Above Photo: Christopher Katsarov/ Canadian Press.
While there had been anti-Canada Day marches in the past, this year’s especially large turnout was spurred in part by the discovery of over 1,100 bodies at former residential schools over the past few months.
On July 1, several thousand Indigenous people and settler and immigrant allies answered the call of organizations like Idle No More to protest the celebration of Canada Day and the ongoing genocide of Indigenous peoples. Cancel Canada Day actions took place across the land occupied by the Canadian state, from St. John’s, Newfoundland, in the east, to Victoria, B.C., including a march of thousands to parliament in Ottawa.
July 1 of this year marked the 154th anniversary of Confederation, forming the “Dominion of Canada” out of the colonies of Upper Canada (now Ontario), Lower Canada (now Quebec), Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. From the start, however, the invasion of the West and expropriation of Indigenous peoples loomed large in the minds of the “Fathers of Confederation,” ranging from the reform liberal expansionist George Brown to the initially hesitant, though then supportive, John A MacDonald. This expropriation and invasion was in the interest of Eastern capital, which hoped to turn the West into a captive market for finished goods, as well as a source of primary resources that could be sold to export markets and supply the nascent industry of the East. In pursuance of this goal, which became one of the three planks of MacDonald’s “National Policy,” Indigenous peoples in the West and across the land occupied by Canada were suppressed, expropriated, and subjected to policies of elimination such as the residential schools and enfranchisement.
Though “Dominion Day” was made a federal holiday in 1879, celebration was for the first several decades intermittent and local, with Victoria Day as the main patriotic holiday. However, the latter half of the 20th century saw the federal government begin to promote Dominion Day celebrations as an avenue for promoting British Identity and Canadian Unity. While celebrations shifted over time to promote the myth of a “multi-cultural” Canada, and the name was formally changed to Canada Day after the patriation of the Canadian constitution in 1982, it remains a day for extolling a romanticized history of Canadian progress, unity, equality, and greatness.
In addition to the Canadian state, the Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, and other religious institutions responsible for running the residential schools have been the target of much of the current upsurge. Not only did they carry out and provide the manpower for this system of Indigenous extermination but they continue to back away from taking responsibility or offering restitution to their victims and their descendants. The Catholic Church remains unwilling to apologize for being at the forefront of the residential school program, with the Pope almost comedically refusing to even mention that the Church had a role in his response to the Kamloops discovery.
Further, though they agreed to pay $25 million to survivors in the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, they paid only $4 million before going back to the courts, where they successfully argued they simply had no more money to give. To highlight how absurd this is, $28 million was spent since then on the construction of one new cathedral in Saskatoon alone.
While there had been anti-Canada Day marches in the past, this year’s especially large turnout was spurred in part by the discovery of over 1100 bodies at former residential schools over the past months. Last May, 215 unmarked graves were discovered at the site of Kamloops Indian Residential School, using ground-penetrating radar. In June, 751 more bodies were located near Marieval Indian Residential School, 104 at Brandon Residential School, and 182 discovered in shallow, unmarked graves at Saint Eugene’s Mission School. While these discoveries did not prove anything we did not already know, they have made it a great deal more tangible. At the same time, it has led many to question the official 6000 dead acknowledged by the Canadian government, a deliberately and incredibly conservative figure.
Uniting under the slogan “No Pride in Genocide,” these rallies put forward a panoply of demands. At the forefront was that Canada Day be replaced with a day to honor those whose lives have been lost to the Canadian state, whether Indigenous, Black, POC, women, or LGBTQ+. This was accompanied by demands for the end of settler encroachment and return of Indigenous land, Indigenous sovereignty, a real response to the disappearance and murder of Indigenous women, the end of police brutalization of Indigenous people, that the church take responsibility and offer compensation for the residential schools, and the end of celebration of the settler-colonial state.
At the same time, settler-colonial symbols have been vandalized and destroyed, including a statue of Captain James Cook in Victoria and statues of Queen Victoria and Elizabeth II in Manitoba. In addition, many churches have been defaced, and four in BC have been burned to the ground. All this reflects Indigenous consciousness—the awareness that we live under the boot of a settler-colonial state that demands our elimination, and that this fundamental reality needs to change.
However, changing this reality is impossible under capitalism. Indigenous oppression, expropriation, and elimination are carried out in order to remove us as an obstacle to capitalist expansion and exploitation of the land. While victories can be won in the short term, this oppression cannot end while capitalism remains in place. As a result, we must do all we can to unite the class struggle of the non-Indigenous working class with the decolonial struggles of Indigenous peoples, if we are to eliminate the capitalist system that oppresses and exploits both.