By Issa Kixen
Special to the Canadian Anti-Hate Network
Issa Kixen is an Anishinaabe Two Spirit comedian, producer, and writer whose roots lay in Couchiching First Nation, Ontario. They have travelled across Canada and the USA as a comedian and improviser. They use comedy as a tool in dealing with racism, homophobia and sexism. They are the co-founder/producer of WOKE Comedy Hour, featured on APTN’s The Laughing Drum, a member of the Bannock Babes drag collective and they are the executive producer for Minogondaagan: the good voice podcast and Tales from the Ripped podcast.
It is no secret, nor has it ever been, that Canada was built by genocide. There is no other word to describe what happened to the Indigenous people of Turtle Island. It was genocide, pure and simple.
We are in the process of unearthing thousands of bodies that were disposed of in mass graves. They were meant to be forgotten but the problem is that we never forgot. Our elders told us stories of bodies being thrown into mass grave sites with no ceremony, no sacred fires, no medicines for people who were mourning the loss, and no markers to put up so that others knew bodies were there.
They were meant to be erased, but through the benefits of oral history we knew they were there. Our elders witnessed it all. They told us and we knew -- but anyone we told refused to hear.
So far, 1,325 bodies have been revealed, from five schools. We still have over 50 more schools to go through. These are the stories our survivors carried. They held this knowledge with them for so long that we are only scratching the surface.
There are some people saying, “this happened so long ago! Why do I have to pay for the sins of my grandfathers? I didn’t do this!” So, if you’re non-Indigenous and shaking your head at that question, I have an idea. Let’s look at some of the common responses by non-Indigenous people, and dig a little deeper.
“Why should we cancel Canada Day? It isn't going to solve any of these problems.”
Sure, you can celebrate with friends and family (it is a global pandemic and you should not be having big parties anyways; that’s just the responsible thing to do) but let me ask you a question: Would it be appropriate to hold a big party with fireworks next to a funeral?
Probably not, unless you are the biggest insensitive asshole to ever walk the earth. We are mourning and yes, you may not have been a part of the genocide, but you most definitely benefit from the genocide of Indigenous people.
All of our western systems are built off of racism and the near extinction of us. The western world caters to you. It’s the reason why Black and Indigenous people make up most of the incarcerated population, and why we make up most of the child welfare and social assistance cases.
“You people need to get over this! It was a long time ago!”
That statement is simply untrue. The last residential school closed in 1996. That’s only 25 years ago. It’s very hard for a collective group to “get over” an atrocity as it still happens today, just under the guise of different systems.
Child welfare was the system the government used to keep taking Indigenous children from their families, and putting them directly into no-Indigenous homes. This is happening right now as we live and breathe and it has not really changed due to the thriving racist system.
“We can’t definitively say these children were murdered. They may have died of smallpox, tuberculosis, or any other plague from that time. Non-Indigenous children died during that time too.”
You’re right! Gold Star! A lot of people died from illness during the time of residential schools. The major difference being, most children died with their parents at their side and with a proper burial. Non-Indigenous children were given proper medical intervention in an attempt to save them.
Our elders tell us that children were left without medical assistance. There was no treatment of open sores, no pain relief, and no proper nutrition. These children died slow, excruciating deaths and were often piled into a room with other sick children until they would finally succumb to illness.
But that isn’t the entire truth, is it? We know that those who were tasked with the sole job of keeping these children safe at school were also the ones who abused them. Most of these children were raped, beaten, humiliated or murdered. I’m not going to include accounts of survivors recalling these moments. You can look them up of your own accord.
“Okay, so bad shit happened in the past. How is cancelling Canada Day doing any good? What else can we do?”
I’m glad you asked! There are things you can do to celebrate the fact that you live on stolen lands while Indigenous people are still here.
- You can volunteer with Indigenous elders and listen to their stories. There are so many Indigenous-led initiatives that are doing a lot to change the path in which Indigenous youth are trekking upon.
Donate money to, or volunteer with, your local Bear Clan. They are a group of volunteers who patrol the streets, provide safe walks home, clean up drug paraphernalia, and provide food hampers to families in need.
If you can’t volunteer due to work restrictions or other barriers, you can always donate to your local Indigenous-led groups. Search for some in your hometown.
- Spend your Canada Day learning about the land you are on. Who was there before you? Maybe your child’s school didn’t provide a comprehensive education on what residential schools were and what effect they had on the people who attended. Teach your children.
You can still barbecue and enjoy the summer. We just want the day to be used for reflection, and for us to be able to mourn the dead children we always knew were there.
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This article is part of a project which has been made possible in part thanks to the the Canadian Race Relations Foundation and Sun Life Financial.