Calls to cancel Canada Day celebrations following the discovery of anonymous graves
OTTAWA – After hundreds of bodies were found in anonymous graves at former schools for Indigenous children, communities across Canada are canceling or modifying plans to celebrate a patriotic holiday on Thursday, increasing pressure on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to cancel national celebrations.
For decades, families have been forced to send their children to boarding schools to assimilate them, which a National Truth and Reconciliation Commission found in 2015 was an effort to wipe out their cultures. With the bodies found in two schools in Western Canada, mostly children, many members of Indigenous communities and their leaders say it is inappropriate right now to celebrate the country behind the system.
“Celebrating Canada Day is considered reckless of all the children’s lives that have been lost and we encourage everyone to consider the price these children have had to pay at the hands of the Canadian government,” Chief Bobby Cameron from the Federation of Sovereign Nations of Saskatchewan. said in a statement.
Canada Day marks the date, July 1, 1867, when three British colonies were united to create the Dominion of Canada. Many Aboriginal people have never commemorated Canada Day and view their Canadian citizenship as something that has been imposed on them. Others, however, have actively participated in celebrations in the past.
Last Thursday, the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan said ground-penetrating radar revealed the remains of 751 people on the grounds of a former Indian children’s residential school.
At the end of May, the same technology produced a preliminary discovery of 215 remains in anonymous graves on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia. The Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation anticipates that this number will increase significantly once a final analysis is completed.
The findings in Kamloops have prompted Indigenous communities across the country to embark on research at other old school sites that will likely take years and are expected to dramatically increase the grim toll.
Neither school body has been exhumed, so there is no indication yet how or when they died, but the Truth and Reconciliation Commission found that illness, malnutrition, and physical, sexual and emotional abuse were prevalent in the area. these schools.
About 150,000 children have gone through the system, which began in the 19th century and was not completely shut down until the 1990s.
The commission, established as part of a class action settlement with former students, estimated that about 4,100 children had disappeared from schools across the country. But a former Indigenous judge who headed the commission, Murray Sinclair, said in an email this month that he now believed the number was “well over 10,000.” Several Indigenous leaders now put the figure at three to five times Sinclair’s estimate.
Compared to national holidays in other countries, Canada Day celebrations are not as firmly anchored in the cultural fabric of the country, and the day has historically been less observed in French-speaking Quebec.
Matthew Hayday, a history professor who studied Canada Day at the University of Guelph in Ontario, said it took 12 years to make the date a statutory holiday and the federal government had not started to hold events regularly on this day prior to the 1950s. Due to the pandemic, this year’s celebrations were planned as virtual events.
“The way the day is marked with ups and downs over time,” said Dr. Hayday. “In some ways this year is sort of a perfect year if you had to cancel because the pandemic is limiting the number of disruptions. “
Usually the biggest celebration is centered on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, where a large concert stage is normally erected and a day and evening of musical performances are crowned with fireworks.
The remains of what are believed to be Indigenous children have been found at the sites of former residential schools in Canada. Here’s what you need to know:
- Background: Around 1883, Aboriginal children in many parts of Canada were forced to attend residential schools as part of a program of forced assimilation. Most of these schools were run by churches and all prohibited the use of indigenous languages and cultural practices, often through violence. Illnesses, as well as sexual, physical and emotional abuse were rife. An estimated 150,000 children passed through schools between their opening and closing in 1996.
- Missing children: A National Truth and Reconciliation Commission, set up as part of the government’s apology and regulation for schools, found that at least 4,100 students died while attending them, much from mistreatment or neglect, others from illness or accident. In many cases, families never learned of the fate of their offspring, now known as “missing children”.
- Discoveries : In May, members of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation found 215 bodies at the Kamloops school – which was operated by the Roman Catholic Church until 1969 – after using ground penetrating radar. In June, an Indigenous group said the remains of 751 people, mostly children, were found in anonymous graves at the site of a former residential school in Saskatchewan.
- Cultural genocide ‘: In a 2015 report, the commission concluded that the system was a form of “cultural genocide”. Murray Sinclair, a former judge and senator who headed the commission, recently said he now believed the number of missing children was “well over 10,000”.
- Apologies and next steps: The commission asked for an apology from the Pope for the role of the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Francis stopped by before one, but the Archbishop of Vancouver apologized on behalf of his archdiocese. Canada has officially apologized and offered financial and other support for the research, but Indigenous leaders believe the government still has a long way to go.
Steven Guilbeault, the federal minister whose ministry is hosting the celebrations in the capital, said in an email that the virtual celebrations would take place. But he added that the government would focus its attention on commemorating residential school students on September 30, which a recently passed law made a public holiday, National Truth and Reconciliation Day.
“We recognize that for many, Canada Day is not an occasion to celebrate,” wrote Mr. Guilbeault. “It has been a deeply moving and traumatic time for Indigenous communities across the country. “
Outside the capital, celebrations are usually organized by local governments or volunteer committees.
Several of them have now canceled their plans out of respect for the indigenous communities.
“I recognize that the Indigenous community has suffered and continues to suffer and cry,” said Angie Hallman, one of the Canada Day organizers in the rural community of Wilmont Township, Ontario, in an online article. announcing his group’s plan to cancel all celebrations, in person and virtually, in support of Indigenous peoples. “We stop, sit and cry in silence with them. “
Some local governments in British Columbia and Saskatchewan have also canceled the celebrations.
Last week, Erin O’Toole, leader of the opposition Conservative Party, slammed towns and villages for canceling the celebrations.
“I cannot remain silent when people want to cancel Canada Day,” Mr. O’Toole said in a speech to his caucus in which he acknowledged that the discovery of the remains was a “necessary awakening” on the need for reconciliation between Indigenous peoples and the rest of Canada.
He added, “But let’s also channel the pain of a Canada that fails to build the country, not destroy it.”