(Content Warning: This newsletter contains distressing content about residential schools and systemic racism. Support for survivors and their families is available 24-7 at the Indian Residential School Crisis Line, 1-866-925-4419.)
In a story for Chatelaine this week, Mohawk and Anishinaabe writer and producer Kim Wheeler discussed trying to make her white adoptive sister understand the horrors of residential schools. “While this week she is completely outraged, I wonder if she’ll go back to her comfortable life after stories about the 215 children fade from the media—if, like many Canadians, she will put this out of her head,” Wheeler writes. “But I, and over 1.6 million Indigenous people in Canada, can’t turn away because we carry this pain in our DNA.”
Canada, and organized Christianity operating within the country, has been inflicting that pain for hundreds of years. And contemporary Canadian policies and crises continue to be rooted in colonialism. It’s not like everything magically improved once the last residential school shut down in 1996.
Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc First Nation had to rely on a local government grant to access the ground-penetrating radar that found the unmarked graves; why had the federal government not committed to searching for these lost children themselves? Why do they continue to fight residential school survivors and Indigenous childrens’ advocates in court?
The fight for clean drinking water on remote First Nations communities — a literal human right — is a result of colonial policies that haven’t been fully dismantled. The drug poisoning crisis in Canada disproportionately affects Indigenous people, due to the legacies of intergenerational trauma. The criminalization of land defenders is a result of governmental policies that entitle businesses to land that has been looked after by Indigenous peoples for thousands of years.
There’s yet more interlinked issues too: the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, the Sixties Scoop, the disproportionate rates of Indigenous children in foster care and incarcerated adults, and racism in health care to name but a few.
Melissa Moses, women’s representative of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, stated this week, “Indigenous peoples have always known the truth of Canada and its deliberate tools of oppression. From the seizure of our land, the theft of our children, and the murders and disappearances of our women – these have been willful and conscious actions and inactions intended to dispossess us of our lands and territories and assimilate us into colonial society.”
The mainstream media was slow to pick up the Kamloops Residential School tragedy as an important story. And politicians were bad at talking meaningfully about the event. Liberal MP Ken Hardie encouraged Canadians to read Indigenous authors, which, as Haudenosaunee writer Alicia Elliott explained, “was a shameful response — the kind of response that seeks to avoid facing a deeper truth. As an Indigenous author, I don’t believe my work, and the work of my peers, should be used to deal with this tragedy. To suggest that is to rely on the distinctly neoliberal notion that representation in art can somehow act as a stand-in for justice and desperately needed change.”
So what does justice and change look like?
To start, The Tyee has put up a couple of resources to learn more about residential schools — one is an excerpt from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 2015 report on children being buried away from home, while the other explores the work of Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce, who in 1922 described the appalling conditions in residential schools as “a national crime.” The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 calls to action remains a critical read, as does the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls’ final report and its 231 calls for justice.
Yet there’s also a world of human joy and beauty and knowledge that gets flattened when entire communities are only listened to when they speak of trauma. And, as Kanyen’keha:ka/Scottish journalist Haley Lewis reminds us, “The fact that Indigenous people have to keep bringing this up, to keep reminding settler-Canadians what happened and continues to happen while providing specific examples of our mistreatment is … exhausting.”
Wheeler asks non-Indigenous people not to forget: to see this not as an isolated tragedy, but as part of a larger pattern. We have to remember. And we have to stand united not in sympathy, but solidarity. Remember the 215 children lost. Remember the countless more we don’t know about. And remember that we must challenge and oppose policies that keep these colonial legacies alive today.
Stay safe, and stay angry.
This Week From Passage
“As Quebec Reopens, Don’t Let François Legault Off The Hook.” Robert Hiltz.
The public can have short memories. As the vaccine roll-out speeds up and pundits herald the success of hot vax summer, it’s easy to forget that politicians have made decisions that cost people lives. Quebec is home to around a quarter of Canada’s population, but saw 44 per cent of its COVID-19 deaths. We can’t forget how Legault and his government left long-term care residents to die; we have a duty to hold them accountable.
“Skyrocketing Canadian House Prices Further Entrench Wealth.” V. S. Wells.
House prices going up sucks for buyers. But it doesn’t suck for everyone equally. If you’re a buyer with family money, chances are your parents own property — and their house price going up means they’ve gained a lot of wealth by doing nothing, which they can then pass onto you. More expensive homes means not only that fewer people can afford to buy houses, but also that the wealth that does exist stays in the same small groups.
