Gurpreet Singh: What's stopping Canada from creating a statutory holiday to honour Indigenous peoples?

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      As National Indigenous Peoples Day draws closer, the demand for a statutory holiday on June 21 continues to grow.

      If an online petition on launched by Coquitlam-based Indigenous educator and activist Jennifer Sherif is any indication, thousands of people support this demand.

      Already the number of signatures it has received so far has surpassed 19,500.  

      The Canadian government first announced June 21 as National Aboriginal Day in 1996, to recognize Indigenous communities and their cultures. Last year, the prime minister announced his decision to rename it as National Indigenous Peoples Day.

      Such recognition is symbolic in nature and a very small step toward decolonization and reconciliation with the Indigenous peoples, the real inhabitants of Canada, which was built on their stolen lands. Yet it works as a constant reminder to every Canadian that we are all on the traditional lands of the First Nations.  

      It is unfortunate and disturbing to see that not many Canadians, especially new Canadians, are aware of this fact or remain indifferent when it comes to acknowledging the history of occupation, racism, and genocide of the Indigenous peoples through brutal institutions, such as the Indian residential school system.

      Systemic racism continues to exist in the everyday lives of Indigenous peoples, who are a minority in their own homeland.

      Celebrating National Indigenous Peoples Day may not be sufficient to address these issues, yet it provides non-Indigenous people of Canada an opportunity to learn more about this inconvenient history.

      In that sense, the absence of a statutory holiday makes things more difficult.

      It’s a shame that Canada Day, which is a statutory holiday that represents the colonization of Indigenous lands, is celebrated with enthusiasm by most Canadians, including immigrants, but June 21 is mostly passed as another day on the calendar without much interest.

      Events organized on this occasion are largely ignored and sometimes poorly attended. Therefore, it becomes important to give Canadians a day off on National Indigenous Peoples Day so that they have time to go to these events and learn more about the history of colonialism, make more Indigenous allies, and gain respect for their concerns and grievances.

      The current Canadian establishment has let them down by failing to have nation-to-nation consultations over controversial projects such as the Kinder Morgan pipeline or the Site C dam.

      It's a similar story when it comes to providing drinkable water in many First Nation communities, overcoming poverty, and punishing those responsible for structural violence against Indigenous women and state repression against Indigenous men, who are overrepresented in the prison population.

      Gurpreet Singh is cofounder of Radical Desi magazine. He's also the author of Why Mewa Singh Killed William Hopkinson: Revisiting the Murder of a Canadian Immigration Inspector and Fighting Hatred With Love: Voices of the Air India Victims' Families. Both were published by Chetna Parkashan.