What should we do with Canada Day?
June 23, 2021 1:25 PM   Subscribe

On July 1, celebratory Canada Day events are typically held across the country. This year, after the discovery of the remains of 215 Indigenous children at a former residential school in Kamloops, BC, and the deadly attack on a Muslim family in Ontario, the Toronto Star asks Indigenous and Muslim community members, “Should Canada Day be a point of celebration? Or a day of mourning and sombre reflection?” This is not a new question; once again, Idle No More reminds us that “Canada remains a country that has built its foundation on the erasure and genocide of Indigenous nations.” Victoria, BC has already cancelled its planned Canada Day celebrations, as have a growing number of other cities and towns across Canada.

In Australia, Aboriginal people and allies have protested the country’s national day, renaming it “Invasion Day” or “Survival Day.”

Black and Indigenous people have raised similar concerns with American Independence Day.

Previously on MeFi: Remains of 215 children found at former residential school in Kamloops

and

Unsettling Canada 150
posted by hurdy gurdy girl (60 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
My birthday is on Canada Day, and I normally go out with friends to watch the fireworks, and it's generally quite Canada-Day-themed. It won't be this year.
posted by sagc at 1:53 PM on June 23


Canada Day is a day I get to hang out with my family and maybe see some fireworks and I don't feel like that's going to change this year. There is much in Canada that's to be celebrated even if there is also much that needs to be reckoned with and fixed, if the latter's even possible.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 2:50 PM on June 23 [2 favorites]


Odd... my birthday is the day before Canada Day and for me it's always just been a day off after getting drunk at a birthday party. Given the world right now I likely won't be partying for my Bday but my general non-engagement with the usual Canada Day activities will continue.

That said I've always felt like Canadian patriotism has always been... subdued anyway? So the usual chorus of Conservative voices trying to make it sound treasonous to consider the realities of how we got here is pretty ridiculous.
posted by cirhosis at 2:53 PM on June 23 [3 favorites]


Eight alternative days to celebrate Australia Day that are not January 26

January 26th marks the landing of the First Fleet at Sydney Cove, Honestly, none of them really grab me, although I respect the author's attitude in pointing out that “March rarely has public holidays, so this would be perfect for Australians.”

The logical date for national celebration would be Federation Day, when our Commonwealth formally came into existence; but in a fit of bureaucratic precision this took place on January 1st , which is in the middle of our summer holidays. If we ever get a constitutional amendment recognising our indigenous population it might be a good time to declare a reboot and a new day of national celebration. And yeah, do it in March, or perhaps November.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:54 PM on June 23


Yeah...Canada Day is pretty laid back. I don't think it has the same chest-thumping patriotism of July 4 in the US - certainly not at the local level. I think this is going to fall flat because as long as beer, BBQ, and fireworks are legal, most white Canadians are not going to notice that anything was cancelled.
posted by allegedly at 3:00 PM on June 23 [1 favorite]


As Canadians we have bumbled along believing the story we've been told and happily told ourselves that we have been the better, cleaner, end-of-the-underground-railroad-NorthStar North American state. And now we're realizing otherwise. This is a good thing. A very good thing. Anything that diminishes nationalism of any sort these days seems fine to me: "Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel" (Samuel Johnson).
posted by kneecapped at 3:09 PM on June 23 [24 favorites]


I guess I should say what I mean by "canada-day-themed", is that sometimes a person brings some little flags or something, and the fireworks we are watching are inherently Canada Day fireworks.
posted by sagc at 3:16 PM on June 23


That said I've always felt like Canadian patriotism has always been... subdued anyway?

I used to feel that way but Canadian patriotism has definitely become more American-style. It seems to have happened after the I AM CANADIAN beer commercial but I don't know which one begat the other.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 3:25 PM on June 23 [2 favorites]


I’ll be wearing my orange T-shirt this year.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 3:40 PM on June 23 [5 favorites]


It's also being reported that: "Tomorrow, Cowessess First Nation will publicly announce the "horrific and shocking discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves at the site of the former Marieval Indian Residential School. The number of unmarked graves will be the most significantly substantial to date in Canada."

Some unconfirmed sources claim it may be as high as triple the amount of bodies discovered at the Kamloops site.

So yeah, this is not the year for national pride.
posted by mrjohnmuller at 3:40 PM on June 23 [17 favorites]


I can't see why a national day can't have two feelings (or more).

We can feel shame and remorse for the wrongs of the past. Every nation has some terrible crap in its history - the honest ones acknowledge it.

And we can feel pride in what's been achieved, and excitement about the future.

It's really simplistic to demand non-stop celebration. Maybe its decades of US-media-4th-of-July influence on us English speakers? It's mature to get together and talk about ourselves as a nation for a bit.

In Australia and New Zealand, we manage to carry both pride and sadness on ANZAC Day, remorse and joy. It's not that hard to do both (my sense is that there's often a middle-of-the-day change in mood - after the dawn services and parades and remembrances, then comes the celebration). War is terrible, but its conclusion brings release.

And as to the date for Australia Day - 26 January 1788 is probably the most historically significant calendar date in the human history of the continent. The date everything changed.
posted by jjderooy at 4:01 PM on June 23 [6 favorites]


I would be happy to make it a day of somber reflection on how to truly create the Canada so many of us believed we lived in.
posted by nubs at 4:03 PM on June 23 [17 favorites]


I can't see why a national day can't have two feelings (or more).

I would be happy to make it a day of somber reflection on how to truly create the Canada so many of us believed we lived in.


