Action to End Colonialism in Kingston and Canada
June 13, 2021
The discovery of the unmarked graves of 215 Indigenous children, some as young as 3 years old, on the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School in BC has shaken Canadians. This stark reminder of our colonial past and present demands action, now. For generations, Canadian governments tried to extinguish Indigenous peoples and their cultures. Ending colonialism, healing, and reconciling the diversity of peoples here on Turtle Island today is a tremendous challenge, but also an opportunity to follow the lead of the Indigenous peoples who were here before us.
Colonialism Past and Present
My ancestors left India as indentured labourers, for the British Colony of Guyana, where my father grew up in deep poverty. When I was 11 years old, we moved to Thunder Bay. I lived and worked for years in Northern Ontario. I’ve seen the devastating violence and inequalities endured by Indigenous peoples in Canada. I have a unique perspective on racism and colonialism.
I was nonetheless shocked by the callous drive-by murder of Barbara Kentner in Thunder Bay in 2017. When Brayden Bushby was sentenced to 8 years in prison this past week for throwing a trailer hitch out of the back of a pickup truck at Kentner, the judge called his actions “an affront to all women”; women such as Tina Fontaine in Manitoba and in a systemic way, Joyce Echaquan in Quebec. Indigenous women are not safe in Canada. The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) taught Canadians about the violence that Indigenous people have been experiencing for generations, that continues to this day (the TRC report showed that at least 3,123 Indigenous children died at 150 residential schools across Canada and the actual number is likely much higher, as we will learn from investigations in the months to come).
Taking Urgent Action
Urgent action is needed to deal with colonialism. Actions must be driven by the demands and needs of Indigenous people themselves. Apologies and promises are just a beginning. The Liberals have failed to act urgently; to make this country safe and redress injustices. The NDP has detailed policies on how to shift towards a genuine nation-to-nation approach, which needs to include Indigenous grass-roots and civil society voices. I wish to emphasize the policies I think are most important:
- Immediately fund infrastructure to provide safe drinking water and sustainable housing in every Indigenous community – these are human rights.
- Compensate all residential school survivors. Stop adversarial legal battles with survivors over this issue.
- Settle Indigenous land claims through nation-to-nation dialogues, not through the courts.
- Move forward on all Calls to Action made by the TRC, and the calls to justice in the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls final report; not just the easier ones. Only a small number have been acted upon to date.
- Ensure self-determination and self-governance for Indigenous peoples.
Action in Kingston
Here in Kingston we live upon the traditional territories of the Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee peoples. Our City Council is holding a special meeting on Wednesday, June 16 at 5:00pm, to decide what to do about the City Park statue of Sir John A Macdonald, who professed white supremacy and orchestrated many assaults on Indigenous peoples, including setting up residential schools in the late-19th century. Please share your views on this important issue with your City Councillor and the Mayor.
I believe it has long been clear that we need to rename the elementary school and roadway bearing Macdonald’s name in Kingston. We must take the lead from Indigenous people, such as those now protesting in City Park, by removing the statue of Macdonald immediately, as they did in Picton last week. The site can be remade in a way that tells the truth about our history; about Macdonald and the unmarked graves of Indigenous children across this land; in a way that gives people hope for justice as we take concrete steps to end colonialism, towards deep reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.
“More than 200 bodies found at Indigenous school in Canada”, The Associated Press, May 31, 2021; https://www.cbsnews.com/news/215-bodies-found-canada-indigenous-school/
“Man who killed Indigenous woman with trailer hitch in Thunder Bay sentenced to 8 years”, The Canadian Press, Colin Perkel Posted June 7, 2021; https://globalnews.ca/news/7927177/brayden-bushby-sentenced-indigenous-woman-trailer-hitch-thunder-bay/
Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, June 2019; https://www.mmiwg-ffada.ca/final-report/
Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action, 2015; http://trc.ca/assets/pdf/Calls_to_Action_English2.pdf
Where are the Children buried? Dr. Scott Hamilton, Lakehead University, May, 2021; https://ehprnh2mwo3.exactdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/AAA-Hamilton-cemetery-FInal.pdf
“National Action Plan and Federal Pathway Will Not End Genocide of Indigenous Women and Girls”, Dr. Pamela Palmater, Chair in Indigenous Governance, Ryerson University, June 3, 2021; https://pampalmater.com/2021/06/national-action-plan-and-federal-pathway-will-not-end-genocide-of-indigenous-women-and-girls/
Calls to Action Accountability: A 2020 Status Update on Reconciliation, Evan Jewell and Ian Mosby, Yellowhead Institute, December 2020; https://yellowheadinstitute.org/trc/
“Indigenous group calls for removal of Kingston’s Sir John A. Macdonald statue”, Global News, Ladna Mohamed, June 11, 2021; https://globalnews.ca/news/7941349/indigenous-kingston-john-a-macdonald-statue/
“Macdonald statue removed from Picton’s Main Street”, The Kingston Whig Standard, Bruce Bell, June 09, 2021; https://www.thewhig.com/news/macdonald-statue-banished-from-picton-main-street