Calls to cancel Canada Day celebrations as genocide numbers rise

By Monica Athnasious

Updated Jun 30, 2021 at 03:09 PM

Reading time: 3 minutes

Now that Canada’s historical genocide of its Indigenous peoples is out in the open, there are calls to cancel its national day celebrations, Canada Day. Following the discovery of a mass grave at the Kamloops Indian Residential School earlier this month, nearly 1,000 additional unmarked graves holding the remains of Indigenous children have been found at other residential school sites—and the number continues to rise. It is believed that more than 150,000 children from the First Nations, Métis and Inuit were stolen from their communities and forced into residential schools. The real figure of how many were lost is still unknown.

Children were numbered, forced into Christianity and were only permitted to speak English. Their hair was often shaved thousands experienced neglect and the most horrific acts of physical and sexual abuse. While producing Canada’s Keepers, my own documentary which focuses on the country’s hidden atrocities committed against Indigenous peoples, I had the chance to meet Zephiria Joseph, an incredible elder and residential school survivor.

“When [I went] back to the school and [told] the mother superior what [the priest] did she said ‘You’re just lying because you wanna go home’. They just called me a liar and punished me.” Sadly, Joseph’s experience is a shared one, with most children, if not all, experiencing sexual abuse at the hands of the religious leaders running the schools. Joseph and her daughter are pictured above.

 

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The Catholic Church, which founded and ran these schools for most of their existence, (with the last school only closing in 1996) have failed to even acknowledge the crimes they committed—with ongoing reports of priests’ statues being defaced and more churches burned.

Canada Day falls on 1 July—today’s date. This year will mark 154 years since 1 July 1867, when three British colonies were joined together to form Canada. Following the recent discoveries and tremendous grief and trauma being felt, Indigenous communities have urged for the cancellation of any celebrations being held; rather than a day of blind nationalistic partying, they are asking for it to be a day of reflection—an acknowledgement of Canada’s real history and the Indigenous people’s lost one.

Sol Mamakwa, Member of Provincial Parliament, Kiiwetinoong and Official Opposition Critic for Indigenous & Treaty Relations, took to Twitter to say, “As we continue to see our stolen children’s remains uncovered across the country. There is no hiding that the church and state committed genocide. And we continue to suffer.” Mamakwa went on to say why Canada Day should not be celebrated this year, “The proof is before your very eyes. You cannot look away. We cannot begin to move forward in a good way until the truth is accepted, until there is accountability. […] This year Canada Day should be nothing more than a day of reflection. I will not celebrate the birth of a nation that destroyed our children.”

These same calls have been echoed across social media under #CancelCanadaDay with a number of rallies being organised in the areas of Ontario, Alberta and Columbia, to name a few. Alongside this is a call to wear orange instead of the Canadian colours of red and white. Wearing the colour orange for Canada Day originated from residential school survivor Phyllis Jack Webstad’s Orange Day. Webstad revealed her own past, recounting how at six years old she was forced into residential schooling. Her clothes were taken from her, including a beloved orange shirt gifted to her by her grandmother, which she never saw again. The orange has now become a symbolic colour that represents the theft of residential school children and their identities.

@shinanova

TW! #residentialschool #indigenous #CancelCanadaDay #orangeshirtday

♬ Hey Jesus loves you so much repent and turn to him - Gabriel Storm

And of course, the conservative white guys had to come crying “cancel culture” as Pam Palmater, award-winning Professor and Chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University, clarified on Twitter. She writes that “cancel culture” is a “dog whistle term used by angry white men who benefit from the status quo.” And that “cancelling Canada Day is a move toward truth, justice and reconciliation.” It is honestly unbelievable that mourning the children lost to genocide is being dubbed “cancel culture.”

It’s time for non-Indigenous Canadians to put their misplaced pride aside and understand the dark roots of Canadian history. One Twitter user put it perfectly, “If you knew that your neighbours were having a funeral for their children who were abducted and murdered, would you throw a big party and shoot off fireworks in your backyard to celebrate the abductors’ birthday?”

This can’t be just isolated today. It has to continue. The process of decolonisation only begins here. The Indigenous peoples of Canada must be mourned, respected, listened to and actually heard. #CancelCanadaDay

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