People across the country are aware that Canada is a country established on the brutal displacement of indigenous people. The terrible stories of unmarked children’s tombs in residential schools in Kamloops, British Columbia, Brandon, Manitoba and most recently Saskatchewan, have outraged many Canadians and people worldwide. But these were not findings but confirmations of what we all knew: Canada was based on genocide.
The Guardian’s perspective of residential schools in Canada: an evil still felt today
With this in mind, Canada Day is reconsidering communities and towns throughout the country. Some people, such as Victoria, have cancelled it altogether while others, such as Iqaluit, have reversed and treated it as a day of contemplation and grief. This is good. This is a nice thing. Whether around backyard barbecues in southern Canada or in city councils in Nunavut, these talks about the realities of colonialism still at the heart of this land have long been a long time overdue.
It’s not ancient history. This is true nowhere more than in Nunavut, the territory I represent in the Parliament of Canada. Inuit lived how they did for thousands of years until the 1950s. Then, Canada extended its presence in the north and colonised the Arctic as part of its natural resource push and requested autonomy over land and water. We have been pushed into squalid settlements, sled dogs have been slaughtered by the Mountains and children have been taken to residential schools that destroy our culture. Those combined church-state initiatives were the focal points for child rape and sexual assault by priests and school administrators, most of whom evaded prosecution for their crimes.
70 years quickly. There were Inuit who survived. My people are sturdy, powerful and proud. Survivors created Nunavut itself, Canada’s youngest territory. They met and pushed the federal institution to accept the sovereignty of the Inuit. This is the anniversary of the Land Claims Agreement, which established our territory, on 9 July, the day of Nunavut. Perhaps the federal institution could not absorb us, but the fact is that in Nunavut and throughout the nation Canada continues to perpetrate genocide.
As the last residential school closed its doors in 1996, the system of care for indigenous children continues to steal from their families and communities. More than 50% of foster care children in Canada are indigenous yet represent less than 8% of the kid population. The intergenerational colonial trauma and the federal institution’s grim indifference imply that suicide is an epidemic, women and girls miss or are killed at a very high level. As I visited some of Nunavut’s poorest villages last summer, there are far too many Nunavummiut living in mouldy, over-crowded and insecure houses. The root of this catastrophe is simple: government underfunding and negligence for decades.
Justin Trudeau and his Liberal administration have for all his beautiful words refused to put their money in the right place by financing safe drinking water and survivable homes in Nunavut. Indigenous communities around the country are filled with his numerous unfulfilled promises and symbolic gestures that hide colonial acts, such as battling Indigenous children and surviving residential schools. This is what current colonisation looks like: indigenous pain being complacent and the reluctance to do what is needed to live.
That’s what I think when I think of Canada Day. An unfinished history of violence. That’s why I can’t imagine celebrating this country until much changes. Indigenous people can come to their own conclusions as to how they observe this anniversary, but I urge you to learn, think about, and most importantly, act for all of you who are settlers in these territories.
I delivered a speech in the House of Commons before I was elected as MP as part of a pretend parliament for young women. I talked of the plight my community and my lost friends, students and teammates were hit by the suicide problem and questioned, “Where are our non-indigenous allies?” When I pose that question today again, I see more of you and more Canadians coming forward from all walks of life. It’s a nice change. These obligations alone cannot and should not be shouldered by indigenous people. Canada has imposed them on us and we need Canadians to play an active part in their removal. This implies that we remain furious and stand with us to magnify our voices. Above all, it involves listening to us and altering things when we tell you that we hurt.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Qikiqtani Truth Commission are an excellent starting point. Discuss the need for genuine indigenous justice in Canada with your friends and neighbours. When indigenous organisations plan demonstrations and demonstrations, they are revealed and supported. And make sure your elected representatives are aware that, faced with injustice, they will never be re-elected. When we have elections in our nation, sooner or later, refuse to vote for political leaders who talk without walking the trail. If enough people do, perhaps indigenous peoples can gain the right to self-determination, and in this country we will have something to celebrate.
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