As much as I can’t believe it’s nearly mid-October, it cannot be denied that Canadian Thanksgiving is nearly upon is. For our neighbours south of the border, this means preparing to take Monday off work in celebration of Columbus Day.
Or not: yesterday I came across this little internet tidbit informing me that the city of Seattle, Washington, recently voted to do away with Columbus Day and start celebrating the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead.
I immediately thought three things:
- I didn’t know that cities could declare their own holidays, or re-designate existing ones.
- What a great idea!
- I wonder if we should do the same with a holiday in Canada?
Regarding Thought #1, I would love to be able to tell you whether it’s possible for Canadian cities to declare or re-designate holidays, but feel like the process of looking this up would be, frankly, too boring. So I won’t.
About Thought #2: I think it’s pretty obvious to most people by now that European explorers like Christopher Columbus did not “discover” anything. There had been people (i.e. full-on societies) living in both North and South America for thousands of years before these swashbuckling yahoos showed up and ruined their lives. Celebrating Christopher Columbus or any other European explorer for thinking they’ve “discovered” some place just because neither they nor anyone they knew personally had been there (despite being already populated) is almost as stupid as giving ME a holiday for “discovering” your house, robbing your family, and inviting my asshole friends to move in.
And let’s not mince words: Christopher Columbus was a TOTAL asshole. If you want to know why without having to do any boring research, enjoy this Columbus Day informational graphic courtesy of The Oatmeal.
In light of his self-righteous and greed-induced robbery, rape, mutilation, murder, and enslavement of Indigenous people in the Americas, it makes absolute and total sense NOT to celebrate this colossal shit and instead to turf Columbus Day in favour of a day that both acknowledges the historical (and ongoing) wrongs perpetrated against Indigenous people and celebrates their rich culture and heritage. So good for you for re-designating this holiday, Seattle. You rock.
And now for Canada (Thought #3, if you’re keeping count). Our upcoming secular holiday is Thanksgiving, a holiday that seems to be all about having the warm fuzzies and counting your blessings (and eating a lot of food) as autumn sets in. Sounds good to me. Remembrance Day is about the past and present sacrifices of the men and women serving in Canada’s military. All right. Family Day is about spending a day with your family. No problems with that. Generally speaking, our Christianity-based holidays are more traditional than religious, and our secular holidays are innocuous at worst and excellent times to recognize the best in ourselves and others at best.
Except Victoria Day. What the heck is that about? A celebration of the birthday of Queen Victoria, a British monarch who already has two Canadian provincial capitals named after her (Regina and Victoria) and never set foot in this country. Compared to a murderous lout like Columbus she seems harmless enough, but the Victorian era was no walk in the park. Victorian society was incredibly sexually repressive, and the conditions under which Britain’s poor lived and worked were nothing short of appalling (not that this is all necessarily Victoria’s fault, but as the head of state it’s not NOT her fault either). From what I can gather, Queen Victoria seemed pretty intelligent, really loved her husband, had lots of kids, and lived a long time. And that’s great and all….but not really “get a national holiday named after you” great.
Besides, it was during her reign that conditions in Western Canada continued to get worse for First Nations and Métis people. The Canadian Government (of which, remember, she was the head of state) was behaving like assholes. Land in the prairies (some of which was already being farmed by French Catholic and Métis farmers like Louis Riel) was being parceled out to English settlers and resistance to this (the most notable of which was the North West Rebellion) was violently stamped out. Promises to teach Cree tribes to farm in return for land and to protect them from hunger while they learned to change their way of life were ignored. In British Columbia (whose name, according to Wikipedia, was actually chosen by good ol’ Queen Vic), the Canadian government didn’t really bother with treaties at all and simply took control over the whole schmeer in 1871. Canadian history is really not my forte, but it seems that life for First Nations People in Canada didn’t seem to improve a whole lot after Confederation, despite the song and dance about how wonderful the establishment of the country was for everyone else.
Of course, I’m not saying all of this is Queen Victoria’s fault per se, but as major events that occurred in Canada during her reign, none of this is worth celebrating. What IS worth celebrating is the tenacity and courage of First Nations people throughout this oppressive history, and the unique cultures that have remained alive despite racist, violent, and systemic attempts to stamp them out.
I know there have already been attempts to re-name and re-designate Victoria Day, but so far it doesn’t seem like much has happened. Why not? Why continue to celebrate a legacy of violence and repression? Why not celebrate the fact that we get to live in an amazing and beautiful country and didn’t even have to fight a war for the privilege? Makes sense to me. (By the way, the argument that “It’s always been called Victoria Day” holds absolutely NO water since most people my age call the holiday “May Long” or “May 2-4” anyways.)
Anyways, things to think about on your hopefully happy Canadian Thanksgiving.