Trigger Warning: This piece discusses the history and presence of colonial violence against Indigenous Peoples in Canada. With mentions of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women, Women-Aligned Folks, Two-Spirit Folks and Gender Diverse Folks, Eugenics and forced sterilization. Kidnapping and internment of children in Residential Schools
If you would like to support the Indigenous Peoples of Canada, please scroll to the bottom of the piece to a list of some resources and places to donate.
What came to your mind when you read that? Was it some funny stereotype of polite people holding their Tim Hortons coffee saying ‘out’ with a twang? Or maybe you just pictured it as America, but not as bad?
That’s all fair; Canada’s got an excellent reputation across the globe having spent their existence in The States’ shadow. Making themselves out to be the more open and accepting version of the US, especially the past few years. In the face of Trump’s presidency and increasingly bold white nationalists, it’s not difficult to see the positives.
We’ve got universal healthcare, comparatively cheaper universities and colleges, gun control. TV shows like How I Met Your Mother making it out to be this goofy joke of a country. The Handmaid’s Tale has spent seasons of their airtime painting a picture of this beautiful bastion of tolerance and safety. Where people fleeing oppression and fascism can find peace. Hell, even people in real life have attempted it to such an extent that people crashed the Canadian Immigrations website.
But if you look hard enough, the polite smiles turn into barred teeth. Pay a little more attention. You’ll notice the maple syrup tastes of polluted water from boil adversaries.
Years of good press, quirky stereotypes and nowadays, Justin Trudeau’s flowery words. A thin pretty veneer, hiding the truth that Canada is no differet. The same stolen land. Built with the labour of enslaved Indigenous peoples and Black folks, No different than the US.
The Europeans’ diseases brought onto their shores killed an estimated 57% of Canada’s Indigenous population. Picture that for a second, over half of the people you know, gone. Dead. Not a Thanos snap either. Those who survived had to see their loved ones succumb as they fought desperately to survive.
And things haven’t improved all that much since. Indigenous Canadians were able to weather the storm that was disease. But colonial violence and white supremacy are evils they still have to face for centuries to come.
The following century and a half were all about drawing up borders. Chipping away at Indigenous ownership of land, committing more violence against Indigenous peoples. Especially Indigenous women, women aligned folks and children.
The police, medical professionals, Church, the Canadian Government set out to do everything humanly possible to “kill the Indian”. Both figuratively and literally.
Indigenous folks with uteruses faced eugenics and sterilization without their consent. With cases spanning the decades and even in 2018. In recent years, in the province of Saskatchewan, it came tro light that many Indigenous folks with uteruses were victims of these practices. Doctors would sterilize them during active labour or immediately postpartum, without their informed consent.
The Canadian government only acknowledged the issue in 2018. It said they would make amends for their complicity to the affected Indigenous women. Only after they brought a class-action lawsuit before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Also in 2018, the UN Committee Against Torture recognized the actions of the government as acts of torture.
But what did it yield? Nothing. The House of Commons also accepted that this was an act of genocide. But they passed no motions and made no amends. Instead, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged that by 2023, they would commit an added 300 million for reproductive healthcare services globally.
It’s the same lack of energy he and the Canadian Government have given for decades now. Leading to the creation of May 5th. The National Day of Awareness and Action for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Gender diverse people. As a call to action to inform and create collectivist action to protect our Indigenous siblings.
Much of the same was done for the people who were stolen from their families and institutionalized in Residential Schools. The last of which closed in 1996, a mere 25 years ago.
Together the Canadian government and Catholic Church created these facilities to hold Indigenous children. Who were forcibly separate them from their families for the sole purpose of assimilation. In their own words, “to kill the Indian in the child.”. The Canadian government shed their crocodile tears and issued their apologies in 2008. The Catholic Church still refuses too. But that doesn’t change the reality that they succeeded at their mission.
These “schools” cut off Indigenous children from their cultures, their communities, their practices. Their status as “Indians” was stripped off them too. Made to follow white supremacist and catholic standards of living.
Many who were forced to attend were abused in every sense of the word. Experimented with their informed consent. Leaving scars seen and unseen that may never heal. Many children who died because of the mistreatment and abuse were written off as kids who went “missing”. Presumably to never be found, but truth finds a way.
This past week we learned of the horrific news that 215 Indigenous children were found in a mass grave at Kamloops residential school in British Columbia.
Let that sit with you. Two hundred and fifteen children. Stolen from their homes and loved ones—made to live through inhumane conditions because of white supremacy and fanatical religious beliefs. Met with more empty words, white tears and refusal to search the other “Residential Schools” for more possible mass graves.
Why? Because they’re a bit preoccupied with separating even more Indigenous children from their families.
Despite making only 4.9% of Canada’s population. Indigenous people are far more likely to face separation from their parents and guardians as children. With over half of the children in foster care being Indigenous. Despite only being a fraction of the child population in the country.
This is a problem the Canadian government has acknowledged themselves. Demonstrated by the picture above, which comes from the Canadian Government’s own website. It also recognizes that 38% of Indigenous children also live in poverty.
It seems laughable.
That the very same week The Handmaid’s Tale dropped an episode where Canada was the saviour. Helping a woman fleeing an unjust government who controlled her fertility, trafficked her body, and stole her child. The curtain is pulled even further back. Showing the truth of Canada’s crimes against its Indigenous peoples. Bringing to light how Canada has historically and present violated peoples right to consent, bodily autonomy, trafficked in their children.
With reproductive rights being chipped away in America. People jokingly and seriously talking about fleeing to Canada. The Media painting an idealistic world of what lies in “The True North, strong and free”. It honestly feels like a sick joke.
I could go on and on. Talk about all Indigenous peoples who don’t have clean drinking water, despite Trudeau’s promises to eliminate the water advisories by March 2021.
Despite the reality that Canada is “the Land Of Lakes,” possessing 20% of the world’s freshwater.
I could rant about:
- Over policing of Black folks
- Canada having the Anti-Asian Hate Crime capital of North America
- The rising rate of Islamophobic Hate Crimes
- Quebec’s ban on religious attire like Turbans, Hijabs, and Kippahs at work
- Ku Klux Klan’s upcoming 100th anniversary of being active in Canada
But we don’t have enough time for all of that in just one article. That’s a couple of semesters’ worth of history lessons and unpacking.
Let’s wrap it up with this.
No matter how good the PR spin is, a tiger doesn’t change its stripes. A colonial settler state doesn’t stop violently colonizing. Nations built on theft from their Indigenous peoples. With the labour of the oppressed, it will never be good or just.
Canada, no matter what it’s portrayed to be, will never be the Liberal Promised Land.
It will only ever be a gluttonous beast. That won’t stop until it’s been abolished or until it has eaten us all.
But there are always ways we can do our part and help.
- Read more about the issues Indigenous Canadians face. Here, in the Call To Action by the Truth & Reconciliation Commission’s Report.
- Donate, educate yourself and support Native Women and women aligned folks in Canada
- Learn about what happened at Residential Schools and how you can be better equipped to support Indigenous Folks
- Donate to the Residential School Survivors Society
- Call on the Canadian Government to search all residential schools. To try and bring home and honour the dead
Keshav Kant, aka Mx. KantEven, is a med student tuned Executive Director of Off Colour!
You’ve probably seen her on Twitter and TikTok, both @MxKantEven, or caught her work on Off Colour's many channels.
From consulting on films & shows, manuscript review, conducting interviews, or hosting podcasts & panels, if there is some way to bring sensitivity and authenticity to diversity, inclusion and equity conversations, Keshav will be there.