That is how I would like to observe it from now on. A Yom Kippur of national holidays: examining and acknowledging the wrongs we have committed or perpetuated this year; asking (others or ourselves, as appropriate) for forgiveness; celebrating with humility and awe the potential of another year inscribed in the Book of Life.
posted by saturday_morning at 4:53 PM on June 23 [6 favorites]


jjderooy I hear what you are saying, but the general climate in Canada right now (or at least where I am) is not one that feels worth celebrating. I don't think the collective spirit is really there to celebrate Canada as an institution right now. I think many Canadians genuinely did not comprehend the horror of the residential school system. Either they only understood it academically and distantly or didn't understand the scope of it. I think Kamloops opened a lot of eyes and that pain and guilt is still fresh. For others, it is an old wound made raw again.

Last Sunday I was on my way up the Island to see my parents and I drove past this motorcycle parade. I have seen these kinds of bike rallies before, but never one like this. The parade stretched almost the entire Malahat (about 25km) and nearly everyone in orange. I am not a very sentimental person and usually feel that these kinds of gestures are not very worthwhile. I swear the sheer length of this thing almost forced me to pull the car over and cry. It was an overwhelming display and it just kept going and going. Not to mention all of the red dresses you pass along that stretch of highway.

With some distance, I think we can go back to a Canada day that can celebrate the good things about Canada and reflect on the bad. Not this year, though.

I feel like at this time we are sitting on a rollercoaster cresting the top of a steep hill. There are going to be more revelations over the next couple of years as more of these sites get GPR'd.

Near where I grew up there is a former residential school on Tsartlip and I have heard similar mutterings about the school grounds there for many years. I also know that Tsartlip has been trying to tear down the former residential school building and keeps getting blocked because it is considered a historic site. I wish I had a news link or something I could share about it, but my info is just community gossip. In an attempt to not be too depressing I will say that the province gifted some land back to Tsartlip recently.
posted by forbiddencabinet at 4:54 PM on June 23 [15 favorites]


I can't see why a national day can't have two feelings (or more). We can feel shame and remorse for the wrongs of the past...And we can feel pride in what's been achieved, and excitement about the future.

In general I agree, and I think that the two are importantly related. The felt gap between what a country is and what it could be can motivate change.

However, at this moment in history it is unclear how many mass graves of children are going to be newly discovered in the next six months. It seems inappropriate at this moment to reflect on anything else.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:56 PM on June 23 [8 favorites]


it is unclear how many mass graves of children are going to be newly discovered in the next six months.

Ahem...

Sask. First Nation finds hundreds of burial sites near former residential school

I've been on the fence about this, trying to decide whether to stop celebrating the day. Not any more. I'm done.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 5:34 PM on June 23 [3 favorites]


And as to the date for Australia Day - 26 January 1788 is probably the most historically significant calendar date in the human history of the continent. The date everything changed.

That's literally an insular comment, making “the most significant event” something associated with European colonisation. It's also weirdly ahistorical: the 26th of January merely commemorates the raising of the Union flag at Sydney Cove: the First Fleet had arrived at Botany Bay nearly a week earlier. But even that date isn't when “everything changed”: surely Governor Phillip's orders to establish the colony were more important, or the decision to establish a colony in the first place. And those could not have taken place without Cook's voyages, which were themselves promoted by earlier European explorers who reached Australia no later than 1606, 164 years before Cook. So picking the 26th of January is totally arbitrary, even in the context of the First Fleet, let alone European colonisation, let alone the tens of thousands of years in which people have lived here.

So yes, pick a day that commemorates everything changing. But let that change be one that we choose, and can be proud of; not just a brief ceremony performed by a government official instructed to establish a dumping ground for the refuse of Britain. Let's take the opportunity to do something really significant that we can be proud of, as a nation, and make that be the day everything changed.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:43 PM on June 23 [4 favorites]


"I would be happy to make it a day of somber reflection on how to truly create the Canada so many of us believed we lived in."

This. And we are on the way to building a better Canada. Increased awareness of the injustices visited upon Canada's indigenous peoples is a good step towards that better future, one where we all can participate in the opportunities this land presents, one where we are aware of the imbalances we need to overcome to get there.

On Canada Day, I will be camping. I'm first generation Canadian, and like so many other immigrant families, we go camping, having come too late to snag a cottage up north. I will be there with all these other immigrant families -- the ethnicities shift over the years to reflect the most recent -- all eager to learn about this place, connect with this place, share in the land and share the values which brought us here.

I will definitely say my own private land acknowledgment along the way, though.
posted by Capt. Renault at 5:52 PM on June 23 [4 favorites]


I have been to one Canada Day celebration during the Harper years. It was gross - the army was there and you could have your photo taken with guns and various assault vehicles at which point I just left. It is really ra-ra patriotic, as much as July 4th (at least July 4th before Trump.)

It needs to be axed or turned into something else and has for a long time.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 5:58 PM on June 23 [4 favorites]


Hey Joe - to continue a detour into Australia's date - I'd suggest that in the context of colonisation of the Australian continent, that Phillip raising the flag on 26 January was symbolic of 'Europeans are here to stay' (and we lack a date for when our First Nations came to stay).

In the context of my main point that a mature national day can and should have multiple meanings, 26 January is worth acknowledging for being the start of clearly a whole lot of bad, and arguably whole lot of good too. Personally, I'd like a 26 January that mourns the invasion in the morning with acts of reconciliation, and celebrates where we are today in the afternoon (and for relevance, perhaps this is where Canada can go too, although 1 July has its confederation purpose).

