More than 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were forced to attend residential schools between the 1870s and 1990s, and about 25,000 are suspected to have perished because of our government’s policy and the church run program.
The recent discovery of a mass grave of 215 children found buried at a former B.C. residential school, and yesterday’s revelation of 751 unmarked graves at the site of a former residential school in Saskatchewan, are stark reminders of the deadly legacy of a policy designed to “take the Indian out of the child”, and thus to solve what Conservative Prime Minister John A. Macdonald referred to as the “Indian problem.” If there was ever a barbaric cultural practice in Canada this was it.
My family are refugees to this country – generously accepted to Canada during a desperate time of revolution and upheaval in our lives. I am a patriot and deeply love my country. I will never forget it’s kindness to us. But as we approach Canada Day, I ask myself how I can truly celebrate our country this July 1st given the recent reminders of our nation’s atrocities?
Indigenous people welcomed us here – they are our neighbours, friends and family. My personal answer to this question is, I cannot celebrate my country this year, and simultaneously respect the same people who welcomed us to their land. So, I will not be partaking in any public celebration of Canada Day this year — as a small personal gesture of my respect and grieving for the passing of innocent Indigenous children found in these anonymous graves. Spending our tax money on July 1 to celebrate the founding of our nation on the heels of this news is, in my view, insulting to the memory and families of Canada’s victims.
Each of you will make your own decisions about celebrating Canada Day this year and I hope you come to the same conclusion as I have. I know not all of you will reach this conclusion, even though you are saddened by this news. Feelings are rightly running raw right now and we are unfortunately dividing over #CancelCanadaDay.
So I would ask those who will celebrate, and those who will not, to stand together. We can do so by asking our MPs to request a gesture of respect this Canada Day. In exceptional circumstances, the PM has the power to order the Half-masting of the Flag on the Peace Tower, and on all federal buildings and establishments in Canada and abroad. While flags are currently lowered, out of basic human decency, keeping them so is the least we can all do to recognize this travesty on Canada Day. If we all cannot agree to forego Canada Day celebrations, at least in this way we can all personally commit to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. We would do so by asking our government to recognize the grieving going on across the country this Canada Day through the continued lowering of our flag.
Of course, this is a symbolic gesture only, and there is much more to do, including launching a public inquiry into the deaths of all these children and providing government funding to locate and properly investigate each grave so that loved ones may learn of their children’s fate. The federal government should also stop fighting to uphold discrimination against Indigenous children in court, among many other things.
On July 1st we should not ignore this tragedy, nor should we celebrate in the normal way, but rather let’s use the occasion to reflect on the sorrow now coming to light and show respect and solidarity with Indigenous people. Surely, we can unite on this small measure and contact our MPs to recognize this is a Canada Day like no other. Let us all mourn together for Indigenous children, their families and communities, by continuing to lower our Flag to half mast this Canada Day. Thank you. Merci. Miigwech.
National Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419