This Canada Day, I’m not in the mood to celebrate. The reveal of the residential schools hit me harder than I ever expected it would. I can’t get those children out of my head. More than that, I have reflected on my own views on treaty rights, aboriginal treatment in Canada, and the way that we Canadians often react to aboriginals.
Things like “the vikings were here before them and it was never their land” are things that are said regularly. People abuse treaty rights for low blood percent to try and hunt and fish, and there is a great dispute on what is an acceptable amount of fishing for native communities. I admit, albeit a bit shamefully, that I was not on their side.
In some areas I also remain skeptical. I often wonder if reservations, treaties, and laws based on separation and race are fostering more division between indigenous and “other” Canadians. I have always believed that we are all apart of this country and that nobody deserved different treatment. This, however, ignores the fact that Canada hasn’t always been Canada, and this land was taken through treaties, or unceded force.
I want to say this. There will always be people who disagree about the treaties. There will always be people who disagree about protests, what to do with lands, pipelines, and who should have rights to what. This, though, does not negate the fact that Canadian people—people who are part of our country, and were here before the European settlers, have been treated abhorrently.
I was raised Catholic (and while I do not fault my family), I can attest that we were lied to. Natives were the drunken idiots who get free money because of something that had happened “hundreds of years ago”. This, of course, is despite the fact that residential schools ran until the 1990s. And, to some degree, there were situations where indigenous were committing crimes (but what group doesn’t?), and let’s not forget the insane amounts of generational trauma.
Indigenous women go missing never to return again, and the nation is relatively silent. The only time that indigenous made news in recent years mainstream was if they blocked a pipeline that people wanted to happen. I will admit I was against Idle No More. There was a lot of money wasted on the pipelines, and it felt easy to blame the protestors instead of listen to what they’re saying.
The past years of Covid has changed me. I now realize the great overstep of the Canadian government. I realize that government can harm people if not utilized correctly. I realize that people were taken from their own land, marginalized, and forced to the worst parts of Canada. They still live there without clean running water. I now realize that Canada Day is celebrating a nation of people who have been willfully ignorant to the struggles of indigenous.
The fact of the matter is that we don’t have to agree on treaties. We don’t have to agree on reservations, or what the accurate amount of reparations and payment are. It’s exhausting to have these conversations, and we’re often having them at the expense of what really matters: indigenous groups in Canada deserve to be a part of the conversation, instead of marginalized further, and told to suck it up and take it, that this is Canada now.
The residential schools are an abhorrent, horrific, unfeeling, terrible, thing. I don’t care who did it to whom at the base—no matter the culture or ethnicity, this was absolutely beyond any measure.
In October I drew a picture that I didn’t understand. I sent it to my mother and said that I “didn’t know why I was drawing it, and it looked like a child drew it” and that I just felt spiritual energy. I was confused by what I drew. It was buried under a mountain and it had a cross like a church, but it didn’t have a steeple. I’m sharing the photo with the time stamp because I’m still surprised that I drew this months before it came out.
I know many people might not believe me, but I am sharing this (despite my perpetual fear of sharing anything like this) because I am still very impacted by it. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the drawing, or about the horrors that happened to these poor children and their communities. Their mothers. Their fathers. Their brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends.
We might never agree about the details of treaties or how to go forward. But, I do think it’s very important that we stop listening to the lies that we internalized. There is good and bad in every group of people, and what happened at residential schools was dark and evil. I wrote the bishop urging him to ask the pope to apologize, but I know it will likely go nowhere. These lies have been carried and the truth buried so long. All I know is that I feel hurt. I can’t imagine how anybody impacted or their families feel.
So, no, I’m not celebrating Canada Day, or anything at all really right now. I don’t feel patriotic. I just feel sad. We can go on about the “great things” our country has also done, but I’m not in the mood for it today.