Although perhaps it'd be far more Australian to pick an arbitrary/unused date for convenience (and a long weekend) and build something new. First Monday in March anyone?
posted by jjderooy at 6:51 PM on June 23


We can feel shame and remorse for the wrongs of the past. Every nation has some terrible crap in its history - the honest ones acknowledge it.

And we can feel pride in what's been achieved, and excitement about the future.


I think it's important to feel shame and remorse for the wrongs of the past, but I also think it's important to acknowledge that a lot of what is spoken of as "the past" is actually still going on in present-day Canada and there's no realistic plan for changing it in the future.

For example, the federal government committed to ensuring clean drinking water for all First Nations communities by March 2021. As of March 2021, there were still 33 First Nations communities under drinking water advisories, some of which have been in place for decades.

Furthermore, Indigenous people in Canada make up about 5% of the general population, but they are greatly overrepresented in federal systems and as victims of violence:
  • Over 30% of inmates in federal prisons are Indigenous.
  • At least 36% of the victims of fatal police shootings are Indigenous.
  • At least 22% of homicide victims in Canada are Indigenous.
  • At least 50% of children in the foster care system are Indigenous. The residential school system has been dismantled, but many identify the foster care system as the new residential schools.
This inequity is very much not in the past, and there has been very little movement on improving it. In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, set up by the federal government, set out 94 Calls to Action, laying out what needed to be done by the government to achieve equity for Indigenous people. As of December 2020, only 8 of the Calls to Action had been answered.

Those of us who aren't Indigenous continue to live on stolen land, and the colonial, racist systems that enabled that theft have remained in place. There are many outstanding land claims still. Finding things to celebrate, when this inequity is so obvious and urgent, seems a hollow pursuit. Maybe a miracle will happen and the Canadian government will actually start making great strides in its relationship with Indigenous people, and I'll feel different about it next year, but I won't be holding my breath if the last five years of promises are anything to go by.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:59 PM on June 23 [55 favorites]


I can't favorite that last comment (or the post) hard enough.

For those who didn't follow the links, I'd like to pull out one really distressing detail. The 30% of the federal inmates - that's compared against 5% of the population, and it's been trending up.
It was under 18% in 2000 and over 30% now. It is an abomination.

When you dig into the details of the other stats, it's every bit as bad.
posted by bcd at 7:14 PM on June 23 [6 favorites]


Shortly after the (re)discovery in kamloops, the Winnepeg Jets faced off against the Habs. The Jets had hired Don Amero (who is first nations) to sing the anthem at the start of the hockey game.

He had to wrestle with this very question - how do I possibly sing of national pride, given what we just discovered?

He came to a beautiful and poigniant answer that I think should be required listening for everyone in Canada.

Maybe we should ask him to sing on July 1st too?
posted by Arandia at 10:11 PM on June 23 [4 favorites]


> I'm first generation Canadian, and like so many other immigrant families, we go camping, having come too late to snag a cottage up north

And those cottages up north were got via "crown land", sold for pittances by the Federal government. A cottage in my family is built on land sold for $500 by some Ottawa office in a 1960s cottage block sale of land surrounding a First Nation. As a kid I was proud to tell the story of how clever my grandmother was to have an Ottawa land lawyer watching the postings. Now I see it as what it probably was: a containment policy to put bourgeois WASPs in between the First Nation and land claims against the Crown.
posted by anthill at 3:02 AM on June 24 [8 favorites]


I'm a child of the 70s and I'm getting a strong vibe that many of "us" would desperately like to comfort ourselves with that fiction of quietly decent Canada.. "honest broker" of nations (I think this was an enduring phrase from the high school Social Studies curriculum of the times), multicultural mosaic, beavers and Mounties, etc. Cripes, there was footage of a young beaver investigating a little flag on the news just the other day.

We want this to be Canada, and perhaps there are glimpses and flashes of this Canada, but it's not Canada. The sooner we take actions to make this the country we want it to be, the better. And the foundation of the country I'd like to see, the starting point, is to make conciliation happen. The generations of settlers and newcomers aren't getting on planes and boats and going elsewhere, but we need to address the question of peoples coming together, and the fact that there are the First Peoples of this place, and the past 150 years have mostly been a history of oppression and genocide. Full stop.
posted by elkevelvet at 7:26 AM on June 24 [4 favorites]


I've been in Canada 12 years now (wow!) and when I first moved here, I lived in Quebec, which didn't give a fig for Canada Day except in the "day off work" sense. You wanted patriotism or pride, you got St Jean Baptiste day (which is that today??). But Canadians definitely thrived off the "we're not America, we're nicer and kinder and gentler" vibe for a long time. When I moved to Ontario a few years later, there was definitely more of a harder patriotic feel but still coasting on aforesaid vibe. Despite Trudeau currently being in office, the Trump administration's ahborrence did rub off on a lot of Canadian people and politicians. Once again, like they were waiting for any sign to take their grossness very public. (Jason Kenney and Erin O'Toole immediately spring to mind.)

I live in Kingston, Canada's first capital, and we took down the Sir John A MacDonald statue in our city park recently. You'd think white Canadians had been culturally and historically oppressed given the outrage. In any case, Canada Day has not been a day of patriotism or pride in this country for me. Being here and being aware of the shameful past and present history has given me more of a sense of how much white Canada really likes to pretend that First Nations folks are just a PITA for them to deal with or listen to or treat fairly, instead of actually reckoning with the past and shoring up a better future for many.

(I'm from the American South, and overhearing conversations about First Nations prejudice from people gives me the sad reminders of how folks do the same back home about Black people.)
posted by Kitteh at 8:43 AM on June 24 [2 favorites]


Anyone who read the TRC report knew that this was coming but honestly I was a bit shocked that there hadn't been a concerted effort.

