MONTREAL — Tens of thousands marched nationwide July 1 to protest longstanding government-imposed racist discrimination and oppression of Canada’s 1.6 million Indigenous peoples. July 1, an official holiday, marks the consolidation of capitalist rule with the founding of the Canadian federation in 1867.
The massive, angry outpouring of protest is fueled by recent discoveries of the remains of more than 1,000 Indigenous children in mass, unmarked graves on the grounds of three of the former 139 Indian Residential Schools. More are being unearthed every week. These so-called schools were established and funded by successive Ottawa governments from 1883 to 1996 as part of a brutal program to seize Indigenous youth from their families with the stated goal of “killing the Indian in the child.”
Up to 150,000 First Nations, Metis and Inuit children were taken from their homes and forced to live in these prison-like institutions, administered for the government by the Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian and United churches. Behind their walls, the children were prevented from speaking their Native language, suffered malnutrition, disease, forced labor, and physical and sexual abuse. Previous estimates that more than 4,000 of these “students” died or disappeared will almost certainly turn out to be conservative. There are about 80,000 living survivors.
At a demonstration of 10,000 in London, Ontario, Delbert Riley, a member of the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, said he was sent to the Mohawk Institute, the residential school of the Six Nations of the Grand River, when he was 5 or 6 years old. “It was horrific. I was lucky to get out alive,” he told the London Free Press.
In the Montreal protest, Dennis Saganash, a Cree from Waswanipi and a residential school survivor, wore an orange shirt with the words “Bring Uncle John home” written on it. His uncle had never returned from his first year at a residential school in Ontario.
Ottawa to blame, not ‘all Canadians’
Campaigning door to door in London July 2, Beverly Bernardo, Communist League candidate for mayor of Montreal, distributed a statement by her running mate, Philippe Tessier, a Canadian National Railway conductor and CL candidate for mayor of the Montreal borough of Ville Saint-Laurent. It is headlined: “Reject Trudeau’s attempt to blame ‘all Canadians’ for Canada’s rulers’ crimes. Ottawa: Act now to provide the jobs and services Indigenous people need!”
“Following the discovery of the graves, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called for ‘reconciliation’ between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people,” and blamed “all Canadians” for the killings, Tessier said. The government tried to shift the blame solely onto the churches that administered the schools, demanding an apology from the pope. This “is designed to cover up the reality that it is the capitalist system and its governments, including Trudeau’s that are the root cause.”
Trudeau’s campaign has helped generate a wave of arson and other diversionary attacks on churches across the country. As of July 1, at least 14 Catholic churches had been set on fire or vandalized.
“The rulers seek to profit by fostering divisions among working people and undermining working-class solidarity,” says the Communist League statement. “The oppression of Native people is not something that just happened in the past; it remains the reality they face today.”
According to the 2016 census, despite being 7% of the youth population, 52% of children in foster care today are Indigenous. “Children are still being separated from their communities. Foster care is the new residential school system. The suicide epidemic [among Native youth] is the new form of Indigenous genocide,” Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, the Inuit Member of Parliament for the territory of Nunavut, said June 4.
Prior to the pandemic the unemployment rate of the off-reserve Indigenous population was 10%, nearly double the Canadian average. Today, one-quarter of Indigenous people who live in urban centers live below the government’s poverty line, double the figure for the rest of the population. Some 53% of First Nations children on reserves live below the poverty line, triple the national average.
The suicide rate for Indigenous people is three times that of the general population and even higher for Indigenous youth between 15 and 24 years of age.
Dozens of First Nations communities haven’t had access to safe drinking and bathing water for at least a year. While 5% of Canada’s population of 38 million, Indigenous people make up about one-third of the federal prison population.
Emergency gov’t measures needed
“The fact that thousands of people came out into the streets yesterday to support the struggles of Indigenous people shows that working people increasingly oppose racism in all its forms,” Bernardo told Farooq Chishti, when she knocked on his door to introduce the Communist League campaign. “The residential schools were part of the drive by Canada’s capitalist rulers to forcibly assimilate the Indigenous population. It is in the interests of all working people to support Indigenous people fighting for their rights.”
“I was shocked to see the killing of children,” Chishti said. “These schools were doing the government’s job.”
In May there were 1.96 million officially unemployed. “Workers and our unions need to fight for a government-funded public works program to generate jobs — building houses and hospitals and providing services working people badly need,” the Communist League statement says.
“As part of this effort,” Tessier says, “We also need to fight for affirmative action measures and training for Indigenous people to ensure they have access to union-scale jobs. These are crucial steps toward working-class unity and the building of a labor party that can fight for a workers and farmers government, a powerful tool working people can use to end all forms of racism, oppression and exploitation.”