A major Canadian city and at least one First Nation have formally cancelled Canada Day because they don’t want to honour “attempted genocide” against Indigenous peoples.
The decision follows Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation’s discovery of 215 undocumented children, including some as young as 3, buried under a former Catholic-run residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia. There are likely many more sites like it across the country.
“The history of our country’s genocidal relationship with First Nations has been once again revealed in a way that is painful,” Victoria mayor Lisa Helps wrote in a motion, following consultations with Indigenous leaders. “The more we reflect, the more we understand that holding the usual Canada Day celebrations could be damaging to the city’s and the community’s reconciliation efforts.”
Canada Day is a national holiday that commemorates the country’s confederation, or birthday. It’s basically our July 4th. But it’s repeatedly been criticized for glossing over the fact that Canada, as a settler-colonial country, exists because it oppressed Indigenous communities.
Victoria city council announced Thursday it voted unanimously to cancel its planned virtual celebration. The city will instead hold an event in September to highlight Indigenous stories and histories.
Keewaywin First Nation in Ontario also declared on Thursday that it will no longer recognize Canada’s birthday.
“Keewaywin First Nation calls on the federal government to carry out exhaustive investigations of all former residential school grounds across the country,” the First Nation’s statement says. “Until then, Keewaywin will mark Canada Day as a day of mourning.”
According to the statement, July 1 will be used to pay tribute to residential school student and their families and to “acknowledge the role the Canadian government and the churches played in the attempted genocide of Indigenous people.”
Residential schools were used by the Canadian government to forcibly assimilate an estimated 150,000 First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children. Students were systematically stripped away from their families and communities and forced to attend the schools, where they were often punished for speaking their Indigenous languages or expressing their identities. Sweeping abuses were common and thousands died while attending residential schools. The last residential school didn’t close until 1996, but experts say the system didn’t really end—It just became modern day foster care and prison systems, where Indigenous peoples are disproportionately represented.
It’s hardly the first time people have called on government officials to cancel Canada Day. In 2017, as Canada geared up to celebrate the country’s 150th birthday—the official celebration in Canada’s capital, Ottawa, costing upwards of $500 million—Indigenous folks all over and their allies abstained from celebrating.
“The fact that half a billion dollars was found to throw the party is no surprise—however it does come as a shock to those communities without drinking water who have been historically told infrastructure is just too damn expensive in remote communities,” writer Ryan McMahon wrote at the time.
In recent weeks, #CancelCanadaDay has been trending on social media and people are reconsidering ways to honour Canada’s harmful legacy. The hashtag is also in response to recent anti-Muslim and anti-LGBTQ attacks that took place in Ontario over the weekend.
On Sunday, a white man drove into a family because they were Muslim, killing four and injuring the youngest, a nine-year-old boy, while on Saturday, a 24-year-old man was attacked by people who made homophobic remarks against him.
Way back when Canada Day was still “Dominion Day,” Chinese people referred to it as “humiliation day” and boycotted the event because it landed on the same day that the exclusionary Chinese Immigration Act, which banned most Chinese immigration, passed in 1923.
Instead of Canada Day, Idle No More, an ongoing Indigenous justice movement, has announced several rallies taking place across the country to honour “all of the lives lost to the Canadian State—Indigenous lives, Black Lives, Migrant lives, Women and Trans and Two Spirit lives—all of the relatives that we have lost.”
“We refuse to sit idle while Canada’s violent history is celebrated,” Idle No More’s site says.
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