I want to acknowledge that I am on the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee, Anishinabewaki, and Attiwonderonk peoples.
I also want to acknowledge that I strive to be an ally to Indigenous peoples by recognizing my privilege, learning the history of Indigenous peoples, and using this to raise awareness for Indigenous affairs. Please note that this is a sensitive topic, and the content is upsetting.
As we near July 1st, 2021, I would like to use my voice of privilege to contribute to the discussions on Indigenous human rights injustices, #CancelCanadaDay, and changing Canadian traditions to be inclusive and representative of our diverse population. By no means will I be able to cover everything in this blog, but I hope this starts and/or contributes to conversations regarding the human rights of Indigenous people.
It’s hard to know where to start when we talk about the long histories of systemic oppression. Realistically, we can start wherever we choose; it is the start of learning that begins to fray the fabric concealing injustice. As we learn more and share this with others, we force the blanket to unravel and reveal the colonial persecution of those native to this land.
The latest news of Indigenous affairs grieves at two back-to-back discoveries of hundreds of unmarked graves at sites of previous residential schools. On May 27, the Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc First Nation issued a statement announcing that researchers using ground-penetrating radar (GPR) discovered 215 unmarked graves of previous students at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia.
On June 24, the Cowessess First Nation announced in a virtual press conference that their research using GPR confirmed their intuition of Indigenous remains on this land. An estimated 751 unmarked graves were discovered at a cemetery near the former Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan. Chief Cadmus Delorme reports that this cemetery was overseen by the Roman Catholic Church and comprises of both children and adults who attended the residential school, the church, and lived nearby.1
My heart goes out to both the Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc First Nation and the Cowessess First Nation and all Indigenous communities afflicted by the residential school system. Canadian residential schools were active from 1831 to 1996, with an estimated 150,000 students and a total of 130 schools operating across Canada. The death toll of Indigenous children who were sent or forced to attend these schools is unknown, yet it is in the thousands.2
This is only a small excerpt of the long and dreadful history of the pain settlers and their children afflicted on this land’s Indigenous populations. Unfortunately, we cannot undo these inhumane actions or eliminate the development of discrimination against Indigenous people.
Canada has been a welcoming home for many of us, yet not all of us. Canada Day is an opportunity to celebrate our home, yet minority communities are often excluded from such welcome. Having said this, this year, Canada Day is a day of mourning. These unmarked graves are evidence that Canada has not been welcoming to all, and like all death, they deserve to be remembered.
With these discoveries, #CancelCanadaDay has remerged for another year as a trending hashtag. I do not deny the protest of dismantling traditional Canada Day celebrations, yet the trend to ‘cancel’ Canada Day entirely is problematic.
In her video, Anna Akana defines cancel culture as “a form of a boycott, involving an individual, who is deemed to have problematic behaviour or who has said something questionable/controversial.” In brief, Akana notes that cancel culture can overpower voices trying to speak against the issue, be used as a tool to make ourselves feel better or superior, and be used to judge an individual without recognizing the context. Akana concludes by questioning whether cancel culture actually involves spreading awareness that promotes growth, or if it is just a way to make oneself feel better about the behaviours of our ancestors.
In modern society, advocacy tends to go in waves and goes in and out of popularity. The sad truth is that these recent discoveries have caused Indigenous rights to resurface on the trending page of Twitter. Many of us, such as myself, feel we need to speak out and reshare content on Indigenous rights; this is not wrong, but are we doing this because we want to incite change? Or are we doing this because everyone else is? Raising your voice is important in activism but doing it for the right reasons makes you an activist.
Nothing will ever justify the crimes committed against Indigenous communities. Yet fixating on only one moment in Indigenous history will not bring about change. As Canadians, we need to educate ourselves on all Indigenous history, not just the residential school system, because there are a plethora of Canadian issues violating the human rights of Indigenous people.
Member of Parliament for Nunavut, Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, discussed this topic on a recent Instagram Livestream by @oncanadaproject. Among other matters, Qaqqaq discussed how the increasing demand to outlaw seal hunting3 is affecting the food security of northern Indigenous communities. While Inuit communities are exempted from seal hunting and selling bans,4 economic opportunities in the seal market are bleak, resulting in economic insecurities.
While this issue is more complex than I’ve described, this is just one of many incidents to show that Indigenous issues are actually Canadian issues. We are all Canadian by birth or citizenship, yet there is a glaring difference in how Canadians native to this land are treated.
Having said this, I don’t believe we should be cancelling Canada Day, but changing Canada Day to be more inclusive and representative of all Canadians, both native and immigrant. This starts by educating ourselves on both historical and current Canadian affairs and how these affect certain populations over others. Ask questions and start conversations respectfully to learn more from others and share what you have learned. This is not a comfortable topic, but we need to lean into the discomfort to invoke action.
This year, we mourn our failures of not treating Indigenous people with the Canadian values of love, respect, and inclusivity. Yet, going forward, let’s use Canada Day as an opportunity to honour and commemorate all types of Canadians and remember both the strengths and weaknesses in our history as a collective nation.
Below I have created a list of resources used in this blog and more to help begin or contribute to your education on Canadian affairs and Indigenous populations.
Truth and Reconciliation Commission