Content warning: This article deals with distressing information about the treatment and circumstances faced by Indigenous people. While it is not graphic, it may be difficult for some. Please take care while reading.
As the country hesitantly stepped into an uneasy July 1st, I scrolled through my Instagram timeline from the comfort of my room. I came across a post that didn't sit right with me— something along the lines of patriotism and accountability not being mutually exclusive. The post was meant to assuage the audience's conflicting feelings about #CancelCanadaDay, letting them know that it was okay to love a country dearly and recognize that it was established through the genocide of Indigenous peoples.
I don't know if it was the way the post set up the sentence or the stomach-turning discoveries of the remains of Indigenous children, which this country - my country - is responsible for. It felt immoral to suggest that it was okay to love a country responsible for and only exists because of genocide. It felt wrong to see a post consoling me for the inconvenience of my guilt-ridden patriotism instead of centring the raw trauma and pain our Indigenous peoples are currently re-experiencing. But the post highlights a larger discourse taking place in the country. Against the backdrop of calls to "Cancel Canada day," people have been questioning what it means to be Canadian and be the beneficiaries of cruelty, which we did not have a direct role in administering. Many of us have begun our explanations with "I love Canada, and this is why I want it to be "better," and I understand this reasoning because I operated from the same philosophy just last year.
At that time, I was convinced that my heart was in the right place when I declared my love for this country while standing with the people it has wronged. I felt this way because I was delusional and stuck in naivety. Despite having spent over six years participating in grassroots activism and advocacy, there was so much about this country that I didn't know. I wholeheartedly believed that the atrocities were behind us, and we were moving towards a better country that required well-intentioned and patriotic accountability. This was until I decided to spend the last 12 months researching Canada's relationship with Indigenous peoples here and abroad, until I began actively listening to Indigenous voices and paying attention to vandalized fishing gear, burning lobster pounds, violent injunctions, heartless systems, and painful realities. I learned that the Canada I wanted to love doesn't exist. Today, I can't say that I do love this country.
I think it would be unfair for me to dismiss those who express a deep love of Canada. This country has been a sanctuary for many people: refugees, exiles, immigrants—people like me. As an immigrant, I know without a doubt that if I was unable to grow up here, I would have significantly less access to my most basic human rights - and for this, I am grateful. However, I also know that had my homeland not been subjected to colonialism and genocide itself, I wouldn't have to search for stability in foreign lands. Immigrants that settle here, particularly from less affluent economies and non-white states, are expected to be grateful and indebted to the kindness of their adopted state. At the same time, I don't think it's reasonable to forget that white supremacist states like Canada do not celebrate diversity; they tolerate it.
The opportunities that have allowed me to flourish on this land have sprouted from soil that carries the brutal realities that birthed this country. I cannot stand atop the unmarked remains of thousands of stolen, murdered children and fall in love with the oppressor simply because it has spared me. I learned the dichotomy between loving a country and being grateful for the good it has brought me. Gratitude requires acknowledgement. Love requires respect. I don't feel that good Canada has done me is relevant when talking about genocide and crimes against humanity. Human rights are not math equations - the positives and negatives do not cancel each other out to present a neutral outcome.
We have been engaging in critical discourse about what it means to be Canadian and what responsibilities we have towards the victims of our benefits. Recent discoveries have forced us to look up from the doctored history books and look into the mirror. What does it mean to be Canadian? What role do I play in the chapter of history currently being penned? How did the branches that were written before affect how I live now? For starters, I think it's important to understand that it is not just our past that we need to reconcile for - but the continued genocide and crimes against humanity being committed against Indigenous peoples right now. I support the movement to cancel Canada day because there is absolutely no reason to celebrate the establishment of a genocidal regime and because this country has failed to repent and reconcile.
It has been six years since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its 94 calls to action, yet only eight have been addressed. It has been six years since the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found the government of Canada guilty of discriminating against Indigenous children by deliberately underfunding social services on reserves to force children into the foster care system, resembling a 60s Scoop type assimilation. The government did not abolish the residential school system in full - it leaves its legacy in the form of the current child care system, which is a cheaper alternative for the government. As you read this, this is happening right now - and this reality is reflected in the statistics. The most recent data shows that Indigenous children make up about 7.7% of the child population in Canada yet make up 52.2% of children in foster care.
In addition, Indigenous peoples in Canada continue to struggle and resist genocidal policies that have led to a continuation of its genocidal history in the form of the missing and murdered Indigenous women crisis, the youth suicide epidemic, extreme food insecurity, violation of treaty rights, targeted police surveillance and brutality, and much more.
Cancelling Canada day isn't an example of "cancel culture." It isn't intended to cancel Canada as a country but to pivot attention away from the celebration of an imaginary righteous state to the reality of abuse and suffering that has unfolded and continues to unfold on this stolen land. Doing this is only symbolic and the bare minimum. It also needn't be limited to Canada day. We must do this every day.
On July 1st, 2021, Canadians and Indigenous peoples alike flooded the streets in orange to mourn and pay tribute to the stolen babies. And as protestors and justice-seekers tore dull grey statues from their precious markers of colonialism, I felt a shift in our collective, national attitude towards our role in genocide and our responsibility to the people of this land. I have hope that we can work towards a home that can be a sanctuary for everyone, something worth loving. I don't put faith in borders, but I do have faith in our people.
The Indian Residential School Survivors Society encourages you to care for your Mental and Emotional wellbeing. Don't hesitate to contact the Indian Residential School Survivors Society 24hr Crises Line if you require further emotional support or assistance. [Phone: 1.866.925.4419]
The IRSSS doesn't just support the mental well-being of Indigenous people with access to counselling, cultural, and emotional support services. They also provide important education for settlers regarding the ongoing history of residential schools and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. If you can, please consider supporting the IRSSS through a donation via PayPal and mailed cheque.