Anyways: Cowessess First Nation announces 751 unmarked graves found at Saskatchewan residential "school."

For more horror, a Mississauga priest blatantly displays privilege of not. getting. it.

For me...I think this year we should mourn. Maybe if we do better there will be more to celebrate in the future.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:04 AM on June 24 [2 favorites]




Wanting to celebrate Canada day this year feels a lot like insisting on a birthday party the day after your wife's sister has been murdered.

It doesn't matter how much "good" Canada has done. People need to read the room and let the grieving set the tone.

I'm sympathetic to the feelings of new Canadians who feel that Canada has been welcoming and generous, but part of accepting your new Canadian identity is accepting your complicity in the colonial project. It's as much a part of who we are as the self-mythology of gentleness and humility, except that unlike the latter, it's real.
posted by klanawa at 9:21 AM on June 24 [8 favorites]


(I want to specify that I mean "you" in the general sense, not anyone in this thread.)
posted by klanawa at 9:43 AM on June 24 [1 favorite]


Just dropping this here in case anyone needs it: Indian Residential School Survivors Society Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419), 24/7.
posted by nubs at 9:50 AM on June 24 [6 favorites]


I wouldn't be in favour of 'cancelling' Canada Day. I think this nation has a lot to be proud of, but someone above likened it to having a birthday party after your sister died - this isn't the year to celebrate our successes, it's a year to reflect upon our failures and to reconcile it with the imperfect Canada we live in today.

These recent discoveries will require us to examine the foundations of our nationhood and how we want Canada to be going forward. I'll be camping with my neighbours and I'm sure there will be some spirited discussions regarding our history and speculation on where we go from here.
posted by Phreesh at 2:40 PM on June 24 [1 favorite]


July 1 was Memorial Day in Newfoundland before we ever joined Canada. We lost a generation of young men in WWI, many of them in a single battle on July 1, 1916. These children also died by colonialism, and I'll honor their memory too.
posted by peppermind at 2:47 PM on June 24 [2 favorites]


These recent discoveries will require us to examine the foundations of our nationhood and how we want Canada to be going forward.

It's not just the foundation, it's the ongoing nature of Canada. The last one of these schools closed in 1997, half of First Nations reserves don't have clean water, Canada bought a pipeline being forced through many First Nations" land, and friends who are First Nations still get asked to pay for their drinks as they they go while I get offered a tab in Vancouver.

Right at the moment the federal government is fighting to deny First Nations children health care in court.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 4:53 PM on June 24 [5 favorites]


The unmarked burials and, in at least one case, deliberate desecration of graves is bad enough, but the sheer number of graves seems to imply a really high death rate among quite young people.

Is this the case and, if so, how bad was it?
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:37 PM on June 24 [1 favorite]


Is this the case and, if so, how bad was it?

This is the problem: we don't really know. Records were routinely falsified or destroyed.
posted by mightygodking at 7:23 PM on June 24


> the sheer number of graves seems to imply a really high death rate among quite young people.

The residential system lasted generations and were well known for disease, polio, smallpox and tuberculosis. They had issues with abuse and malnutrition as well. It's estimated that at least 6000 children{*} died in the schools, but it seems from these sites those estimates were low.

*Through the report of the Truth and Reconciliation commission.
posted by bonehead at 8:41 PM on June 24 [3 favorites]


I have seriously been wondering if they were being murdered, or if they all just died of illnesses and never bothered to tell the families.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:54 PM on June 24 [1 favorite]


Is this the case and, if so, how bad was it?

Well, considering that the dead include babies who resulted from priests raping students — pretty bad.
posted by Capt. Renault at 9:06 PM on June 24 [3 favorites]


They had issues with abuse and malnutrition as well.

The malnutrition included intentional malnutrition experiments on children conducted by Canadian scientists.
The experiments were performed by the Department of Indian Affairs of Canada under the direction of two physicians: Dr Percy Moore, the Indian Affairs Branch Superintendent of Medical Services, and Dr Frederick Tisdall, a famed nutritionist, a former president of the Canadian Paediatric Society and one of three paediatricians at The Hospital for Sick Children (Toronto, Ontario) who developed Pablum infant cereal in the 1930s. In these experiments, parents were not informed, nor were consents obtained. Even as children died, the experiments continued. Even after the recommendations from the Nuremberg trial, these experiments continued.

In these experiments, control and treatment groups of mal-nourished children were denied adequate nutrition. In one experiment, the treatment group received supplements of riboflavin, thiamine and/or ascorbic acid supplements to determine whether these mitigated the problems – they did not. In another, children were given a flour mix containing added thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and bone meal. Rather than improving nutrition, the children became more anemic, likely contributing to more deaths and certainly impacting development. In these experiments, efforts were made to control as many factors as possible, even when they harmed the research subjects. For example, previously available dental care was denied in some settings because the researchers wanted to observe the state of dental caries and gingivitis with malnutrition.
posted by clawsoon at 9:21 PM on June 24 [3 favorites]


The unmarked burials and, in at least one case, deliberate desecration of graves is bad enough, but the sheer number of graves seems to imply a really high death rate among quite young people.

Is this the case and, if so, how bad was it?


Dr. Peter Bryce investigated the deaths of children in residential schools in the early 1900s. He determined that the mortality rate of children in residential schools was MUCH higher than average, and that it was due to their poor living conditions and maltreatment of all kinds. He was blacklisted for telling the truth by the government that had set up the genocidal program.

I have seriously been wondering if they were being murdered, or if they all just died of illnesses and never bothered to tell the families.

