Canadian indigenous community leaders and rights activists have joined the chorus of calls for the cancellation of national Canada Day celebrations across the country after the grim discoveries of hundreds of unmarked graves at former church-run indigenous residential schools.
The indigenous community leaders and advocates in Canada asked people on Tuesday to cancel July 1 festivities, and instead, reflect on the real history of the country and support indigenous people.
The activists also said observing the upcoming national celebrations would be inconsiderate to all children whose lives were lost through the course of the country’s history.
“We need to recognize there is nothing to celebrate about this country right now, especially considering the empty words and inaction of the @JustinTrudeau government. It’s a day where we can mobilize to figure out how we can make this country one that is worth celebrating,” Indigenous novelist David A. Robertson wrote on Twitter.
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The Oshkaatisak Council of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which represents dozens of First Nations across northern Ontario, said in a statement that it would not acknowledge Canada Day and instead plans to “wear orange and spread awareness about the shameful history of Indian Residential Schools and the devastating legacy that continues today.”
“As a nation of Indigenous Peoples, we must stand strong and shout this out to the rest of Canada. This country’s true history is finally being revealed, and it’s time to stand together and demand justice and accountability,” it added.
Idle No More, an Indigenous-led grassroots movement that is leading Cancel Canada Day protests across the country, said canceling the events was “the bare minimum recognition” following the discovery of the unmarked graves.
The group said at least 50 municipalities have decided to cancel Canada Day events so far this year.
“It is heartening to see 50 municipalities canceling Canada Day out of respect for the grief Indigenous peoples are going through. Every other city and town should follow suit,” Idle No More co-founder Sheelah McLean said in a statement on Monday. “Stolen Indigenous land and stolen Indigenous lives are not things to celebrate.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last week that Canada Day would be a time for Canadians to reflect “on reconciliation, on our relationship with Indigenous peoples and how it has evolved and how it needs to continue to evolve rapidly.”
“I think this Canada Day, it will be a time of reflection on what we’ve achieved as a country but on what more we have to do,” he told reporters.
Canada’s residential school system forcibly separated more than 150,000 First Nations children from their families between 1831 and 1996. Many of the children separated from their homes by the church’s school system were subjected to abuse, rape, and malnutrition. In 2008, the Canadian government formally apologized.
Last month, 215 remains were found in unmarked graves on the grounds of a former Catholic Church residential school in British Columbia.
Last Thursday, the remains of 751 children were found on the grounds of another former residential school for indigenous children.
The discoveries have sparked outrage among the First Nations peoples.