History of Canada Day and treatment of Indigenous people

Canada’s birthday is celebrated on July 1. Coast to coast and around the world Canadians show their pride in their history, culture and achievements. Since 1868, it’s been a day of celebration, where festivities are held across the country.

Canada Day is also a national holiday that is rooted in, and often ignores, the colonialization of the very people and cultures that were celebrated the month before. In June, Canada celebrates Indigenous History Month to honour the heritage, customs and contributions of Indigenous people.

Over the past year, Canadians have discovered more information about burial sites at residential schools that have long been known about within Indigenous communities, but the revelations are news to many Canadians who were taught that Canada is a country that celebrates and embraces diversity.

Every Canada Day should be a time for pause and reflection with an opportunity to build upon our country’s mistakes and acknowledge the past.

History of Canada

Creation of Canada Day

On July 1, 1867, the British North American Act (known as the Constitution Act, 1867) was signed, establishing Canada. On June 20, 1868, Governor-General Lord Monck signed a proclamation that requested all Her Majesty’s subjects across Canada celebrate July 1. In 1879 a federal law made July 1 a statutory holiday as the “Anniversary of Confederation,” which was later called “Dominion Day.” On October 27, 1982, “Dominion Day” officially became Canada Day.

Indigenous People in Canada

The process of assuming control of someone else’s territory and applying one’s systems of law, government and religion is colonization.

Indigenous people, including First Nations, Inuit and Métis played a large role in Canadian history, and they lived in Canada long before European settlers arrived. The reality is that most of Canada was built on land that was not formally relinquished by its original inhabitants.

Indigenous people, whose land was colonized have had their lives shaped by long-term injustices. Compared to the non-Indigenous population, Indigenous peoples living in Canada have shorter life expectancies, lower incomes, lower education levels, lower employment rates and many suffer from food insecurity.

The Indian Residential School System contributed to Indigenous displacement across Canada. Between 1870 and 1996, more than 150,000 Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families and relocated to residential schools that were often hundreds to thousands of kilometres from their homes. Due to this system, we still see many other lasting impacts and intergenerational trauma over 30 years after its abolishment in 1996.

Despite attempts at reconciliation from various levels of government, Indigenous people in Canada still face hardships because of systemic inequalities.

Over the last year, hundreds of children’s remains have been found at the sites of former Indian Residential Schools including the discovery of 215 bodies in a former residential school in Kamloops, BC, which is a stark and heartbreaking reminder of the tragedy caused by the Residential School System and Canada’s treatment of Indigenous people.

Media coverage and political denunciation of the legacy of residential schools have intensified, prompting Canadians to reflect on this chapter in their country’s history.

Some Canadians embrace Canada Day celebrations because they are grateful for their life in this nation, while some find themselves in an uncomfortable position where they are grateful for their freedoms but recognize the Indigenous systemic injustices that have allowed for such freedoms. Some Canadians refuse to celebrate and find any celebration related to Canadian colonialization to be incompatible with the process of reconciliation.

It’s very important to realize that the fight for Indigenous rights is far-reaching and goes far beyond the scope of residential schools. It’s the struggle for sovereignty and human rights in Indigenous communities that have proven to be a long-term issue.

How to support Indigenous people in Canada


Listening to Indigenous Canadians and being educated on their culture and history. There are many different cultures and traditions represented amongst the First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities with a variety of perspectives. However, they all have this in common: a history of mistreatment, oppression and inequality towards their people. It’s a history that continues to this day.

We should listen to their stories, understand them, their way of life, culture and traditions and their history, the good and bad. We can only improve their quality of life in Canada if we engage in thoughtful and honourable dialogue.


The horrors of the Kamloops discovery and other similar discoveries force us all to take a serious look at how these institutions came into existence in the first place – how they were funded, maintained for decades, and continued by churches and governments long after they were widely known to be breaching human rights laws.

It’s important to recognize that Indigenous communities carry painful memories. Our role is to educate ourselves. Educate yourself and respect Indigenous communities as they work through their grief and deal with other injustices.

Get involved

There are several movements that you can get behind to support Indigenous communities such as the Moose Hide Campaign. The campaign is an Indigenous-led movement for Canadians to join in standing up to end violence against women and children.

Another way to support Indigenous communities is by helping those who have already been working on these issues for a long time. This means supporting local art and cultural organizations that create spaces dedicated to showcasing Indigenous creatives, journalists and artists. It also means empowering Indigenous businesses that provide opportunities for economic development and tangible pathways out of poverty.


Many Canadian charities and organizations are serving and supporting northern remote Indigenous communities and True North Aid is one of them. Consider supporting their work and the work of others through financial partnership. Their work is expensive as they serve hard-to-reach northern remote communities.

The Orange Shirt Society is specifically focused on helping Indigenous communities heal from the legacy of residential schools.

The Indian Residential School Survivors Society gives survivors of the residential school system a platform to share their stories. Not only do they help educate Canadians about the extent of oppression Indigenous communities have suffered, but it also provides financial support to those who have been directly affected.

Global University Systems Canada acknowledges the traditional territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), Sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh), the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, Haudenosaunee, Huron-wendat (Wyandot) and Kanien’keha:ka (Mohawk) on which our campuses are located.

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