While I’d definitely classify the deaths from starvation and medical experiments as murder, there are also many first hand survivor accounts of their peers being beaten to death and then disappearing. The problem is, they were children themselves at the time and they don’t have evidence, so their accounts are treated as hearsay.

Now that bodies are starting to be located, I imagine forensic analysis will reveal at least some of the murder victims survivors have tried to tell us about.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:33 AM on June 25 [3 favorites]


Adding to the info about malnourishment: The malnourishment and undernourishment didn't just happen in a few experiments, either. It was an intentional and systematic cost-saving measure. The primary memory of thousands of survivors was being hungry all the time. It was the Dutch Hunger Winter times a century. The high rates of Type 2 diabetes and related health conditions among First Nations aren't the result of not being able to handle the switch from a hunter-gatherer diet to a grain-based diet, they're the result of the switch to a starvation diet.
posted by clawsoon at 6:00 AM on June 25 [2 favorites]


Quite honestly, the discussion of "why did they die" reminds me a bit of the child porn discussion. Discussing child porn as pornography is ignoring that it's not a product, it's a record of horrific abuse, and by the same token, every child that died at these schools was murdered by the system. It's all murder.

Of course it matters a little bit, particularly in culpability of some individuals beyond the general culpability, but best that all Canadians understand that this was murder because these kids were taken away from their communities, stressed, starved, beaten, and abused, and kept in congregate care where diseases could spread.

If my child were forcibly removed from my home and put in a "school" and then died of say, Covid, I can tell you exactly who I would hold responsible and how disgusting a discussion of real murder vs. Covid infection would be to me.

I am just as much to blame for not doing enough with the information although I did edit some work on it - but this is not new information. This video of Murray Sinclair, which is difficult, really explains it well. I read the TRC, and all of this is in there. Although it did no good, I wrote my MP at the time about funding a second commission. Although I knew a formal commission hadn't formed, I admit that I honestly thought the government had funded the effort to find these missing graves...as it turns out they provided a pittance, not enough to do it, and left it. Shame on me and all of us.

It would only have taken believing people.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:58 AM on June 25 [5 favorites]


warriorqueen: It would only have taken believing people.

I grew up with kids who lived in... well... complicated to describe, but it had a bit of overlap with how residential schools and orphanages worked, and the things I've learned from them as adults have emphasized how much of the dynamic of abuse involves making sure that no-one believes the victims.
posted by clawsoon at 10:23 AM on June 25 [3 favorites]


I have some experience on the personal end too clawsoon. It sucks.

There was a CBC podcast about Satanic Panic that quietly pointed out at the end of it that while a whole town was arming themselves against agents of Satan rumoured to be coming in order to kill everyone, putting "Believe The Children" signs in their windows...a residential school was in operation down the road.

I dunno man.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:51 AM on June 25 [5 favorites]


best that all Canadians understand that this was murder because these kids were taken away from their communities

I completely agree with you, warriorqueen. In my community there’s a group of people who are insisting that the bishop who ran the Kamloops school was a good man and treated the kids well, blah blah. But honestly, it wouldn’t matter even if he had (he didn’t; there’s extensive documentation). Of course the abuse and starvation are inexcusable and criminal, but at the very root of it all, any system where the government literally kidnapped people’s children and kept them away from their families for their entire childhoods is genocide under the UN’s definition [emphasis mine]:
Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide

Article II

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

a. Killing members of the group;
b. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
c. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
d. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
e. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
(Of course, all the other conditions are/have been present as well.)
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:00 PM on June 25 [3 favorites]


It's worthwhile noting here that Canada was an original signatory to the UN declaration in 1949 and passed the declaration substantially unmodified into Canadian law in 1952. The schools operated until the 1980s and 1990s, decades of overlap.
posted by bonehead at 4:22 PM on June 25 [1 favorite]


I am likewise in the "cancel Canada Day" camp. It's very much not the time to have a party. It's also the smallest, gentlest ask ever- don't have a major gathering during a pandemic? Yes, please. I am extremely supportive.
posted by Phalene at 1:52 PM on June 26 [2 favorites]


Tanya Talaga recently published an article in the Globe and Mail, which is a call to action for Canadians to take responsibility and live up to its country's purported values.

The comments on the article are a shocking catalogue of the depths of European-Canadian racism against Canada's Indigenous peoples. I haven't lived in Canada for more than 10 years now, and it's easy for me to hold on to its narratives as the "good neighbour". Tanya's articles, and the comments on them, regularly help me dispel these narratives.
posted by Alex404 at 8:18 AM on June 27 [5 favorites]


Religious group will release records from Marievel, Kamloops residential schools

It's good that they're going to do this, and the order's leader, Reverend Thorson (?!), sounds as though he supports Truth and Reconciliation, but you can't just “release” or “disclose” records if you want them to be preserved and accessible. Doing this properly will take a huge amount of work, much of which could be done, with proper guidance, by his order. But even then, the information needs to be put in a searchable form and correlated with other records. Government archivists are probably overwhelmed already; commercial groups like Ancestry.com will happily take the information but will want to make it proprietary. The people who really have the skill set and technology for doing this are the Mormons, but I can't see a Catholic order reaching out to them.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:51 PM on June 27


I would assume that the NCTR archive, based out of U Manitoba, will happily take and preserve the archive.
posted by Ahmad Khani at 5:27 PM on June 27 [1 favorite]


I'm wary of turning Canada Day into a polarized issue ("cancel Canada Day, Canada is terrible" vs. "celebrate Canada Day, Canada is flawed but we should still be proud"). Neither seems exactly right to me. Canada isn't an abstraction, it's 38 million people, and to me Canada Day is a way that we strengthen the feeling of being connected to each other as a national community. This is a foundational and necessary element for our public life. If people didn't care at all for anyone beyond their immediate circle of family and friends, if they didn't feel a degree of responsibility for other Canadians in general, why would they be willing to pay for any program that didn't directly benefit them, like CERB? Why would they care about the tragedies of people they'll never meet? Somewhat like a war, the Covid crisis illustrates the importance of social solidarity, of being willing to make sacrifices for the benefit of other people that you don't know.

