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Editor's column: What are we really celebrating on Canada Day?

Richmond News editor Eve Edmonds, in light of the Kamloops residential school discovery, is questioning what might be celebrated on the traditional July 1 holiday next week
The Steveston Salmon Festival is cancelled again this year due to the pandemic, but Richmond News editor Eve Edmonds is asking what you will be celebrating next week.

Some things we can count on.

The sun rising, the seasons changing, my son “forgetting” to empty the dishwasher — these are just some of the dependables of life.

On the work front, one of those sure-bets is what we’ll put on the front page of our last issue before Canada Day, or, as is the case this year, on our July 1 issue.

Without fail, that paper has been covered in red and white to celebrate all that is great about this nation...topped, not with a cherry, but a little red maple leaf where the “o” of Richmond should be.

So it’s genuinely disconcerting to think that might not happen this year.

We can pretend the dampened enthusiasm is about COVID and the fact there will be no big parade or salmon barbecue this year. But we know that’s not it.

Last year, when no one had been vaccinated, our front page still featured a young woman in red and white singing the national anthem in front of a massive Canadian flag mural.

Obviously, this is about the discovery of what may be the remains of 215 children in an unmarked grave on the grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential School.

“Context changed when those 215 children’s bodies were discovered and they (the Lekwungen Nation) are reeling and everybody is reeling,” Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps told the media earlier this month by way of explaining why her city was cancelling its Canada Day celebrations.

Pentiction mayor John Vassilaki quickly followed suit.

“Out of respect for Indigenous communities across Canada who are grieving, it is important to Penticton city council that this year’s Canada Day activities honour the history, culture and traditions of Indigenous people,” Vassilaki said in a statement.

Port Hardy and other communities throughout B.C. and across Canada have also cancelled their planned celebration.

Richmond isn’t cancelling anything, but it’s certainly not putting bells on this one.

A more “sombre” approach, is how the city describes it.

Not everyone is loving this anti-Canada Day movement. One Globe and Mail letter writer states, “Canada did not become one of the greatest countries by pausing at every tragedy to add to its own suffering. Canada became one of the greatest countries because it recognized its tragedies when they surfaced, paid them due reflection and remorse, then continued on its path of nurturing, building and celebrating a world-beating culture.”

As someone who loves Canada Day and has been to the Salmon Festival every year of the 20 years I’ve lived in Richmond, I’m conflicted. I’m forced to ask myself, when I’m out there waving my little flag, what exactly am I waving for? Is it the fact that 154 years ago John A. Macdonald (one of the architects of residential schools) and others organized Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the province which is now Ontario and Quebec into a dominion of the British empire — a dominion that went on to brutally exploit the people who were already living here?

Some First Nations chiefs and elders are asking people not to celebrate Canada Day this year. Rather, they suggest we use the day to educate ourselves about the history of colonialism, residential schools and their continued impacts.

Fair enough, I’ll do that, but I don’t promise to never wave the flag again because when I’m waving that flag, I’m not waving for the state of Canada (or City of Richmond) to win a land claim over a First Nations group.

I’m waving for diversity, for inclusion, for equality. Ironically, I’m waving for our ability to overcome the worst sentiments of nationalism, with its division and exploitation.

Maybe that’s a bit backwards, or even anti-nationalist, but I don’t think I’m alone.