Tomorrow is Canada Day.
For many across the country, feelings of grief and lament are eclipsing those of celebration and national pride.
The remains of over one thousand bodies have been uncovered in unmarked graves at former Indian Residential Schools in Kamloops, Marieval, Brandon, and other locations—and the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission tells us there are many more yet to be found. As we approach July 1, Canadians have been—rightfully—grappling with our historical and ongoing treatment of Indigenous Peoples in Canada.
Out of this place of reflection, questions have resurfaced as to what it means to celebrate this country; this country so slow to address its continued legacies of colonialism and racism; this country so prone to putting aside its historical wrongs and neglecting its present responsibilities.
Canada has real and persistent problems to correct on the path towards truth and reconciliation. For those of us who identify as Canadians, that path is ours to walk, too.
Our nation’s painful history lives on through intergenerational trauma. It lives on through failed treaty promises and lost languages. It lives on through environmental degradation and inequitable social, economic, and health outcomes. It lives on in costly appeals to court orders to pay compensation for human rights abuses.
This is not about whether Canada’s history has any moments worth celebrating (it does), but it is about admitting just how easy it is to sideline the grotesque parts of our history in favour of a positive perception of ourselves. For settlers on this land, the history of this country is our history, and we must not ignore it or expect people to just “move on” without addressing its continued legacy and impacts.
All the more, as people of faith, we must not succumb to feelings of shame that lead to inaction. We must not grow desensitized in the face of yet another tragic confrontation of the harms done to Indigenous Peoples by the Church and the State. Rather, we must continue—as Paul instructed in his letter to the Church in Philippi—to think (and act) on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right” and shape a country that is more “praiseworthy” (Phil.4:8). So, in the spirit of truth, let us consider how we might “spur one another [and our governments] on to good deeds” to shape a Canada we can celebrate—one that has repented and now walks in the light.
As Chief Delorme of the Cowessess First Nation so eloquently stated:
We all inherited this. Nobody today created residential schools, nobody today created the Indian Act, nobody today created the ‘60s scoop but we all inherited it and we just have to acknowledge that people are healing and people are hurting. Let’s do something about it.
What would a Canada we can be proud to celebrate look like?
A Canada we can celebrate would have clean drinking water and access to culturally appropriate food for all Indigenous communities.
A Canada we can celebrate would have quality education, employment opportunities, and housing in First Nations and Inuit communities so people aren’t forced to leave.
A Canada we can celebrate would correct underlying structural issues that have resulted in:
- a disproportionate number of Indigenous children in care,
- a disproportionate number of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls,
- a vastly disproportionate number of Indigenous youth dying by suicide, and
- a disproportionate number of Indigenous adults in prison (31 per cent of the incarcerated population in 2018-2019 compared to 4.5 per cent of the adult population).
A Canada we can celebrate would stop fighting residential school survivors in costly legal battles and stop fighting Indigenous children in court. A Canada we can celebrate would respect the nation-to-nation relationship we have with Indigenous Peoples, honour the principle of free, prior, and informed consent, and move forward to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (the Declaration) as outlined in Bill C-15.
A Canada we can celebrate would take responsibility to inform and educate all its inhabitants about Canada’s colonial history and the ongoing legacy of anti-Indigenous racism. Settlers would acknowledge and accept our own roles and responsibilities to participate in the healing process and protect Indigenous rights and sovereignty.
How do we get there?
We can start by listening to what Indigenous people have been telling us for years.
The 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s 94 Calls to Action outlined how to both redress the legacies of the past and forge a way towards reconciliation.
Nine of the 94 calls to action address Churches that were a part of the residential school system. As people of faith, we can use our voices to call on churches to make all records associated with residential schools publically accessible. Many faith leaders are doing the work of reconciliation and have actively and openly condemned their forebears. Others—including the Pope—have not. We can and must call on faith leaders to denounce the residential school system and apologize to residential school survivors for the “spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children” and harmful theolgies such as the Doctrine of Discovery. We can also ask our churches to establish permanent funding for Indigenous-led healing and relationship-building initiatives.
As citizens, we can implore our political leaders to move forward with the commitments made in Bill C-15 to create an action plan to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. And this Canada Day—and beyond—we can learn more about the Peoples that have cared for these lands since time immemorial, the treaties that were signed and the wampum belts woven. We can listen to the voices of residential school survivors and commit to making sure the atrocities they faced never happen again. We can celebrate the resilience of the Peoples that were not snuffed out by colonialism, who continue to rise and lead, and together find ways to honour the lands, waters, and people that we love here in Canada.