Red cups. Red clothes. Red and white flags. Maple leaves everywhere. For my Canadians, this sounds quite familiar does it not? It is a classic Canada Day Celebration, topped up with beers and other alcoholic beverages for a fun, relaxed holiday. To the rest of the world, this is how us Canadians commemorate and celebrate the genocide of Indigenous people in Turtle Island, now called Canada. Built on the blood and bones of Indigenous People, the backs of Black slaves and Chinese laborers, setting the stage for the exploitation of future immigrants of color to Turtle Island.
According to the Government of Canada, July 1st is celebrated as it marks Confederation. Additionally, it is a day where “Canadians across the country and around the world show their pride in their history, culture, and achievements. It’s been a day of celebration, where many festivities are held across the country, since 1868.” Confederation occurred when three provinces, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Cana, which would become Ontario and Quebec, joined as a union to form a new country. The legislation that the United Kingdom approved to create the union is known as the British North America Act. Those who wrote this Act are referred to as the “Fathers of Confederation.” One of these men would go on to be the first Prime Minister of Canada, Sir John Alexander MacDonald. Sir John Alexander MacDonald is ingrained into the hearts of many Canadians as the father of our nation. What is conveniently left out of discourse regarding Canada’s first prime minister is how he designed the first Residential Schools.
According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Residential Schools for Aboriginal people in Canada date back to the 1870s. Over 130 residential schools were located across the country, and the last school closed in 1996. These government-funded, church-run schools were set up “to eliminate parental involvement in the intellectual, cultural, and spiritual development of Aboriginal children.” Hundreds of thousands of indigenous children in Canada were forcibly taken to these schools. This was done often without the parents’ knowledge. The last Residential School did not close in 1900. Or 1920. Or 1950. Or 1970. It wasn’t until two years before 2000, in 1998, where the last one was closed. The horrors of Residential schools are not those of the past, but of the present. They have lived experiences of co-workers, friends, parents, and siblings of Indigenous people. These are the stories of one’s parents or siblings, not of one’s grandparents or ancestors.
Furthermore, the torture and tremendous abuse faced by Indigenous children by teachers and staff can only be described as the very worst of humanity. According to the Indigenous Foundation at the University of British Columbia, “The system forcibly separated children from their families for extended periods of time and forbade them to acknowledge their Indigenous heritage and culture or to speak their own languages. Children were severely punished if these, among other, strict rules were broken. Former students of residential schools have spoken of horrendous abuse at the hands of residential school staff: physical, sexual, emotional, and psychological. Residential schools provided Indigenous students with inappropriate education, often only up to lower grades, that focused mainly on prayer and manual labour in agriculture, light industry such as woodworking, and domestic work such as laundry work and sewing.” It is reported that 24% of previously healthy Indigenous children in Turtle Island were dying in Residential Schools because of the gross neglect and poor living conditions in these “schools.”
The genesis of Residential Schools lies in the assumption that indigenous people must be “civilized” and are “primitive”. The White European settlers believed that for whatever reason, despite literally perpetuating genocide and sexual violence against Indigenous people, that the Indigenous, were the group of people that had to change their way of life to be less “barbaric.”
Now, let us circle back to why we have Canada Day. We are showing our pride and patriotism for Canada, the Fathers of Confederation, and our legacy since then. The systemic oppression of Indigenous people, the forcible removal of Indigenous students away from their families into schools, the sexual and physical abuse of children by the Catholic Church and the Canadian Government, are these things to be proud of? Are countless mass graves found of bodies of Indigenous children at sites of former Residential Schools a cause for celebration?
Let me ask you, do you find pride in genocide?