Protesting 150 years of colonialism

Anti-Canada picnic offers an alternative to Canada day celebrations

On the evening of June 29, around 70 people gathered at the Association Recreative Milton Parc to celebrate resistance to Canada as a settler-colonial state. The event, billed as an “Anti-Canada Picnic” was organized by the Quebec Public Interest Research Group (QPIRG) at McGill, CKUT Radio, and Midnight Kitchen. The event highlighted the ongoing violence of colonialism, in light of Canada’s 150th anniversary celebrations, scheduled to take place on July 1. The evening featured two guest speakers, followed by a performance by Odaya, an all-women traditional Indigenous song and drum band.

“We timed [the event] right before Canada Day. […] We wanted to […] emphasize that it is an Anti-Canada event. […] We’re trying to show the history of colonization [and] we want people to know that it’s not all about celebrating Canada’s 150th anniversary, it’s about something deeper than that. […] We need to look at the roots of the violence that has happened here. […] We can’t erase [what happened] […] and always be celebrating something that Indigenous people didn’t agree to, the formation of Canada as a state,” said Caroline Huang, the funding and outreach coordinator of CKUT Radio.

Karihwanoron Mohawk Immersion School

Donations from the event contributed to the Karihwanoron Mohawk Immersion School of Kahnawà:ke, a Mohawk community located south of Montreal. The school provides an alternative education dedicated to the culture, philosophy, and language of the Mohawk.  

The Karihwanoron School relies on annual fundraisers and donations due to lack of funding from the government despite being established for 30 years. Huang explained, “the school can’t get funding from the government because […] their curriculum […] doesn’t follow traditional curriculum in Montreal and broader Quebec.”

“They teach children the history […] of Montreal colonization, like the Oka Crisis, and the history of the Kanien’kehá:ka. In this way it’s […] political in its programming, and doesn’t wash or erase the history that has happened on the land.”

Wentahawi Elijah, a teacher from the Kahnawà:ke Territory, explained the significance of the Karihwanoron Mohawk Immersion School as a revitalization effort for Indigenous language and culture. “[The school] started as a couple of parents discussing […] the fear of where we are, and the endangerments of losing our language and culture.” They continued, “we are trying so hard to get back […] our ways of being […] and who we are.”

Elijah highlighted the importance of engaging in such initiatives during the Canada Day celebrations, “I think what keeps us strong is connecting, working together […] that’s what we’ve lost over the years. How to work together and respect each other.” They continued,  “a lot of us are trying to heal […] over the history, what has happened to us. […] We don’t believe that it’s 150 Canada. We’ve been here already, […] but we can use this opportunity to […] explain our side of the story […] to give us a chance to explain where we stand today from what has happened to us throughout history.”

Reoccupation on Parliament Hill

On the evening of June 28, a group of grassroots Indigenous demonstrators attempted to set up a teepee on Parliament hill as part of a four day long Canada day protest. However, they were stopped at the gates by the police for lacking a permit. According to demonstrators, about nine people were arrested, detained at the Hill, and ordered to stay away from Parliament hill for six months.

Kristin Perry, a recent graduate from environmental science at McGill spoke to the Daily about reoccupation efforts in Ottawa. “All of the land we are on is the traditional territory of Indigenous people […] from generations before anyone came here.” She continued, “People are trying to reclaim space. […] The police […] tried to eject people, but […] if you are trying to erase these people from […] Parliament Hill, you are erasing their right to be there.”  

The group of Indigenous activists were allowed to set up the teepee on the celebration stage later that day, after public outrage on social media. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Sophie Grégoire Trudeau met with four activists inside the teepee the morning of June 30. Speaking in P.E.I the previous day, Trudeau recognized that “Canada has failed Indigenous groups” over the past decades, and that activists must be treated with respect.

The teepee is expected to remain for the event scheduled on July 1. “I really hope that people are supporting their visibility because […] they are still holding the space, […] asking for support” said Perry. “I think it’s really important to recognize what’s not being talked about in these celebrations and why that’s still a problem, especially with the government now talking about reconciliation. [….] They are doing some actions, but really not enough, a lot of it’s just talk. […] They’re not putting in place programs to support people that need to be supported” she said.

“Part of reclaiming the narrative is also saying […] you can’t just say nice things, you […] have to back it up with action. […] If you’re going to talk about reconciliation, this is what it actually means.”  

Racism of Pity

Guest Speaker Stephen Puskas addressed the presence of systemic racism and colonialism in Canada. “There is a new form of mainstream racism in Canada, and it’s this soft silky racism of pity; of sympathy.”

“It’s this racism of going to the theatre, or going to a reading or an art exhibit […] and being subjected to something that makes you feel bad about the Indigenous plight […] to help you sleep at night, then you get to say, […] hey, I feel bad for these people, at least I’m not racist.” 

“But if you get up the next day and you’re not going to do anything about it, then that’s informed racism because no one is doing anything to […] change […] the environment that we live in. No one is going to try […] to combat this type of colonization or racism.”

Puskas encouraged members of the audience to take tangible action towards dismantling colonialism. “I don’t think there is one answer to solve this, […] but there are many ways.” He continued, “I think some of the things we can do is to start approaching the government. Start approaching the Department of Education for example. Sending emails to the Minister of Education, sending emails to the Government of Quebec. […] Hey you need to update your education system. […] You need to update your textbook. You need to have Indigenous people involved in telling their own story.”