At the same time, turning Canada Day into a contest of patriotism, as O'Toole is doing - "what's the matter with you, aren't you proud of Canada?" - also seems wrong. Pride seems irrelevant. Not just because of the residential schools, and what they reveal about the contrast between Canada's self-image and reality, but also because more than 25,000 Canadians have died from Covid over the past year and a half. We have a lot of mourning to do this year. (It also seems like an opportunity to express gratitude for the health-care workers on the front lines.)
posted by russilwvong at 9:38 PM on June 29


TLDR: Canada's self-image is an unrealistic illusion. What's a more realistic image? Previously a Dominion proud to be part of the British Empire, excluding non-European immigration and attempting to forcibly assimilate Indigenous peoples; after WWII, a pluralistic society following a successful policy of multiculturalism; still with huge challenges ahead in establishing workable relationships with Indigenous peoples.

The self-image of Canada as being especially virtuous has a long history. Dean Acheson described Canada as "the stern voice of the daughter of God"; this was not a compliment.

Where does this self-image originate? Why does Canadian foreign policy have this moralistic tendency? My guess is that it's because in thinking about the world, Canadians have focused on the British Empire and the United States, which are much more powerful. Power is a necessary evil - literally, it's necessary but also evil - and I think it's easy to mistake our weakness for moral restraint. Canada hasn't attempted to seize the Suez Canal or fight a futile war in Vietnam, but of course Canada also lacks the ability to do these things!

In addition, there's a universal human illusion which makes everyone overestimate their own benevolence. It seems to be human nature to regard someone else's power over oneself as a terrible injustice to be resented and opposed, while regarding one's own power over someone else as perfectly natural and scarcely worth thinking about. As Douglas Adams puts it: "It is difficult to be sat on all day, every day, by some other creature, without forming an opinion on them. On the other hand, it is perfectly possible to sit all day, every day, on top of another creature and not have the slightest thought about them whatsoever."

Considering relations between English-Canadians and French-Canadians, for example, in school we learn about the Conquest, the expulsion of the Acadians, the Manitoba Schools Question, and the Riel Rebellion. But none of it seems to make an impact; the typical feeling in English Canada is that we bend over backward to accommodate Quebec. (This is of course fractal: for example, Quebec nationalists downplay the interests of Quebec anglophones and Muslims.)

And that's true even though Quebec is impossible to ignore, because of its political importance. The interests and the grievances of Indigenous peoples, who are fewer in number and not geographically concentrated, are even easier for non-Indigenous Canadians to neglect. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission on residential schools published its report in December 2015, but few non-Indigenous Canadians paid much attention. An Angus Reid poll three years ago found that 32% of Canadians thought the Trudeau government was paying too much attention to Indigenous issues, vs. 17% who thought it was too little; 53% thought Canada spends too much time apologizing for the residential schools and should move on.

I think that responding to the gap between self-image and reality by attempting to make Canada fit our self-image is frankly impossible. Our traditional self-image is simply too out of touch with reality.

I think a more realistic description of Canada is that Canada is a pluralistic, multi-national empire, like the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Initially, Canada was basically a self-governing but loyal "Dominion" within the British Empire, which English Canadians regarded as an exemplar of Western civilization. The residential schools were an attempt to forcibly assimilate ("civilize") Indigenous peoples to this alien culture: separating children from their families, subjecting them to harsh discipline, forbidding them from speaking their own languages, giving them inadequate education, forcing them to do physical labour, not giving them enough food, and burying them in unmarked graves after they died from tuberculosis, abuse, or suicide.

After WWII, with large-scale immigration from Asia underway (previously heavily restricted, especially because of violent opposition from BC), Pierre Trudeau brought in the policy of multiculturalism. This was basically a rigorous application of the liberal principle of state neutrality, which a key part of the resolution of the 16th-century wars of religion between Catholics and Protestants. In Canada, this principle of neutrality with respect to religion would now be extended to culture: Canadian institutions would support integration without requiring assimilation (giving up one's culture), a well-known example being the modification of the RCMP uniform to include the Sikh turban, so that observant Sikhs could join. This was obviously a major change from the assumption of the superiority of Western civilization, and Anglo-Saxon civilization in particular. As a visible minority myself, I think it's fair to say that by following the policy of multiculturalism, Canada has been remarkably successful in integrating immigrants and visible minorities. Canadian exceptionalism. If Canada can be said to have made a distinct contribution to the world, I would point to that.

(Note that I'm not claiming there's no racism in Canada. An Angus Reid poll released this past week found that when asked if certain races are inherently superior to others, 12% said yes; about 18% of Canadian immigrants said yes. The same poll found that 25% of people polled described themselves as "cold" towards Muslims.)

So at this point Canada has two models for cultural pluralism which work reasonably well: the Quebec model (separate institutions) and the multiculturalism model (integration without requiring assimilation).

From the point of view of multiculturalism, the residential schools were not just hotbeds for abuse. The end goal - of forcibly assimilating Indigenous peoples to a culture alien to them - was wrong, not just the means.

