ack in 2018, I was with a co-worker in downtown Tkaronto providing a workshop to young students for Indigenous Peoples Day. As we made our way through the school, the national anthem started to play, and I watched all the students in their classrooms stand with obedience. In this moment, the rules of the national anthem reinvaded my mind as I debated what I should do next.
The unwritten rules of the national anthem are: Don’t walk. Don’t sit. Don’t slouch. Don’t giggle. Stand tall. Be quiet. Be still. And most importantly, be obedient.
While growing up, these unwritten rules targeted many children, resulting in them being sent to the principal’s office to be punished, as this was a sign of disrespect. I remember one of my peers was always targeted for having the giggles. The national anthem represents freedom, but consistently, children are not free and are not respected.
Western settler society normalizes seeing children as property without autonomy or self-determination. In fact, within the educational system, children are often not involved in the decision-making about their education. You are forced to learn in a classroom, about the same required subjects, from the same immediate people. The things I learned through primary and secondary school did not prepare me for adulthood, let alone working as a social worker.
Many Indigenous communities see children as having a profound sense of knowledge and unique outlook on the world, which is highly respected and honoured. Children are a gift and enter this world with a sophisticated awareness of their surroundings, yet we see children are often denied knowledge and growth.
We all know that children have infinite ‘why’ questions due to their desire to learn, grow, and understand. Yet, Western settler society often robs children of their curiosity, as all their questions are crushed with responses of avoidance, annoyance, and irritation. You commonly hear this in responses of just because, because I said so, or this is the way it has always been. Such responses often lead to generations growing up without questioning and critically thinking about the world around them, making it difficult to reimagine our existence outside of colonialism and capitalism.
So, back to my story. As I continued walking down the hallway of the school, what came next was a strange surprise, as I then listened to a Land Acknowledgement come over the PA system. Like many other settler institutions, the school didn’t seem to understand the irony in juxtaposing the Land Acknowledgement to the national anthem.
Land Acknowledgements are meant to bring attention, awareness, and real discussion on who has control and makes decisions about this Land. The Land was always meant to be shared, and never owned and never exploited. Concepts like ownership (whether it is about children or Indigenous Land) stems from colonialism and capitalism. No one can have ownership over Land, Water, Air, or anything that is sustained by Land, Water or Air (i.e., humans, children, animals, etc.)
If every morning we make children honour the legacy of so-called Canada, while also acknowledging the stolen Land we live on (and the legacy of violence and harm on this stolen Land), then what are we really teaching children?
Our children are at the centre of our communities, and they carry our generations, knowledge and ceremonies into the future. But because of ‘legal concepts’ like Terra Nullius, both Indigenous Peoples and Indigenous Lands are seen as inherently violable. Today, this lives on in how Western settler society view’s Indigenous children as disposable and non-human.
Indigenous children are also not the only ones targeted, as the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit showed that the Canadian state is guilty of genocide.
So-called Canada has therefore grown out of generations of exploiting Indigenous children, their homes, and the Land they come from. The end goal of colonization has always been the full erasure of Indigenous Peoples and their children, in order to gain full access and control over Indigenous Lands and Territories.
Through 500 years of colonization, Indigenous Peoples are repeatedly stolen from their Lands, stolen from their Bodies, and stolen from their homes. This is the truth about this Land and about so-called Canada.
If you stand for the national anthem, and if you celebrate so-called Canada Day, you are also celebrating the Canadian system that murders, rapes and pillages Indigenous children.
What does it mean to be Canadian? Does it mean the celebration of genocide and violence? Or, does it mean the decentering of whiteness and working towards meaningful active reconciliation and reciprocal relationships with both Indigenous Peoples and Indigenous Lands?
Shaya is a Two-Spirit academic, activist, beader, drummer and social worker. They come from mixed ancestry, both L’nu and French, and is a member of Benoit First Nation (Penwaaq L’nu’k), Ktaqmkuk. They were born in Unama’ki, Mi’kma’ki, and have been living in Tkaronto since 2016. Pronouns: They/them/theirs.
Today, we at The Hoser encourage you to read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action
You can also read The Ontario Native Women's Association's article Let this Canada Day be Your Call for Action, as well as the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit People Calls for Justice and Final Report.