“Exposing How Pro-Israel Groups Maufacture Antisemtism Narratives.” Davide Mastracci.
Using two protests as case studies, Davide describes a six-step pipeline that allows pro-Israel groups to use claims of antisemitism to delegitimize anti-Zionist protests. The protest causes statements from pro-Israel organizations, which prompt statements from politicians. That gets picked up by the media, and then pro-Israel organizations create a blacklist, and write the event into the historical record.
“How Organized Labour Can Support The Palestinian Cause.” Adam D. K. King.
The international labour movement has rallied around Palestine, recognizing the right of Palestinian self-determination as intrinsically related to what unions fight for. Adam takes stock of why organized labour is an important bargaining force, what workers within Palestine and Israel have done, and how international worker solidarity is helping the cause.
“Canada’s Military Will Never Properly Address Sexual Assault.” Nora Loreto.
The story of Bobbie Bees is a troubling one. They were abused as a child by another minor, who in turn had been abused by a military priest. Bees spent years trying to achieve justice. But, as Nora illustrates, they were stymied at every level by a system that refuses to see sexual abuse as a systemic issue. The military is rotten to the core; endless reviews won’t fix an inherently broken organization.
Elsewhere In Canada
“Here Is What Everyone In Canada Needs To Know About How Collective Bargaining Really Works.” Liz Walker and Shanice Regis-Wilkins, PressProgress.
Are labour unions having a moment in Canada, or do I just follow a lot of people who talk about them? Either way, this is a straightforward guide to collect bargaining in Canada, defining some key terms, and explaining how unions organize and what they do for their members. Keep this handy for the next time someone you know tries to spread disinformation about unions or organized labour.
“Some Of Canada’s Biggest Companies Saw Record Profits During The Pandemic.” D. T. Cochrane, Canadian Dimension.
New research from Canadians for Tax Fairness discovered that of 142 Canadian companies with profits of over $100 million, 50 had record profits in 2020. Many of these companies also paid taxes below the statutory corporate income tax rate — and seven collected the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy. Shareholders gained billions of dollars, even as millions of Canadians were suffering COVID-19-induced financial hardship. We love late stage capitalism!
Around The World
“‘We Take Care Of Travelers’: Inside The Vaccine Tourism Of Brazil’s Superrich.” Isabela Dias, Mother Jones.
Vaccine tourism can only exist in a world where there are both global wealth inequalities, and national inequalities. How else can you explain the rich of the Global South booking vacations to get their COVID-19 shots while their countries languish under uneven vaccine distribution? Global pandemics need global solutions. But solutions need to look like co-ordinated plans to undo vaccine apartheid, not mega-wealthy individuals looking out for themselves.
“Pedro Castillo Can Help End Neoliberalism In Peru.” Farid Kahhat interviewed by Nicolas Allen, Jacobin.
Peru goes to the poll on June 6, and they may be poised to elect left-wing trade unionist Pedro Castillo to the presidency. Farid Kahhat is a columnist for Peru’s El Comercio newspaper, and here he explains why Castillo’s rival Keiko Fujimori is so problematic, the electoral base rallying behind Castillo, and the larger political scene of Peru.
Ideas & Culture
“If The Wuhan Lab-Leak Hypothesis Is True, Expect A Political Earthquake.” Thomas Frank, The Guardian.
While the people who wrote the ‘lab leak paper’ are “demonstrably batshit,” as someone on Twitter put it, and the theory is often used as a Sinophobic cudgel, Thomas Frank argues that if it were true, it would have major ramifications in the West. Frank believes the public would become more critical of science, NGOs and universities. And, if it turned out they were concealing facts from the public, it could entirely destabilize the system.
“Stripped.” Karlan Modeste, Ricochet.
Mamadi Ill Fara Camara was pulled over by Montreal police for allegedly using his cellphone while driving, only for a stranger to appear and suddenly assault the police officer. Camara called the police to report the crime — but was arrested and charged with disarming, assault and attempted murder of a police officer. He was strip-searched and held in custody for six days. Lawyer Karlan Modeste asks us to think about anti-Black racism and policing in physical, visceral terms. Six days may not sound so bad to an onlooker, but that’s six days of being wrongfully denied your liberties — with no idea when you may be freed.
One Last Thing
The Discourse and IndigiNews have collaboratively put together a comprehensive guide on what non-Indigenous people can do to support Indigenous people grieving. There are seven points on the list, from donating money to calling elected politicians to attending cross-community memorial events.
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