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Stop making Indigenous voices calendar dependant

Sunday is National Indigenous People's Day, but the celebration feels hollow, says Rebecca Thomas.

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Rebecca Thomas is an award-winning poet, author and activist. She served as Halifax's Poet Laureate from 2016-2018. - HANNAH GRACE
  • HANNAH GRACE
  • Rebecca Thomas is an award-winning poet, author and activist. She served as Halifax's Poet Laureate from 2016-2018.

Here we are: Another June. Another Indigenous History Month. Another National Indigenous People’s Day. And media outlets and organizations everywhere are pushing us into the forefront to be the “voice of the people.” Land Acknowledgements will increase in frequency as a reminder that this land is indeed stolen—but institutions, governments, and individuals are not going to do anything about it. 

Much to the chagrin of those who invited us to speak, we will talk about racism; we will talk about residential schools and we will talk about Canada’s violation of treaty rights. 

We will say the words “white people” and “settler” unapologetically and without capitalization. Some of us will talk about culture. We’ll make reference to eagle feathers and beaded earrings and the upper-ups that have agreed to publish our content will sigh with relief because they won’t have to prepare for the uptick in hate mail and letters to the editor from angry Canadians who were forced to think about a history of a country on stolen land. 

We, as Indigenous peoples, will take on the burden of educating a public. 

It is a little-known contractual agreement written in the fine print of our status cards: “Thou shall gently educate when convenient and topical for non-NDNs.”

This same public that holds distain for us when we are hurt and angry will turn around and ask grass dancers and women in jingle dress regalia for photos with their children at exhibition events. All of this so they can post it on Instagram with the hashtag #WeAreAllTreatyPeople, with little to no understanding as to what that means—but they’ve been a good ally. 

We are constantly told to be pretty. Stay exotic but palatable. Spin around for us. Play a supporting character in Canada: The Movie. Be upset, but stoic. Tell a creation myth so that non-Indigenous Canadians can nod at our wisdom and shed a single tear for our resilience. 

We are warned to not be like Romeo. Be like Buffy. Oh wait. Don’t be like Buffy. 

Be the Indian in the Cupboard, trapped in a white person’s fantasy of Indigenous people, only to be shelved once the page on the calendar is turned. We will get dusted off in October for Treaty Day. Two months a year! We should be grateful. After all, Black History Month is only in February—and it’s the shortest month of the year. 

Some of us will be listened to more than others, because we are just the right amount of sad and when we cry, it’s attractive. Others will be asked to calm down or leave because our energy is a bit too aggressive—as though there is a line where pain goes from worthy of empathy to “not being a productive player in this conversation.” 

As I get older, I find I am inching closer and closer to that line. 

If you find yourself getting angry as you read this, don’t worry: In a week there will be Canada Day fireworks and you won’t be able to hear us calling for help. 

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