Home on Native Land
June 7, 2021
Victoria Day, or as it is more commonly known, the May 2-4 long weekend, recently passed and over the weekend I found myself listening to far away fireworks, wondering what we were even celebrating. Victoria Day and Canada Day are legal, or statutory holidays where Canadian employers are legally required to give employees the day off. These holidays are mostly celebrated by trips to the cottage, barbeques and spending time outside watching fireworks, but they are also deeply rooted in the colonization of Canada and the centuries of genocide and assimilation endured by Indigenous peoples. But in what ways are these holidays tied to colonization, and what can employers do in response to this unfortunate part of our history?
Colonization is the control of someone else’s territory and applying one’s own systems of law, government and religion. Since settlers came to Canada, Indigenous peoples have not been recognized as equal partners over land governance. Indigenous land was seen as uncharted territory and free for colonizers to use as they pleased. This began centuries of Indigenous cultural genocide, including land dispossession and alienation, residential schools, the 60’s scoop, mass incarceration, missing and murdered Indigenous women, starlight tours, and much more.
Victoria Day was created to celebrate Queen Victoria’s birthday and the celebration of her role in British imperialism. In the Victorian Era, the British empire grew stronger and it was one of the most violent eras in Canadian colonialism. Indigenous peoples were driven off their lands, forcefully assimilated and killed. It was also the era where many treaties were made with Indigenous communities. With the creation of these treaties, the monarchy had a considerable role in Canada’s illegal dispossession of Indigenous peoples from their land.
Canada Day is also known as Canada’s birthday: July 1,1867 was when the Canadian constitution was officially adopted. But for many people it serves as a celebration of stolen land from Indigenous peoples. The constitution gave European settlers exclusive control over Indigenous lives, lands and resources. The Indian Act was created in 1876 and provided the Canadian government with authority to govern Indigenous lands, while also enforcing Euro-Canadian standards for “civilization” and compelling Indigenous peoples to renounce their status and assimilate.
Why is this important?
Both Victoria Day and Canada Day have deep roots in colonial violence. But this is not just a chapter in Canadian history and Indigenous people continue to experience:
- lower rates of education and employment with higher rates of poverty
- systemic racism in healthcare and policing; and
- higher rates of mental illness, substance abuse disorders and suicide, infant mortality and incarceration
What can employers do?
Although these are government-mandated statutory holidays, employers can seek to address and raise awareness of the history and significance of these holidays. Here are some tips:
- raise awareness about the ties of certain holidays to colonialism
- offer alternatives to employees, such as celebrating the spring equinox and taking that day as a holiday instead celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21 which is a day for all Canadians to recognize and celebrate the unique heritage, diverse cultures and outstanding contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples
- use National Indigenous History Month which occurs in June of each year as an opportunity to recognize the history, heritage and diversity of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples in Canada
- organize events to raise awareness of residential schools; and
- encourage employees to wear orange shirts on September 30th (Orange Shirt Day) in recognition of residential schools (it originates from the story of a former student whose new orange shirt given to her by her grandmother, was taken from her on her first day at her residential school when she was just 6 years old)
Remember this year-round: statutory holidays are not one-size fits all. Your employees may not all celebrate Good Friday, Christmas Day or Boxing Day. Some may need time off to celebrate Passover, Eid ul Adha, Diwali, Hanukkah, solstices, Kwanzaa, Chinese New Year, and other cultural and religiously significant days. It may be worthwhile to let employees choose which holidays to celebrate.
In our next blog post we will provide a blueprint for creating a policy that provides flexibility in observing statutory holidays in workplaces.