M’CHIGEENG – The discovery of the 215 children in unmarked graves near the location of a former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia is shocking. At the same time, it is not surprising for Indigenous peoples, including the Anishinaabe of Mnidoo Mnising. It is just one of the many horrors brought on by Canada’s colonialist policies, say the United Chiefs and Councils of Mnidoo Mnising (UCCMM).
“Everyone needs to recognize what has happened to Indigenous people over the years,” stated Patsy Corbiere, chair of the UCCMM and chief of Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation, in a statement released by the UCCMM last week.
“Canada Day cannot be a day of celebration for us. It is instead a day of profound sadness for us. We are in mourning for the Indigenous children killed by Canada’s system,” Chief Corbiere says. “Canada Day is a painful reminder of the harm Canada has done and continues to do to Indigenous peoples and Indigenous children. Even today, Canada continues its colonialist policies, including fighting against the fair and equitable treatment of Indigenous people and by failing to provide Indigenous communities access to safe drinking water.”
“Despite the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which investigated the residential school system and its impacts, a large majority of Canadians say they were mostly unaware of the harm caused by Canada’s residential schools until the discovery in Kamloops. This must change,” the UCCMM release continues.
“We, the Anishinaabe of Mnidoo Mnising, ask that Canadians use Canada Day to educate themselves about the residential school system and its impacts. We encourage them to start by reading the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and thinking about how they can work to implement the commission’s calls to action,” the release says. “We ask our neighbours not to celebrate Canada Day. Instead, we ask them to educate themselves on the true history of Canada and to support us in our mourning by wearing an orange shirt to commemorate the lives of all our children. We also encourage you all to stand together with us in holding the government responsible and addressing the historical injustice.
“As chiefs, we don’t want to scare off people that they shouldn’t celebrate Canada Day,” Chief Corbiere told the The Expositor. “But what we would like people to do is become aware of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls to action and to educate themselves on this.”
“First Nations people are mourning across the country for these kids. Even if these 215 children had died of disease, the proper thing that should have taken place is that they should have been taken home to their family where they could be buried, you don’t just throw them in a hole,” said Chief Corbiere.
Chief Corbiere continued, “Premier Doug Ford and his government announced that $10 million is being provided to investigate all residential schools in Ontario, but this will take time, and the Catholic church is not releasing the names of these (215) children. These children are from the Creator, and they shouldn’t have been discarded. This shouldn’t happen to any child regardless of race or nationality.”
Chief Corbiere said at the Chiefs of Ontario annual general meeting last week, which takes in 144 chiefs, and a meeting of the Lake Huron chiefs, which takes in another 21, “the chiefs agreed we need to take our issue to the Assembly of First Nations in two weeks. We will be putting together a resolution calling for a hearing on what took place at the residential school in Kamloops and for the government to conduct an inquiry and take action and responsibility.”
“An investigation needs to be taken of every residential school,” continued Chief Corbiere. “And an inquiry should take place. No doubt there was a lot of abuse at the residential schools. And even now with survivors or family members of those who were in these schools, you see the sadness in these people. The impacts and the hurt continues. People have to think, ‘what if the government took my children, to destroy their culture, language and traditions’.”
Chief Corbiere pointed out, “we as First Nations people celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day, but we don’t celebrate Canada Day. We are not saying non-Native people shouldn’t celebrate Canada Day, this is not an issue of hatred or racism on Manitoulin Island, but people should recognize and educate themselves on what has happened to First Nations people over the years.”
In response to the request to not hold Canada Day celebrations, “the Little Current BIA (Business Improvement Area) has decided to cancel all activities that were planned for July 1,” said Aline Taillefer, BIA president. “We will instead be supporting our friends, family and neighbours here on Mnidoo Mnising and all First Nations communities by wearing orange shirts on July 1 to commemorate the lives of children lost or impacted by residential schools. We ask you all to do the same.”
A statement by the Township of Assiginack this past Monday read, “Mayor and council have decided to cancel Canada Day events in Assiginack this year out of respect for the request made by the Indigenous communities on Manitoulin Island.”
The Town of Gore Bay will be discussing the request at its general government committee meeting on Wednesday.