In my last column, I asked readers to become an ally of our Indigenous neighbours and now I am asking people to hear why we are being asked to cancel Canada Day or at least show our support to the communities we live and work beside here on Manitoulin Island.
We were all horrified and saddened by the news of the 215 children found in an unmarked grave at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C. Over the last couple of weeks since that news, I have watched people on social media express their outrage and grief that such a thing could have happened. It gave me hope that perhaps we were turning a corner in our relationship with First Nations communities on Manitoulin.
Perhaps people would research and talk to Indigenous people about their history and just what Canada had done to them. However, some of those same people who had so eloquently spoken of their sadness at the finding of the 215 children could not take their support one step further when asked to not celebrate on Canada Day. Many of those people were outraged they were being asked to not celebrate this country in the same way as before. After reading many of the comments on What’s Doin Manitoulin, I posted this:
“Let’s take a look at what First Nations are asking us to do. They are asking us as a show of support to cancel celebrations for one day of a country that tried to destroy their culture and their people. They are asking that we, who were horrified by the finding of 215 children in an unmarked grave, show that things need to change by standing with them for one (day). They are not asking us to denounce Canada as our country, they are asking us to give up fireworks and cake. I for one do not think it is too much to ask.”
Many people agreed with the post, but many more could not take what they felt about the children being found one step further by supporting this request by their neighbours. Remember, we have neighbours that we grew up with, went to school with, became friends with, that are in deep mourning over this and it is beyond disgusting to expect them to get over it and move on. This is also the tip of the iceberg: it is believed that many more children will be found in unmarked graves at schools all over the country.
United Chiefs and Council of Mnidoo Mnising (UCCM) have asked us to not celebrate Canada Day in the usual way. Perhaps our municipalities could show support to their Indigenous neighbours by creating a different Canada Day this year. An article on CBC quoted Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands Mayor Al McNiven saying they hadn’t been asked directly to do this. My question is, why do you have to wait to be asked? Why can’t municipalities be progressive and show their support? First Nations shouldn’t have to ask for support in their grief. It should be a given.
On Monday, Assiginack Township cancelled Canada Day celebrations as requested by Indigenous communities on the Island. Victoria, B.C., and Wilmot, Ont. have cancelled celebrations and will find ways to show their support.
UCCM is asking us to take the day and learn about your history, learn the truth about residential schools. Although some of the posts on social media were ignorant, many were asking good questions and showing a willingness to learn.
As one Indigenous woman said, “wear orange, write your MP, make an effort to learn whose territory you live on. Be an ally.”
Remember, we are not being asked to cancel Canada, we are being asked to cancel one day of celebrations. Let’s send a message to our government and show our support to our neighbours. Again, it is not too much to ask.
Ruth Farquhar is a freelance writer based on Manitoulin Island.