A call to action for Canada Day

Dear editor,

There’s something on my mind today. I’m going to take some time to tell you about this.

As I walked in my neighbourhood tonight I was delighted to see that very few people have “Happy Canada Day” signs. You might wonder why I would say this; my answer is 751.

751. This is the number of Indigenous bodies suspected to be buried at the Cowississ First Nation at the Marieval Indian Residential School site in Saskatchewan. Most are unmarked and previously unreported.

215, the number of bodies identified at the Indian Residential School site in Kamloops, BC, 27 days ago.

104, the number of graves believed to be on the site of the former Brandon Indian Residential School in Brandon, Manitoba.

In my community there’s a school site (St. Margaret’s Indian Residential School) and I expect there are unmarked burial sites/graves there. I’ve heard stories about that place that make me despair for mankind. I currently live about 2 km from that place – St Margaret’s Indian Residential School. The school ran until 1974, when I was ten years old. I remember new faces showing up at school right around that time and I wonder, did these kids come from the school?

My point is that this is all really, really close to me. Many aunts, uncles, cousins and a grandparent went to that place, and some of them came out with a grade three or four education at best. However, they’re my people, through their experiences I’m connected by many stories, like filaments that all lead to my heart. Their trauma is my trauma, their pain and shame and sadness. It’s a lot to sort through, even in a lifetime. That’s enough about that; I’m not asking people to fix my problems. I can take care of that with the right supports, which I will identify.

If you call yourself an ally and/or a Canadian this is for you. This is the ideal time for a “call to action” for settler folks. As someone who facilitates workshops for educators about a variety of Indigenous issues and history, I suggest that people – settlers- learn and reflect. Here are some ideas:

  • Look at Canada’s history with Indigenous people and think about why those issues are a problem that still exists.
  • Make sure the term “intergenerational trauma” factors in your research.
  • thinks about how you benefit socially, financially, and in terms of personal freedoms and human rights.

I’d like to suggest that now is not the time to be asking Indigenous people to do anything for you, with you, or to answer questions about this.

We are tired. We are grieving. This is my personal opinion, snd I speak for nobody but myself.

Oh, and if you insist on “celebrating” Canada right now, you are part of the problem.

Will you take those flags down? The remains of over a thousand of my people’s children are crying out to us.

You, who would pull over for a funeral procession, (because it’s etiquette), could you take down your Canada Day sign and your flag?

Could you cancel celebrations in respect for my relatives?

Don’t put my community’s flag up. That’s performative (just to look good) but it does nothing.

You could just pause, learn, think.

Give it time. Let it sit.

We (Indigenous folx) have been sitting for a long time.

JoAnne Formanek Gustafson

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