The below contains details of residential schools that may be triggering for families and survivors. Canada’s Indian Residential School Survivors and Family Crisis Line is available 24 hours a day at 1-866-925-4419.
What the state of Canada has done to Indigenous communities across Turtle Island is nothing short of genocide, and would not be tolerated if these same crime were committed against white citizens. This much is true.
From the 19th century until the last residential school closed in 1996, more than 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children were taken — often by force — to attend “school” far away from their home communities, or forced to attend day “school” at these institutions that were often run by Christian churches.
Calling them “schools” is a misnomer. It was not so much education as it was assimilation.
What kind of schools have graveyards?
At Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan, 751 unmarked graves. At the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia, 215. There are also 104 potential graves at the site of a former residential school in Brandon, Manitoba. These will not be the last graves found.
What kind of “schools” experiment on their own students?
Under the watchful eye of the Canadian government in 1942, research was being developed to test the effects of starvation on the human body using students from Indigenous communities such as The Pas and Norway House in Northern Manitoba. In 1947, more starvation effects research began on roughly 1,000 hungry Indigenous children in six residential schools in Port Alberni, B.C., Kenora, Ontario, Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia and Lethbridge, Alberta.
Today, the forced sterilization of Indigenous women is ongoing, as heard by a Senate committee in 2019, when it was made aware of a case of forced sterilization as recent as in 2019.
Today, Indigenous sickness, death, and struggle is the norm. Today, the colonial genocide of Canada’s dark past continues.
There is simply nothing to celebrate.
The recent news about the mass and unmarked graves found at residential schools across Canada has genuinely upset a lot of people who were ignorant to Canada’s treatment of Indigenous people until now. But how do we turn upset into action?
The simplest way — and what many are currently calling for — is to cancel Canada Day. (On social media, #CancelCanadaDay).
The simplest way is to boycott your local Canada Day celebrations. Maybe your municipality has already cancelled them — at least 50 municipalities across Canada already have — but even in the instance they are still partaking in fireworks, like the City of Toronto is, don’t show up and let people know why.
“Cancelling Canada Day is the bare minimum recognition of the ongoing colonization and genocide perpetrated against Indigenous peoples across Turtle Island,” said Idle No More co-founder Sylvia McAdam in a press release.
“The genocide of so-called residential ‘schools’ never ended. It continues today and we’ll use our voices across these lands for MMIWG2S, child welfare, birth alerts, forced sterilization, police/RCMP brutality and all of the injustices we face.”
What to do on July 1st
Use your online voice: Post on social media that you’re boycotting Canada Day celebrations.
Contact your local media and let them know you’re boycotting Canada Day celebrations. Don’t just not show up — people have to make the reason for the boycott known, otherwise it could be assumed that low attendance was due to COVID-19 or the heatwave.
Join Facebook groups like Cancel Canada Day to find resources in your area.
Talk about it: If you’ve been invited to a private BBQ, respectfully note that you won’t be celebrating and use the opportunity to talk about why.
Racism in its overt form can be deadly but in its covert form can do much more damage in the long run. Calling out the member of your family or group of friends who embodies the stereotype of the “racist uncle” is not for nothing/ When racism is normalized within families, children grow up with the idea that racism can and should go unchecked by anyone.
No one is saying it’s easy going up against your elders at home or the establishment of the state, but it’s even harder when you grow up without someone role-modelling that brave behaviour.
When speaking up against the treatment of Indigenous families, be extra patient when speaking to newcomers to Canada who may know little to nothing about Canada’s treatment of Indigenous peoples.
The organization No One is Illegal has conducted bridge-building work to name and expose acts of colonialism and its impacts on both immigrants to Canada, refugees, and Indigenous peoples and First Nations.
Wear your colours: Instead of wearing red and white on Canada, consider wearing something orange instead.
Orange shows solidarity with Indigenous communities across Canada. The Orange Shirt movement started with Phyllis Webstad from Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation (Canoe Creek Indian Band) and is usually celebrated in October, but has become the symbolic colour of acknowledging how Indigenous children were treated in residential schools and continue to be treated today in the child welfare system.
“When I got to the mission [school], they stripped me, and took away my clothes, including [my] orange shirt! I never wore it again. I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t give it back to me, it was mine! The color orange has always reminded me of that and how my feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared and how I felt like I was worth nothing. All of us little children were crying and no one cared.”
Topple racist leaders: Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement in the U.S., Canadians have been questioning their statuesque worship of the racist leaders of our past. In Kingston, Ontario, there have been years of demonstrations about the large statue of our first prime minister and founding racist John A. Macdonald.
“I have reason to believe that the agents as a whole … are doing all they can, by refusing food until the Indians are on the verge of starvation, to reduce the expense,” Macdonald told the House of Commons in 1882.
Kingston, Ontario has revered John A. Macdonald because it is his birthplace, after all. After much deliberation, the statue was moved to the cemetery he is buried at.
Activists took a much bolder move in Montreal where they toppled a statue of John A. Macdonald in August of 2020. Its head broke off in the process.
In Toronto, another architect of racism against Indigenous people was knocked down during a demonstration a few weeks ago. Egerton Ryerson — for which Ryerson University is currently named, though there are calls to change this — laid the groundwork for the residential school system.
Support Indigenous causes: There are currently Indigenous struggles happening all across Canada that you can support to help solidarity.
Grassy Narrows is the longest-running logging blockade in Canadian history. The people of Grassy Narrows suffered the effects of mercury poisoning for many years due to a chemical and pulp mill poisoning the fish with high levels of mercury. The effects of that poisoning are ongoing. Grassy Narrows just released a public plea asking for help with a postering campaign.
1492 Landback Lane was a months-long protest in 2020 during which Haudenosaunee land defenders and their allies occupied a housing development on unceded Six Nations territory. The blockades ended in early 2021, however the occupation shone a light on historical land theft in Canada. Indigenous land defenders — including the Haudenosaunee — continue to lay claim to unceded lands in the face of development. The statue head of Egerton Ryerson — first thrown into Lake Ontario after it was toppled — now resides on a stake at the site of 1492 Landback Lane.
A lack of clean water on reserves across Canada remains a human rights issue. Contact your local politicians, write letters, call, and apply pressure on this decades-long issue.
Join Cancel Canada Day events
Over 15 Cancel Canada Day protests are planned for July 1 including in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Thunder Bay, Toronto, Montreal, Regina, and Saskatoon. Details on Cancel Canada Day actions from coast to coast are available here.
When this wave of shock over residential school graves wears off, we as a country cannot forget.
#CancelCanadaDay isn’t so much about cancelling July 1, 2021. It’s about bringing attention that not only reaches the media and politicians but every day Canadians as well. There is a level of denial among Canadians that is just now starting to crack.
It’s important for settlers in Canada to be accountable to something more than just one day a year.
Learning to stop celebrating racism and colonialism is a good first step — but we need to engage in an ongoing process of learning how to talk to each other about racism, colonialism, and how to reconcile Canada’s national identity with the horrors of its past and present.
krystalline kraus is an intrepid explorer and reporter from Toronto, Canada. A veteran activist and journalist for rabble.ca since 2001, she needs no aviator goggles, gas mask or red cape to proceed fearlessly into the democratic fray.
Image: David Allan Barker/Flickr.