Amid calls to cancel Canada Day following the discovery of Indigenous remains in unmarked graves in British Columbia and Saskatchewan, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s message to the country on the national holiday focused on building “a better future for all.”
Trudeau began his message by noting the collective efforts of Canadians to stem the tide of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If this difficult time has taught us all one thing, it’s that in times of challenge or crisis Canadians are there for one another,” he said. “We’ve all helped our communities stay safe and healthy.”
After noting that Canadians came together to fight COVID-19, sacrificing birthdays and graduations, Trudeau said the country also collectively “stopped to reflect on the historical and ongoing injustices” following the “horrific discoveries of hundreds of children at the sites of former residential schools.”
“We as Canadians must be honest with ourselves about our history,” said Trudeau. “Because in order to chart a new and better path forward, we have to recognize the terrible mistakes of our past.”
“The truth is, we’ve got a long way to go to make things right with Indigenous Peoples,” he continued. “But if we all pledge ourselves to doing the work, we can achieve reconciliation.”
Trudeau did not elaborate on any details of “the work” he was referring to, but added that the country’s history “also shows us that we can do hard things.”
“What makes Canada special is not the belief that this is the best country in the world, it’s the knowledge that it could be,” he said.
Watch the full message below
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde used his Canada Day message to call for transformational change in the lives of Indigenous Peoples, including justice for residential school survivors, clean drinking water and healthy homes in Indigenous communities, and student success.
He urged everyone to reflect on the country’s dark past, adding politicians have a role to play in doing better as a country.
“There is an opportunity for all levels of government to act on First Nations priorities,” he said in the video. “There is a strong foundation for continued progress, but there remains much more work ahead of all of us. We cannot lose the momentum.”
New polling suggests a recent rethinking of this country’s history, with the dominant narrative of European settlers discovering Canada making way for Indigenous Peoples being the First Peoples of the land.
Polling from firm Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies found that one in every two respondents said Indigenous Peoples “discovered Canada,” while one-in-three said it was Jacques Cartier.
Association president Jack Jedwab said more people are beginning to understand the presence of Indigenous Peoples prior to what we have conventionally thought of as the discovery and settlement of Canada.
The same poll found about six in 10 respondents held a positive view of Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, whose likeness has been removed from various public displays over his role in setting up the residential school system.
“People are aware of what’s going on, clearly, about the horrible tragedy about residential schools,” Jedwab said of the results. “But I don’t think that as many people as we think are making the connection to Sir John A. Macdonald.”
The survey of 1,542 Canadians in an online panel took place between June 18 and 20, but can’t be assigned a margin of error because online panels aren’t considered truly random samples.