Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 414, 28 July 2021

Canada: Burning churches, and the indigenous community issue over a painful past
Wonchibeni Tsopoe

In the news
On 19 July, a Coptic Orthodox church burned to the ground in British Columbia, as the burning of churches continues in Canada following the recent discovery of graves of indigenous children. According to Toronto Sun reports, more than 50 churches were vandalized, and five Catholic churches were razed during the last few weeks. 

On 3 July, the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, denounced the burning and vandalism of Catholic churches. On 6 July, Mary Simon the first indigenous Canadian governor-general made an address in her first language, Inuktitut and promised to work towards healing the nation at what she described as an 'especially reflective time.'

Issues at large
First, the historical linkages to the current unrest. The fabric of Canada's nation-building has come at the expense of its indigenous people. The government's "National Policy" is believed to have given the authorization to establish residential schools to assimilate indigenous communities and to suppress their dissent. The schools were designed to isolate indigenous children from their families and cut all ties to their culture. The indigenous community needs better representation of their culture which the State fails to address.

Second, the recent revelation of the unmarked graves. Thousands of unmarked gravesites were uncovered, out of which 215 were graves of children. The children are believed to be students of Kamloops Residential School as the graves were found near the city of Kamloops in Southern British Columbia. Also, in June the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan announced the finding of estimated 751 unmark graves. Followed by 160 undocumented and unmarked graves near the Kuper Island Industrial School. The unravelling of more unmarked graves is leading to further unrest and uproar in the State.

Third, the indigenous uprising. Not only in Canada but also in other North American countries, there have been similar uprisings related to indigenous communities and their demands. Although these movements organize themselves to approach and tackle these issues may differ, the objective in all of these movements are similar; the right to preserve their culture and traditions and certain and other such rights. 

In perspective
For years, the indigenous community has faced oppression. Canada, from its pre-colonial past until today, had aimed to undermine indigenous people identity. Discrimination against the indigenous community is deep-rooted, and the role of the State is very minimal in addressing these issues. Systemic racism has been continuing for decades, and the emotional baggage attached to it is rather hard to reconcile. The Canadian government has to take a proactive step to meet the demands of the indigenous community. Furthermore, reconciliation will be best served only if the government works to implement and practice the laws that cater to the indigenous community.

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