June 30, 2021

Unearthing Indigenous Trauma—how to Honor Canada Day this Year.

Cancel Canada Day?

Canada is mired in the wake of the uncovering of the mistreatment of indigenous children who were ripped from their families and taken to residential schools. According to the Canadian government, this was done for the “good intention” of helping the children assimilate into society.

In a discussion I was having with my parents yesterday, I mentioned Canada Day coming up this Thursday, July 1st, and my dad exclaimed “we are not celebrating Canada Day this year.”

This was the first time I’d heard my parents mention this and it is not despite this refrain being mentioned in the fringe media in years past.  The question has been brought before—and I think rightly so: what are we celebrating when we celebrate Canada Day?  

As far back as 1709, there was an ordinance passed in New France to allow the purchase and possession of indigenous slaves. There are verified accounts of police officers taking indigenous peoples and leaving them to die in the freezing cold prairie nights—and the brutality is still being unearthed at Canada’s residential schools. Our country is mourning. Some call the residential schools, which were mandatory boarding schools for the indigenous youth, cultural genocide.

Firsthand accounts of the mistreatment of the indigenous peoples and what is being done to help in Canada can be found here.

Now in recent months, the graves of children are being found on the property of these residential schools, and finally, people are listening and accepting the truth of the abuse and torture inflicted on these children at the hands of the ones who were there to take care of them.  Some of these schools were in operation as recently as 1996. Residential schools were operated by religious organizations, mostly the Catholic church, and funded by the Canadian government.

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

When my dad mentioned this saying yesterday while we were discussing the cruelty and the heartbreak, I felt a tiny tremble in my fragile structure of what I believe to be true and correct—that if we start with good intentions, then we can be sure we are on the right path. As a yoga teacher, I talk about intentions a lot and how they help guide us in the direction that we want to go.

I did a little research online and found that indeed my thoughts of good intentions are not all bad, but they must be paired with action. A question posed by my mother this morning, while continuing our talk from the previous day: “Why didn’t the Canadian government follow up on these supposed good intentions?”

Another question: how do we move forward from here?

We listen, we take responsibility, we try to heal, we offer support for all those in need. We follow up our good intentions with action in the ways that we know how.

And another saying that makes more sense to me:

“Hell is full of good meanings, but heaven is full of good works.”

The question I ask myself—and so should you if you feel moved—is, how will we act on our good intentions?

Some of the actions I am making include writing, teaching yoga, learning, staying open to new awareness, and continuing to question old beliefs. I believe in another saying my mom told me as a child growing up, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” and I try to practice this whenever I remember. It is harder than it sounds, especially when we are faced with things we do not like or want to happen.  But just like anything, the more we practice the easier it becomes.

I love you Canada, and I celebrate you for all the good intentions and actions you have shown in many other circumstances. Moving forward, I hope now that this awareness is brought to light, the people who have been affected have a chance to heal, and that things will change and get better for all people—because there is no peace until we are all treated equally.

Should we cancel Canada Day?

Since all this news about residential schools is coming out once again and people are feeling the trauma and being retraumatized, maybe it does make sense to designate a day of mourning this year. I also like the idea of celebrating our cultures and sharing with each other the rich tapestry we can all make together instead of trying to wipe out what our ancestors believed and practiced.

What do you think? How would you like to celebrate—or not—this year?

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