While lots of us are gearing up for those crazy Canada 150 celebrations, not all Canadians feel the same level of excitement for our country’s big birthday. Namely, the Indigenous peoples of Canada who historically and even now have not been treated fairly or equally. So while some of us are hanging our Canadian flags and red and white streamers, we need to be mindful of the part of our population who is not celebrating.
Indigenous activist, Jamie McGean noticed that along with the Canada 150 decorations, Dollarama has included two-dollar dreamcatchers. He and a few other activists saw this as a gross oversight by the company and started a petition to have them removed from the store.
The problem with displaying dreamcatchers with Canada 150 decorations is that the item has become symbolic of the Indigenous population and its inclusion implies their support and celebration of Canada Day. McGean points out that not many Indigenous people are celebrating Canada’s birthday, because ‘it is a reminder of years of colonial oppression and broken treaties.’
‘We are not celebrating Canada 150,’ he said, ‘We’re celebrating 150 years on stolen land.’
McGean and his fellow activists have been removing the dreamcatchers and explaining to store management why they find them offensive. They also sent a complaint to Dollarama and requested that they remove the product from the store. Dollarama refused, calling the request an ‘isolated complaint’ and saying the product is ‘very popular among customers across Canada.’
The saddest part is how often Canada has dismissed Indigenous concerns as ‘isolated complaints’ and left them out of the forming of a national identity. McGean’s request does not seem to be unreasonable or isolated, yet the revenue from the dreamcatchers seems to be more important to the big business than the people the item represents.
McGean was clear that the problem was not in Canadians purchasing the items, but in their mass-production without paying homage to the history or tradition of the object. In many–though not all–Indigenous communities, the dreamcatcher is a sacred object that protects sleeping people (usually children) from bad dreams or nightmares.
‘We are not suggesting that non-indigenous people not have dreamcatchers and other indigenous items,’ reads the dreamcatcher petition, ‘What we are encouraging is that people purchase authentic items rather than those mass-produced by multi-million dollar corporations.’
‘A big part of the reconciliation process is just talking,’ McGean told The Toronto Star, ‘There’s no need to point fingers or spread any kind of hate towards anyone. We just need to start the conversations.’
So this Canada Day, let’s remember the greater Canadian narrative. The one that includes the Indigenous people who loved this land centuries before it was called ‘Canada.’ We live in an amazing and diverse country, but we cannot ignore large groups of Canadians for the sake of convenience. What we need is to start and continue a dialogue that includes all Canadians so that 150 years from now, we can all celebrate together.