What it means to be Canadian on Canada Day looked a little different this year.
Individuals and communities across the land used the occasion as a moment for reflection on Canada’s existence as a settler-colonial nation.
Yesterday we grieved for Survivors, lives lost, and communities decimated by Canada’s residential school system.
But just because the day has come and gone does not mean that our work has finished.
A Canada worth celebrating is one that continues to elevate First Nation, Métis, and Inuit voices in public discussion of Canadian history, its present, and its future. To echo Chief Franklin Shining Turtle of Whitefish River First Nation, Canadians need "to open [their] eyes, [their] ears, and [their] hearts to the truth of the Indigenous experience in this country. See his full Canada Day statement, which was sent to 200 Members of Parliament, below:
"Statement on Canada Day
The discovery of the lost children in Kamloops, in Saskatchewan, and at other former residential schools is shocking to many Canadians. For Indigenous Peoples, including the Whitefish River First Nation, it is not surprising. It is just one example of the many horrors we have endured under this country’s colonial policies.
Canada Day cannot be a day of celebration for us. It is instead a day of profound grief. We grieve for the thousands of Indigenous children killed by Canada’s residential school system. Yes, thousands. A conservative number estimates the number of children entrusted into the care of these schools who never returned home to their families to be 6000. We grieve for the survivors, too, who endured physical, psychological and often sexual abuse at the hands of their so-called educators, whose mandate was to “kill the Indian in the child.” We grieve for the descendants of these survivors, too - the intergenerational trauma is real. We live with the cruel legacy of the displacement and assimilation policies every day, policies that undermine the very core of Indigenous societies.
Despite the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which investigated the residential school system and its impacts, many Canadians say they were mostly unaware of the harm caused by Canada’s residential schools until the discoveries in Kamloops and Saskatchewan.
This must change.
For too long, Canadians have hid behind their ignorance, or have dismissed the stories of survivors as too horrible to be real. Now, there can be no doubt. The true story of Canada’s history must be rewritten. And it must be learned.
We need you, our Canadian settler neighbours, to open your eyes, your ears, and your hearts to the truth of the Indigenous experience in this country. Until we are truly believed, a piece of our healing journey cannot be completed.
Another unsettling truth that you must understand is this: We are not talking about history here. The harm Canada’s systems and policies inflict on Indigenous peoples and Indigenous children continues. To this day Canada continues to fight against the fair and equitable treatment of Indigenous children in court. To this day Canada has failed to provide Indigenous communities access to safe drinking water – a basic human right. Systemically racist and demeaning attitudes linger in government policies that purport to work on behalf of indigenous people while actually withholding the ability for our people to work out their own destinies.
We ask that you, our Canadian settler neighbours, use Canada Day to educate yourselves about the residential school system and its impacts. Read the report of Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Think about how you can work to implement the Commission’s Calls to Action. And write your MP and MPP to demand that systemic discrimination against your Indigenous neighbours come to an end.
We understand that asking you not to celebrate Canada Day is not easy. For many of you, Canada has been a refuge from war, poverty and displacement, and has provided a safe, beautiful and prosperous home. But for the sake of those of us who have experienced the exact opposite from this country we so graciously agreed to share our land with, we ask you to not celebrate this year. Instead, support us in our mourning by wearing an orange shirt to commemorate the lives of all our children who we lost to the Canadian system – but also as a symbol that you stand with us in being part of the change this country needs if it is every going to live up to its true potential. Knowing that you are with us in making this change real would be something truly worth celebrating.
What can you do to take action:
- You can educate yourself about the history of residential schools
- You can have conversations with your family, your friends, and your children (they are not too young – there are many age appropriate books out there written by Indigenous authors) Project of Heart Resource Booklet.pdf (bctf.ca)
- Read the TRC final report Reports NCTR
- Get comfortable being uncomfortable
- Understand what it means to be an Indigenous Ally
- Uplift Indigenous voices and hear their truths
- Register for this free course through the University of Alberta: Indigenous Canada | Coursera "
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