By Chad Ingram
Canada Day falls this week and maybe this is a good year to not celebrate.
Maybe this is a good year to reflect on Canada’s true history, its true identity, and think about the ways it can become better, and live up to its full potential.
In late May, the unmarked graves of 215 Indigenous children were confirmed on the property of a former residential school in Kamloops. B.C. Since then, more unmarked graves have been discovered at another five former residential school sites, bringing the total to 1,323 as of press time. That’s from six sites. Consider that there were 139 residential school sites across the country.
Canada Day of course marks the anniversary of confederation in 1867, and maybe this is a good year for us all to think deeply about what was going on in Canada at that time. Confederation was the solidification of the colonization of what is now the country we call home. It’s past time that Canadians – and, in particular, white Canadians – come to grips with the fact that colonization was racist, violent, and genocidal. It’s important for us all to acknowledge and accept that many of the heroes of Canadian mythology, including the so-called Fathers of Confederation, statues of whom adorn every part of the country, were architects and willing overseers of a system that killed thousands of Indigenous children. It’s important for us to all acknowledge and accept that many of these men used their positions to empower and enrich others who looked like them – that is, other white men.
It’s important for people like myself – a middle-class, white man – to acknowledge and accept that while I obviously personally played no part in this history, I have personally benefitted from generations of a system designed to help people who look like me succeed.
And this is where things get really uncomfortable for white Canadians. It’s unsettling, and difficult to digest.
It’s the reason some people get upset when statues of Sir John A. MacDonald are taken down (or in the case of Egerton Ryerson, toppled and beheaded), or when institutions that bear the names of these men are changed.
It’s important also for all of us to acknowledge and accept that racist, colonial behaviour continues toward Indigenous people in this country to this day, whether that’s through national indifference to missing and murdered Indigenous women, the decades-long atrocity of unclean drinking water on reserves, or failure to act on the Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
And for those who contend that ripping down statutes of figures such as MacDonald amounts to the erasing of history, I’d posit this: You can’t erase history. Even if you try to bury it. Look at the ever-growing tally of unmarked graves being discovered on the grounds of places that were once called “schools.”
History will find you.