IPS Youth Voices September 2021

Colonial Holidays
by Lizz Brooks, Shae Zamardi, Kaia Hill

Christmas… Thanksgiving… Canada Day… These are just a few of the holidays that are celebrated across Turtle Island each year.  While each one holds varying significance to everyone who participates, they also each hold their own unique meaning. Though they are separate, what relates them to one another is their shared underlying history and present-day connection to Colonialism. Holidays hold a complex relation to many individuals because of this. To explore some of the many dynamics around colonial holidays, the youth of Indigenous Perspectives Society came together to share some of their thoughts.

Each of the youth have surprisingly similar upbringings. Each of us grew up in Christian homes, which resulted in us celebrating holidays like Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter with large gatherings with our families. At a young age, we had a shared appreciation and fulfillment from these celebrations.  They brought with them a sense of ‘magic’, family and community. Holidays that are based around joining together often have this transformation that we see across both families and society in general. They are times of the year when special community events are held, families share food and gifts, and it feels like anything is possible. However, despite having this incredible nostalgia, these holidays can also hold mixed feelings for many.

After growing into who we are today and learning more about the world around us and shifting our own world views within time, there can be a foggy lens when thinking about these celebratory times. Personally, I tend to experience more feelings of sorrow than I used to somehow still mixed with feelings of joy. Around Christmas, seeing and experiencing the pressures of needing to buy gifts and transform my own home to create that same feeling my childhood home had can take a toll. Even though I still love decorating and trying to recreate that magic during Christmas, I also experience the underlying feelings. Meanwhile, there are individuals who feel the pressure of consumerism even more than myself due to tight financial constraints or family expectations or the individuals who experience the harsh winter weather while others celebrate. Privilege is highlighted during the holidays. As noted by one of my youth colleagues, there is also the aspect of it being a holiday that originated as a Christian holiday, but is now the standard statutory holiday, regardless of who does or doesn’t celebrate but we don’t have this same mandatory time off for other religious or cultural holidays.

Meanwhile, holidays like Thanksgiving are directly connected to celebrating settlers on Indigenous land. Suddenly feelings of shame, guilt, and a hyper-awareness developed in different ways for each of us. One individual mentioned the mixed feelings that she had of trusting her parents when she was a child. And why not? Of course, we want to trust those closest to us. Our parents were and are also on their own paths of learning and understanding. For many Indigenous parents, because of Residential Schools and other colonial systems that instilled shame, guilt and silence upon Indigenous families, there was rarely or never any talk about their experiences or learning around the holidays growing up. With our generation, as we learn more, now we can pass down the teachings of our family and colonial history for future generations.

So, do each of us still celebrate colonial holidays today? Yes, but it also depends on the occasion. One youth noted, “It’s difficult, because on one hand, I want to gather with my family and friends and celebrate with food and conversation, as that feels like love to me. But on the other hand, knowing what the day is meant to be celebrating makes me feel gross. Specifically, Thanksgiving Day. There are still some holidays, like Christmas, where I don’t feel bad, but still conscious. I am the person who will wish my loved ones a joyous day while also reminding them of the history and harmful meaning behind the holiday. Each year at Thanksgiving, I will say to them, ‘let’s put topics of Indigenous trauma, resilience and resistance at the center of our tables tonight and dig into that.’” For myself, though I am not religious anymore, I celebrate holidays like Christmas and Easter still, because they have generally become so disconnected from their original beginnings it’s easier to focus on the gatherings and celebrations. But other holidays, like Thanksgiving I don’t actively participate in unless I’m with my family, who do.

Design by Andy Everson of the K'ómoks First Nation

But while there are many mixed feelings that come up around the holidays, both personally and amongst society, some holidays have had moments of communal re-direction. Canada Day is one such day that has completely flipped the script this year. A day that many celebrate for Canadian Pride while others detest the day of Nationalism and partying, this year was different. After the very heavy news of Residential School Children being found buried under the Kamloops Residential School, a call towards “Cancel Canada Day” was shouted across the country. Some cities still held their regular celebrations, but many listened and lowered their flags to half-mast or held vigils and events organized by their local Nations. Orange shirts were seen in exponentially increased numbers compared to past years. Lastly, Orange Shirt Day on September 30th, after many years of work from Indigenous individuals pushing for a statutory day, is finally recognized as a day of Truth and Reconciliation. It is disheartening to think that all of this acknowledgement and communal push for growth occurred only after seeing the proof of what has been shared for generations, but it is a step. This year’s Canada Day took many small but important steps, and how the day continues moving forward will only be known as time moves forward.

Connecting with one another and having these conversations amongst us youth has been incredibly validating and an opportunity for understanding. We have each shared similar, yet unique, experiences growing up and unlearning the meanings of these celebrations beyond what’s given to us at face value. Youth are in a unique place today, where we see more youth frequently learning their traditions and working to decolonize the holidays if they continue to celebrate. This shared learning is creating change for our Elders, parents, and families. Likewise, we will bring these new creations and teachings into future generations, as the cycle of sharing knowledge continues. We are each hopeful for change in the future. One youth mentioned that they plan to ensure that their children are raised learning of their own cultural holidays or celebrations in addition to more common ones. Another youth noted that children are like sponges, and we need to give them more credit with learning. They will absorb any information when delivered in an age-appropriate way. It is important that we continue to remain curious and encourage our children to ask questions and be guides of their own learning so they can continue the path towards intergenerational healing and understandings of the holidays.

By: Lizz Brooks, Shae Zamardi, Kaia Hill