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Cancel Canada Day ... and while we're at it Cancel Canada

Brian Champ

June 25, 2021

Warning: this article contains details that may trigger trauma for survivors of the residential "schools" and others. For those that need support please call the National Indian Residential School Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419. 


The finding of 751 remains of Indigenous children at the Marieval Indian Residential School (IRS) on the Cowessess First Nation reserve in Saskatchewan, about 200 kilometres east of so-called Regina, has further confirmed the truth that these institutions were concentration camps masquerading as "schools", designed to "kill the Indian in the child" - often this meant simply killing the child. This was not a mass grave, as Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme explained, "The Catholic church representatives removed the headstones and today they are unmarked graves”. This was done in the 1960s to hide genocide.

Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) Vice Chief Bobby Cameron called it “a crime against humanity – an assault on First Nations people … Canada will be known as a nation who tried to exterminate the First Nations. Now we have evidence … of what the survivors of the Indian Residential Schools have been saying all along for decades – that they were treated without humanity.”

80-year-old Cowessess Elder Florence Sparvier was forced to attend Marieval: “If the parents didn’t want to allow their children to go to boarding school one of them had to go to jail … A lot of the pain that we see in our people right now comes from there … They made us believe we didn’t have souls”.

This news brings more grief and anger for Indigenous people across Turtle Island, especially for those First Nations in the Treaty 2 and Treaty 4 areas whose children were sent to Marieval in large numbers. But it does not bring surprise.

Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, from the Anishinaabeg First Nation of St. Peter's / Little Peguis First Nation and an Assistant Professor at the University of Manitoba explains: "All this story does is confirm the stories being told by Indigenous communities for decades. The federal government was invited by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 2015 to investigate sites at residential schools and they refused to do so at that point. This is just a long time coming in which communities have been seeking to find out where their children are. And every Indigenous community in this country has a story of lost children, has a story of children who went to the schools and never came home." 

While money is now being provided for these recovery efforts, the first discovery of 215 children in Kamloops was commissioned and funded by the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation after giving up waiting for the federal government to act.

There have now been found 1,143 remains of Indigenous children at 5 IRS institutions in so-called Canada, along with a further 180 at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. The number of children in graves at former schools north of the border is likely in the order of 25,000 to 30,000 and could be much higher. These children died from malnutrition, diseases that ran rampant through starving children in cramped conditions but unknown numbers were also murdered by the nuns and priests in whose care they'd been left. These “carers” committed acts of sexual abuse, torture and punished children for speaking their Indigenous languages and for running away. 

There are still some that would deny that these “schools” were all bad, such as Mississauga Monsignor Owen Keenan who said to his congregation “I presume that the same number would thank the church for the good that was done in those schools.” The backlash swiftly forced him to apologize, but there are people, particularly those who benefit the most, who will defend Canada even if it means justifying genocide. We need to be ready to counter these forces who are no friends of workers or democracy, and want to perpetuate the system.

The “schools” were a key part of undermining Indigenous resistance to the systematic stealing of land that now makes up settler colonial Canada. Indigenous Languages, Cultures, Knowledge and Spirituality are centred around land as a “system of reciprocal relations and obligations” connecting humans and the rest of the natural world. Residential “schools” were designed to rupture Indigenous communities' connection to the land, in order to leave the path free for the settler state to develop it as private property for an economy built on agriculture, mining, forestry and later oil. It was one of many institutions and policies that perpetuated genocide for the benefit of settler colonial capitalism in Canada. 

Canada's refusal to recognize Indigenous sovereignty has its roots in the Doctrine of Discovery, initiated by Papal Bulls in the 1400s, that saw the lands of the new world as empty land. Multiple tactics were used to wrest control away: horrific violence and starvation; forcing Indigenous people onto reserves; unscrupulous treaty-making; the creation of the cruel residential schools network, the theft of Indigenous children, the imposition of a tyrannical pass system, and the destruction of Indigenous governance structures and spiritual practices. Canada forged its way to nationhood with the brutal suppression of the Northwest rebellion, led by Metis and Plains Cree against the national railroad that was needed to connect the settler colony from the east to west. When criticism of residential "schools" grew louder in the late 1950s, government authorities started using "child welfare" as an excuse for taking children from Indigenous communities during the period of the "Sixties Scoop", a process that continues to this day – now Indigenous children are taken into “foster care” at 3 times the rate of those taken at the peak of the residential "schools".  

This ongoing genocide needs to be recognized and rectified. It is certainly not a history or present that should be celebrated on a national settler colonial holiday. 

Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair explains, "We have Canada Day coming in a week, and what this country has celebrated for years has been a maple syrupy sweet narrative talking about the one story of pioneers and domination and bringing the country into its state of being, but never told the story about what's fundamentally happened which is that land has been stolen, policies have been put into place to drive people into poverty, in which they're still living today, and children were murdered at these 'schools'."

Idle No More has called for the cancellation of Canada Day, that there can be "No Pride in Genocide". A number of communities and cities across the country have already canceled the celebrations, which are already curtailed because of the pandemic. Victoria and Penticton in BC canceled events. In New Brunswick, Cap-Pelé , Fredericton, Moncton, Saint John, Bathurst, New Maryland and Rogersville have canceled events. Cap-Pelé is planning to raise the Mi'kmaq Grand Council flag for the first time and have a moment of silence in honour of the victims of residential schools. 

Political leaders such as Premier John Horgan said, to his eternal shame, that Canada Day celebrations should continue and that Indigenous issues could be honoured on National Indigenous People’s Day. This restriction of reconciliation to symbolism is what we should expect from Horgan, who passed an UNDRIP bill in 2019 just months before sending the RCMP to invade Wet’suwet’en territory in early 2020. 

Unsurprisingly, Tory Party leader Erin O’Toole doesn’t support cancelling Canada Day either, blaming the radical left, saying “I’m concerned that injustices in our past, or in our present, are too often seized upon by a small group of activist voices who use it to attack the very idea of Canada itself.” But this sentiment goes far wider than the radical left: in a Leger poll conducted in early June, 57% of all respondents said the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc find of 215 Indigenous children made them question the “moral foundations of Canada” – for 18 to 34-year-olds the percentage climbs to 70%.

Socialists should support this call to Cancel Canada Day. This is not cancel culture – the true cancel culture is the genocidal policies of settler colonialism in Canada.

Wear orange to honour the lost children rather than sporting the red maple leaf. But it must go beyond symbolic gestures to connect struggles against the settler colonial system that appropriates Indigenous lands and exploits labour to profit a tiny minority. 

Join a Cancel Canada Day event in your local area:

Toronto July 1st 6:30 at Yonge Dundas Square 

Vancouver July 1st 2 pm at Art Gallery

Events listed in various locations across the country


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