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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ


BY Will Nicholls Jul 17, 2021

The fallout from the recent discoveries of unmarked graves of children who attended residential schools in Canada has far-reaching consequences and a variety of responses.

In Eeyou Istchee, communities removed the Canadian flag for the month of July. Some communities even did this before the July 1 Canada Day holiday. Elsewhere in Canada, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples debated whether Canada Day should be celebrated, canceled or marked as a day of remembrance.

While anti-Canada Day marches and protest were held in Eeyou Istchee and other First Nations, many non-Indigenous communities and cities held them also. Some were small while others saw thousands join in across the country. In some places statues were pulled down and defaced. Some First Nations chiefs have condemned those actions. Chiefs Ron Sam (Songhees First Nation) and Rob Thomas (Esquimalt First Nation) in a Times Colonist op-ed stated, “Anyone who participated in this recent act of vandalism has no cultural role or right to act or speak on our behalf.” On the other hand, former Senator Murray Sinclair feels that the statues shouldn’t be replaced as they were an example of “colonial gloating”, and they were “monuments to a failed genocide.”

The unmarked graves were an eye-opener for many Canadians. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission and even the murdered and missing women and girls were just news items that didn’t seem to catch the Canadian psyche. However, children’s hidden deaths grabbed hold of the Canadian conscience and understandably so. As humans, we try to protect and cherish children.

Many Canadians are questioning their relationships with churches, asking why there is a lack of accountability and discussion about the residential school system. Some have even left the churches they attended and supported for most of their lives feeling angry and betrayed.

Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian and United churches ran residential schools. The Catholic Church ran about 70% of the schools but has done little to acknowledge their deeds. Some have expressed their anger at the churches by defacing doors, smashing windows or even burning them down. Five churches have been burnt beyond possibility of repair. 

Many First Nations leaders have condemned these actions. But many Canadians tacitly defend the vandalism as justifiable retribution. The head of the BC Civil Liberties Association, Harsha Walia, commented, “burn it all down” in reference to the churches. The Union of BC Chiefs supported her position.

Of course, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was quick to respond, unlike fulfilling his promises of safe drinking water or implementing the 94 calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. September 30, known as Orange Shirt Day, will be an official holiday renamed as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. It was enacted in early June shortly after the discovery of the unmarked graves. At least three sites have been found to date. Some funds have been made available to search for sites by both federal and provincial governments.

Trudeau has also named Mary Simon, an Inuk woman, as Canada’s first Indigenous Governor General. Though it is mostly a ceremonial position, it holds out hope for some. One of the powers of the Governor General is to give royal assent to enact Canadian laws and bills – no previous office holder has ever refused to do so.

In the end, we can only hope that Canada and its people continue to want change rather just looking at Indigenous issues, concerns and historical atrocities as a passing whim.

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Will Nicholls is a Cree from Mistissini. He started his career off in radio and is still one of the youngest radio DJ’s in Canadian history, having a regular show on CFS Moosonee at the age of 12. Will was one of the founding members of the Nation, and has been its only Editor-in-Chief.