An immigrant reckoning: What Canada Day is and what it isn’t

July 1, 2021

By CBC News |

This First Person piece is by Bhoomika Dongol, who lives in Regina and has worked in the non-profit sector for more than nine years. 

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Like many other newcomers, I was part of a mass-hysterical celebration for Canada’s birthday on July 1, 2018. I must confess I basked in the glory of arrival to a land called Canada as I waved a rectangular red flag and witnessed celestial fireworks by the lake.

Three years ago, I had no idea about how debated those celebrations were. I am gradually beginning to see why Canada Day needs to be a day of reconciliation, not a day of celebration.

I try to educate myself every day, unlearning and relearning, to reshape my understanding of what Canada is. There are readily available books and articles by Indigenous writers that can teach many non-Indigenous people like me about decolonization, reconciliation, and the indelible past and present of Turtle Island, this land scraped by the claws of colonization.

As immigrants, we all have unique stories of why we uprooted ourselves from our native land, displacing ourselves to what we subliminally envision to be a utopian destination. Our visions of utopia might just be an escape from ennui, but we’d like to believe that the grass is greener on the other side.

In these three years of familiarizing myself with the Prairie landscape, I have also become aware of how I inhabit a land where settlers have displaced and are still displacing our Indigenous population – as long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the river flows. On most days, this feels like a comedy of errors. I displaced myself from one depressed land only to submerge myself into the pain of another.

I have come to know that to inhabit a land is to absorb its sorrow and atone for its irrevocable past. I tread with an unbearable heaviness of being, the emotional baggage of homesickness encumbered by the looming guilt of inhabiting a stolen land. This grief for the loss of the land I called “home” for 35 years, combined with an indelible sense of atonement, makes me question the concept of home as a physical abode.

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