In Canada, Indigenous Peoples

Rachel Snow

Usually, Canada Day celebrations begin by trotting out Indigenous folk in their colourful beads and feathers. More recently, lame land acknowledgement practices have become some symbol of amends in the settler book of “how to disguise your racism.” These actions are not satisfactory this year.

By Rachel Snow

Published on Rabble, June 30, 2021

Usually, Canada Day celebrations begin by trotting out Indigenous folk in their colourful beads and feathers. More recently, lame land acknowledgement practices have become some symbol of amends in the settler book of “how to disguise your racism.”

These actions are not satisfactory this year.

First Nations Indigenous people are seething in 2021. For years, the original people of this land have been saying that their everyday existence consists of racist confrontations, discriminatory actions or triggering traumas.

This is the year that settler Canadians are finally, finally aware of Indigenous peoples’ reality and there are some Canadians that are actually feeling the grief that we as a people have carried for centuries.

The discovery of 215 bodies of children in a mass grave outside the Kamloops residential school catapulted Canadians from disbelief into the Indigenous realm of hard truth. It didn’t take long for other Indigenous bodies to be discovered in unmarked or long-forgotten graves that were alongside every residential school, confirming what Indigenous people have known to be true for decades.

These include 104 graves found in Brandon, Manitoba, and the following Saskatchewan count of 38 bodies found in Regina, 35 found at Muskowekwan residential school, and 751 graves found at the site of Marieval Indian Residential School.

Settlers react in five ways

First comes a cry to topple statues of the Fathers of Confederation who allowed this atrocity. Mainstream non-Indigenous mansplainers start protesting the protests, wringing their hands, sarcastically asking: will they go so far as to collect interstellar debris? Are we also going to stop the rotation of the sun?

The second response is to isolate and refute. Isolate this incident and refute the seeming genocide with tales of uncontrollable tuberculosis and other weak race disposition narratives.

Thirdly, there’s always the old standby excuse: “this was in the past.”

Fourth, there is the apology of the federal government. Justin Trudeau and his faithful Minister of Indigenous-Crown Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett come out with quiet, even speaking voices, making mournful faces for the cameras, sincerely regretting this sad part of Canadian history — with much head shaking. At this point Trudeau may even shed a tear.

When this contrition does not work, copious amounts of money are usually announced to “deal with this issue” immediately. This is the fifth and final step. When money comes cascading down, marked for First Nation Indigenous organizations or individual reserves, all trauma is to cease and desist.

For proof of the latter three, you need to look no further than Trudeau’s apology in the wake of the discovery of 751 unmarked graves at the residential school at Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan.

What part of this history do Canadians not know?

Canada has been a country (arguably a state) for 154 years since the British North America Act — now called the Canada Act — gave some authority to the settlers in this British colony. The settlers were given instructions as to how to live side-by-side with Indigenous peoples or — as put in the Two Row Wampum Treaty — side by side rowing forward in a river, in two distinct canoes.

But the settlers had no intentions of living up to the legal covenants they had created. American war and expansionism and an English victory over the French with the aid of the Haudenosaunee and the Dakota underpinned the weak state of Canada’s founders. They were beholden to the First Nation peoples but immediately enacted the Indian Act legislation in 1876. This was to break the treaty agreements that they were negotiating so that John A. MacDonald could move the Indians onto reserves, restrict their access by requiring passes, legislate harvesting so the settler farmers could sell their harvests first, legislate the removal of children, and send overseers/Indian Agents onto reserves to starve or change the governance structures within nations.

What’s in a day?

After the findings at Kamloops school and the subsequent other bodies that are cropping up across this land, #cancelCanadaDay started to trend.

Typically, there is outrage at such a suggestion from most Canadians who need to celebrate their Canadian connection with barbecues, getting their “drunk on” and saying “eh” a lot. That is the extent of their Canadian identity.

There will be emerging reactions to #cancelCanadaDay — non-Indigenous allies will support this action because they are looking at their country through an Indigenous lens. Some First Nation Indigenous people will state that Canada day is already an empty holiday, a statutory day off, but one they do not celebrate.

Other non-Indigenous people will tread the line carefully using words like hope and opportunity. Some Indigenous folks will also echo this fence-sitting sentiment.

Then there will be the non-First Nation people who openly react with hostile vitriol, which is a nice way of saying downright racist attacks. Troll accounts will fester overnight with derogatory stereotypes that take up lanes on social media. These actions will usually escalate into attacks that call out social media warriors.

There will also be First Nations people who channel their anger into stopping Canada Day celebrations. They will be carrying the 215 voices, and the most recent triggering numbers of bodies found at the forefront of their own thinking, so they will be angry.

Money does not bring back lives

Canada has consistently attempted to resolve the outstanding “Indian problem” with money. The independent assessment process — the residential school payouts — paid individuals to a capped amount of liability that re-traumatized survivors and did not address survivor mental, spiritual or community supports. Firstly, Canada attempts to terminate or assimilate First Nations, in fact cancelling their existence. Then Canada misunderstands Indigenous peoples by offering mainstream or western solutions as supposed fixes to genocide.

First Nations have two days of recognition: National Aboriginal Day and possibly Canada Day. Grassroots activism made September 30 Orange Shirt Day to remember the children and Red Dress Day day in May for the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

This is what Canada, the great global leader in human rights, metes out for the Indigenous people — recognition for three, maybe four, days in a year of 365. What of the other 361?

Should people be celebrating a day that is built on the theft of land, the kidnapping and killing of a people who only ever offered to share the land and resources? When you read the truth, is there a legitimate state called Canada and is there such a thing as happy Canada day?

Hasn’t the cancelling of First Nations gone on for long enough?


Rachel Ann Snow is Iyahe Nakoda, the daughter of late Reverend Dr. Chief John Snow. She holds a juris doctor from the College of Law, University of Saskatchewan and is an outspoken educator, speaker, writer and co-contact person for the Indigneous Activist Networks. Rachel resides on her ancestral lands in Mini Thni which is west of Calgary, Alberta. She can be followed @RachelAnnSnow on Twitter.

Headline photo: Rachel Snow/Used with permission.


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