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How to be an Ally this Canada Day.

“Canada Day” is on the horizon. With the uncovering of the remains of 215 Indigenous children at the Kamloops residential school, and with many more being found across Canada, there has been an invigorated discussion about Canada Day, what it represents, and in what capacity can it be honourably observed.

Black woman about to sip her coffee.

So there is no getting around how Canada came to be.

The honest truth is that Canada was built by way of genocide and enslavement. In the early 1600s, mission schools for Indigenous children were established and ran until the 1800s, when the Government of Canada Residential School system took over. The first residential school opened in 1834. Simultaneously in 1628, Black enslavement began in Canada with the first recorded person enslaved - a six-year-old boy named Olivier Le Jeune from Madagascar. Enslavement would similarly span 200+ years until August 1, 1834 when slavery was officially abolished. It should be noted that Canada didn’t even abolish slavery itself. It was abolished by Britain and subsequently in Canada by extension.

Then, in 1867, Canada officially became a country.

So there is no getting around how Canada came to be. The actions, the policies, and the laws at that time were by design to create the Canada we know and which many people benefit from today. Canada would not be Canada without killing Indigenous people to steal their land and kidnapping African people to work the land. And since our nation’s inception, the oppressive treatment of Indigenous people, and Black people, continue to this day.

This is not something my generation was taught. On the contrary, we were taught the virtues of Canada extolling how inclusive, welcoming, and multicultural we are. We have been touted as the gentle and polite country; the peace keepers. The reality? Our nation is the abuser that on the outside looks like an upstanding individual but behind closed doors is a nightmare to its victims.

Coming to this understanding can shake people to their core. If you are reeling from this, understand you are not alone.

Our “national pride” at being Canadian contributes to our sense of self. We have an understanding of who we are in relation to the values our country purports to uphold. When we find out that we have been lied to about something so foundational to our identity, it can be extremely disorienting.

At which point, you are presented with a choice: you can look away and continue to believe in the Pollyanna version of Canada taught to you OR you can face the truth and begin the journey towards reconciliation. Looking away requires conscious cognitive-dissonance which will only perpetuate your personal and our collective trauma. Acceptance and accountability requires strength of character and resolve but puts you personally, and us collectively, on the path to healing.

For Black Canadians, there are additional layers to grapple with as your family was either kidnapped and forcefully brought here or they immigrated here looking for a better life.

For Indigenous peoples, it is a yearly kick to the gut as they watch a nation celebrate their ancestors’ genocide and continual oppression… with fireworks.

We are at a very messy time in society where the truth of our history (and present) is still being uncovered. We have a lot more questions than answers, we see how things “should” be but don’t have a clear path on how to get there, and there are a LOT of people choosing to look away.

In Moms Against Racism, we are committed to looking, to uncovering, to fighting, and to healing. As an organization, we cannot support Canada Day celebrations and will not be celebrating this day. On July 1st, we will be wearing orange instead to honour the Indigenous children lost to residential schools, both physically as well as mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. We will use this day to mourn, to reflect, and to recommit to truth and reconciliation.

As someone who wants to be an ally, your role is to hold space for, and participate in, the undoing process.

  • This means, when Indigenous people are sharing their lived experiences of being oppressed by the systems of this country, you listen, you address detractors, and you amplify.

  • This means you will take pause to reflect and question your own biases and understandings.

  • This means you will use this day to learn about and pay respect to the Indigenous people of Turtle Island.

  • This means you will use what is available to you - time, resources, money - to make reparations.

Like all oppressive systems, we believe “Canada Day”, as we know it, needs to be dismantled. Once we have re-built Canada, or whatever name we decide to call ourselves, to be the inclusive and equitable country we say we are, then we can celebrate.

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