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A Native Perspective on Canada Day and the 4th of July

Celebrations of dominion—Canada Day on Saturday and July 4th today—are opportunities to reflect for Natives whose nations straddle the invisible border.
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At Akwesasne we are located between Canada and the United States. Yesterday, July 1st, was what they call Canada Day. The Canadians celebrate the British North America Act of 1867, which marks the day when three colonies united to create a single dominion under Great Britain.

I don’t recall that annual event being a big deal on the rez. Ever. But, everything shuts down in Canada and there is no work and not much to do but go fishing, eat fish, and gather the extended families. A time to see how everyone is doing; sing and dance around and eat, and later walk around from circle to circle and listen to the stories.

Last night we could see and hear thousands of dollars of fireworks blasting through the Cornwall, Ontario night sky. Pretty cool sight to see, but it is not our celebration. With Dominion came strict development and enforcement of the 1876 Indian Act, which isn’t much different than the U.S. federal law regarding Indians.


July 4th represents the American celebration of its independence from Britain’s dominion. How true that is, of course, is up to debate. How can the colonies declare independence from Britain while adopting English Common Law to guide the systems that would govern the so-called freed colonists? Did anything change? These frameworks, mind you, were created by large landholders, slaveholders and speculators. The framers wanted to cut out the middleman and his taxes (read as protection money). The framers envisioned a New World Order where international markets dealt directly with them, no need for the King’s charters or licenses, or protection.

So that would beg several questions. Were the rich claiming independence to the right to develop free resources and access international markets? Who exactly was duped into believing in a freedom the colonists have never experienced before and will never experience? Newly-coined citizens were recruited to die for a cause with no end. Before the first President ever left office a revolt ensued called the Whiskey Rebellion. Imagine, the regular Joe American was fighting their independent government over an unfair tax!

On our Rez, the 4th of July made no sense to many of us. But, like Canada, everything shuts down and there is nothing to do but hoe the garden, milk the cows and roast the pig and wait for the extended family to show up. And eat, sing, dance around, make a lot of noise and later on listen to the family stories.

Today, we’re presenting three other pieces on the American’s 4th of July, and Native perspectives on same. Be sure to read July 4 Weekend: Togetherness, Health and Cultural Resilience by Sarah Sunshine Manning; Who Is Celebrating What? by Alex Jacobs; and America Is Celebrating Its Democracy, Not Its Freedom by Charles Kader. It’s good stuff; enjoy.

Ray Cook is ICTMN’s Opinions Editor.