighbors’ entire way of life
And feed my ambition
Every empire without exception
The viallger with a whip
Caught between his sheep and the drone