We can no longer celebrate Canada Day without acknowledging the historic and ongoing colonial violence in this country. For many, Canada Day is a stark reminder of colonization, displacement, and genocide.
This is why we are hearing demands to “Cancel Canada Day” and to wear orange instead of red and white. Canada could not be what it is today if it weren’t for the displacement and dispossession of Indigenous peoples, which is something we just can’t celebrate.
So today we are standing alongside our partners doing Land Back work. Here is what led us to that decision:
Land Theft and the Creation of Canada
When European explorers and settlers arrived in what’s now Canada, they acted as though this was an empty landscape waiting to be discovered and settled…but that just wasn’t true. They were greeted by Indigenous peoples who were able to teach and share their knowledge of the land. Indigenous peoples used, accessed, and lived on all of what’s now known as Canada, but today, Indigenous reserves account for only 0.2% of all the land in this country.
How did that happen?
Well, the reality is that there were so many different tactics which were either organised by or supported by the Canadian government. Here are some of them:
The Canadian government and First Peoples signed a number of treaties which outline how the land would be shared. The process and outcome of the treaty process, however, was not particularly fair. Here’s why:
- Treaties were mostly written in English and French, and were often intentionally mistranslated. Translators were also unable to accurately translate and incorporate Indigenous traditions into the treaties.
- There were also verbal agreements made between First Nations and colonial governments that weren’t written into the treaties. This means while First Nations honoured these parts of the agreement, colonial governments did not.
- The Canadian government had complete control over the treaty process, and many treaties were signed under duress. For example, in the Great Plains, Nations were forced to sign the treaties in exchange for food rations. Meanwhile, settlers in the region were encouraged to slaughter bison, a very prominent food source for the First peoples of the Great Plains.
- When Indigenous leaders did sign treaties, it was with a general understanding that the land would be shared. Instead, the Canadian government considers most land “crown” land that is under the Canadian government (or “crown”) jurisdiction.
The Reserve System
The Reserve System was a way for the Canadian government to actively control First Nations people, culture, and the land. Here’s a little more about how reserves were unjustly created:
- Indigenous people were forced onto reserves, without respect or consideration for their way of life, culture, or basic rights.
- Communities were often broken up into small reserves across their ancestral territory, disrupting traditional connections between families, neighbouring communities, and to the land.
- Police and military forces drove Indigenous people from their lands with violence. When people were on reserves, the Canadian government would send Indian Agents to limit people’s movement on and off reserves through the Pass System.
- The violence persisted for centuries. In British Columbia, for example, members of the Cheslatta Carrier Nation were forced from their land in 1952 as part of an industrial project, their houses burned, their village and cemetery flooded.
Disconnecting children from the land
Treaties demonstrated efforts to take the land away from the people, and reserves took people away from the land. Another coordinated effort was taking children away from the land, their families, and their culture.
- For more than a century, thousands of children were ripped from their parents and sent to residential schools, where they suffered abuse, torture, and death.
- Starting in the 1950s, there was a mass removal of children from their homes. Indigenous children were put into the foster-care system or adopted into non-Native families and remain overrepresented in Canada’s foster-care system even today. This was referred to as the “Sixties Scoop” even though it started before, and continued well after, the 60s.
The Legacy of Colonialism
Today the state continues to sanction the theft of Indigenous land and resources, selling off rights on the cheap to private mining, oil and gas, and logging companies while disregarding the objections of Indigenous leaders. This doesn’t even mention some of the social costs and violence that accompanies those destructive projects.
At a time of reconciliation, we need increasing attention and action to seek justice for residential school survivors, missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, land defenders, and many others who are facing the impacts of historical and ongoing colonization.
What can you do
Everyone needs to recognise, the past is not the past. Canadian policy continues to sidestep Indigenous rights, leading to ongoing racism, injustice, and inequity.
This Canada Day, let’s not ignore history, but work towards real reconciliation and a more equitable future:
- Wear orange in solidarity with Indigenous peoples. Purchase your orange shirt from an Indigenous-led business
- Tell people why you are wearing orange, instead of red and white, and that you recognise colonisation is not ancient history.
- Commit to ongoing solidarity with Indigenous movements, such as the Land Back Movement
- Stand with our friends at Grassy Narrows First Nation to stop logging and mining plans on their territory!