But multiculturalism is not the answer to integrating Indigenous peoples, either. This was proposed in the 1969 White Paper and rejected, because full integration into Canadian institutions would likely lead to the disappearance of Indigenous cultures.

The Quebec model of separate institutions - in the context of Indigenous peoples, usually called self-government - seems workable for some First Nations but not others, because it depends on numbers and geographic concentration. It's possible that separate First Nations within a region joining forces, as in the Yukon, may make this workable. In any case, years or decades of work are needed to settle land claims and establish institutions. I think that's basically the path we're on.

How do we know a future government won't come in and blow all of this up, the way Harper scrapped the Kelowna Accord? How do we know that future governments will consider Indigenous interests and grievances?

Here I think we should be able to rely on an institution that's particularly strong in Canada (as compared to China, say): the rule of law. The Supreme Court has ruled that Aboriginal title in BC continues to exist, so First Nations here are basically landowners (including some of the most valuable land in the country). The Federal Court of Appeal halted both Northern Gateway and the Trans Mountain Expansion because of inadequate consultation (upholding the TMX approval only after another round of consultation led by a former Supreme Court judge). In short, any future government that disregards Indigenous interests the way Harper did is likely to find itself in trouble in the courts.
posted by russilwvong at 11:24 PM on June 29 [2 favorites]


russilwvong, I think you make a lot of valuable points, and I want to see if I can add to it by exploring Canada's self-image/identity along some different dimensions. I also want to try and articulate some thoughts about Canadian identity that have been bouncing around my head for a while.

I would characterize what you wrote as concerning the facts of the matter of Canadian identity: its history, its demographics, its government, and its policy decisions and their effects. All of this is vital, should be thoroughly taught in schools, re-evaluated with the passage of time, and recirculated amongst Canadians throughout their lives.

Yet the relationship between identity and the facts of the matter is nebulous. In my experience most people who take pride in their country - and in my experience most people do - take an exceptionalist view of it, and I don't think Canadian pride is in anyway unique in this regard. That a country like Canada would pride itself as tolerant even though it has committed genocide against its Indigenous peoples is no more or less consistent than a country like the US valorizing freedom even though it was built on slavery, or a country like Germany valorizing order and bureaucracy even though these virtues were arguably a key component of the holocaust.

As far as the facts of the matter are concerned, no country is really more or less virtuous than any other, and I think about 90% of what we characterize as national pride, identity, or values are more or less the result of propaganda by political powers to control their own people. So what of that remaining 10%?

Most national stereotypes have an element of truth to them. There is a way in which Italians value food, Germans value order, and Americans value ambition. And the point here isn't as simple as, "on average, Italians care more about food", but rather Italians, who like most people, overall take pride in their country, feel compelled to engage with this aspect of their culture. There are disorganized Germans and unambitious Americans, but they have to reckon with this not only as individuals, but also as citizens whose cultures expect them to engage with these values.

So what about Canadians? What has been my experience of the Canadian stereotype? It's that we're nice. Just like the other values I've been bringing up, there's a negative side to it - here meekness. But the positive side? It's that we're thoughtful, diplomatic, and kind. And I'm really embarrassed to admit this, but I think this stereotype has that element of truth... and what's more, I'm proud of it. As a Canadian living Europe, whenever I move in new circles, the expectation is that my presence will help people... chill out... and I'm happy to oblige.

Again, just to be clear, I'm not trying to defend national stereotypes, which can be insidious and poisonous. I guess what I'm trying to say is this: A country's self image, which is not really about the facts of the matter, causes its people to engage with (and perhaps reject) a narrative. For many Canadians that narrative is one of tolerance and multiculturalism. I do value that narrative, and it's one that I'm happy to encourage. Not really for non-Canadians, as a story of exceptionalism, but rather for Canadians, as a story of aspiration.

But all of this is an abstraction, and what about the facts of the matter? I don't have anything exceptional to say here. I hope we can continue to evolve as a country, to achieve truth and reconciliation, and find an accordance amongst all our peoples that allows us all to thrive. I think maybe that this Canadian self-image can still play a positive role there, for reasons I've tried to allude to. Perhaps this is a very self-serving reading, but in the Tanya Talaga piece I linked above, I think there is an element of hope. In my own reading, Tanya writes as someone who believes that she can confront Anglo-Canadians about their sins, and if not expect, at least hope to be listened to, and perhaps even have her message acted upon. That faint hope, as inadequate as it may be, is still a rare and valuable thing.
posted by Alex404 at 12:54 AM on June 30 [1 favorite]


Thanks for your thoughtful post!

I agree that national character is real, but I would also suggest that it also changes, sometimes radically. My favourite example is that in the 19th century the French were regarded as ultra-rational and the Germans as romantic, while today the image is exactly the reverse. If time machines existed and someone jumped forward in time from WWII to the present day, they would no doubt be surprised that the un-martial Jews had founded the modern Sparta, while the militaristic Japanese had become pacifists.

A country's self image, which is not really about the facts of the matter, causes its people to engage with (and perhaps reject) a narrative. For many Canadians that narrative is one of tolerance and multiculturalism. I do value that narrative, and it's one that I'm happy to encourage. Not really for non-Canadians, as a story of exceptionalism, but rather for Canadians, as a story of aspiration.

While I value this narrative as well, Canadian multiculturalism only dates back to the 1960s, and starting the narrative at that point makes the residential schools utterly mysterious. I think we need to add to the narrative: before World War II, English-Canadians saw themselves as proud citizens ("subjects") of the British Empire.

Britain today is a middle power, lacking confidence in dealing with the EU, but before World War II it was the superpower which upheld the Pax Britannica. Barbara Tuchman describes Sargent's portrait of Lord Ribblesdale:
Standing at full length in the portrait, dressed as Master of the Queen's Buckhounds in long riding coat, top hat, glistening boots and holding a coiled hunting whip, Sargent’s Ribblesdale stared out upon the world in an attitude of such natural arrogance, elegance and self-confidence as no man of a later day would ever achieve.
C. P. Stacey quotes George E. Foster in the House of Commons in 1910. As Britain faced increasing pressure from Germany, Foster argued that Canada ought to contribute to naval defence by creating a Canadian navy:
Like many Canadian utterances of that age, Foster's combined the national with the imperial theme. "The most sublime figure in all history," he said, was "the figure of the old mother empire, the great-hearted mother who has given birth to the young nations that circle the globe, the great-hearted mother that has gone outside of her own kith and kin and has mothered nation after nation, people after people, continent after continent, brought them out of darkness and slavery and set them upon the path of a better civilization."
I'm not quoting Foster to mock or insult Canadians of that era. They really did believe in the superiority of Western civilization and the British Empire. This is what motivated the disastrous attempt to "civilize" Indigenous peoples by force, and this is why Canadians excluded non-European immigration for so many decades.

As evidence of the sincerity of their belief, hundreds of thousands of Canadians fought in World War I and World War II; tens of thousands died.
[Stephen Leacock's "Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town," published in 1912] is no bad symbol of Canada as it was just before the people of the land of hope found themselves, unbelievably, deeply engaged in a world war. It is a simple and isolated place, unutterably remote from the quarrels of the chancelleries of Europe which are so soon to plunge Canadians into death, mutilation, private misery, and political disruption. Its people work hard to earn modest livings. A less military community can scarcely be imagined. ... By European standards Canada was still what she had been in 1867, a country utterly without military power. It is extraordinary to think that by 1915 the men from Mariposa were crossing bayonets with the Prussian Guard.
This is also part of the national narrative; this is why we gather every year on November 11.
posted by russilwvong at 4:09 PM on June 30 [1 favorite]


I hope we can continue to evolve as a country, to achieve truth and reconciliation, and find an accordance amongst all our peoples that allows us all to thrive. I think maybe that this Canadian self-image can still play a positive role there, for reasons I've tried to allude to. Perhaps this is a very self-serving reading, but in the Tanya Talaga piece I linked above, I think there is an element of hope. In my own reading, Tanya writes as someone who believes that she can confront Anglo-Canadians about their sins, and if not expect, at least hope to be listened to, and perhaps even have her message acted upon.

I think that non-Indigenous Canadians (not just Anglo-Canadians) should certainly support the effort to locate the unmarked graves at the residential schools, and we should work towards reconciliation, but I think at best we'll end up with something like the Quebec situation, where Quebec nationalists accept Canada as a fact but are unenthusiastic about it.

182 unmarked graves discovered near residential school, this one near Cranbrook, BC.
posted by russilwvong at 4:18 PM on June 30


The way this information is coming out makes it even more shocking. Why are the relatives being forced to do this? Surely the Catholic Church could ask its own people about unmarked graves, and supply the information freely.

Also, Canada (like most other Common Law regimes) has laws regarding burials, and the appropriate treatment of human remains even after burial. Any original offenses may have passed the limit for prosecution, but it seems to me that concealing the existence of a grave, or failing to divulge its location to relatives and tribal authorities ought to be made an offense. That's an ongoing wrong, and prosecution would not be barred by the passage of years.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:24 PM on June 30


Surely the Catholic Church could ask its own people about unmarked graves, and supply the information freely.

A news story linked above says that the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate are handing over their records - they operated 48 residential schools, including the Kamloops residential school. We don't know how carefully deaths were recorded at the time.
posted by russilwvong at 11:11 PM on June 30


Clarification: the unmarked graves near Cranbrook, BC are in a cemetery.

‘We knew it was there’: Former B.C. chief says unmarked graves near Cranbrook need more context
Sophie Pierre, former chief of the St Mary’s Indian Band and a survivor of the school itself, told Global News that while the news of the unmarked graves had a painful impact on her and surrounding communities, they had always known the graves were there.

“There’s no discovery, we knew it was there, it’s a graveyard,” Pierre said. “The fact there are graves inside a graveyard shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.”

According to Pierre, wooden crosses that originally marked the gravesites had been burned or deteriorated over the years. Using a wooden marker at a gravesite remains a practice that continues to this day in many Indigenous communities across Canada.

Radar technology was brought in by the community in an effort to identify those buried in the cemetery and to re-mark the gravesite. ...

The band believes the remains are from the member bands of the Ktunaxa Nation, neighbouring First Nations communities and the community of ʔaq̓am. ...

Pierre acknowledged uncovering those graves is important work, and sheds light on the traumatic history and reality for Indigenous peoples across Canada.

However, she said the findings at the cemetery near Cranbrook isn’t the same as the other findings at other residential schools throughout the country.

“What happened in these other places is these remains have been found not in graveyards, that’s the big difference,” Pierre said. “It’s horrible.”

The concern for Pierre is that the term “unmarked grave” is now so closely associated with victims of Canada’s residential school system.

“To just assume that every unmarked grave inside a graveyard is already tied to a residential school, we’ve got to be a little bit more respectful of our people who are buried in our graveyards,” Pierre said.

The graveyard near Cranbrook originally dates back to Christian missionaries who settled in the area in the early 1800s, prior to the construction of the school. A church and a hospital were also built in the area.

It eventually became a graveyard for the community, which it remains to this day.
posted by russilwvong at 4:12 PM on July 2




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