Cancel Canada Day rally in St. John's draws support, solidarity for Indigenous community

·3 min read
Robert Leamon, co-founder of the Indigenous Activist Collective, says Thursday's rally was to recognize the lives lost due to racism, colonialism, genocide and oppression. (Chelsea Jacobs/CBC - image credit)
Robert Leamon, co-founder of the Indigenous Activist Collective, says Thursday's rally was to recognize the lives lost due to racism, colonialism, genocide and oppression. (Chelsea Jacobs/CBC - image credit)
Chelsea Jacobs/CBC
Chelsea Jacobs/CBC

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

A cold and rainy afternoon in St. John's didn't stop protestors from turning out by the hundreds in support of the Cancel Canada Day movement.

The rally, held on the steps of the Colonial Building, was organized by the Indigenous Activist Collective, Anti-Racism Coalition NL, Black Lives Matter NL and the Social Justice Co-operative NL as an answer to the call from the Idle No More protest movement and to draw further attention to the harms committed against Indigenous people in Canada, according to one organizer.

"Today is July 1, and a number of folks recognize that as Canada Day. However, we choose not to," Robert Leamon, a Miq'maw land protector and co-founder of the Indigenous Activist Collective, told CBC News.

"We choose to instead gather to recognize all of the lives who have been lost due to racism, colonialism and ongoing genocide and oppression by Canada."

Thursday's rally featured speeches from survivors, elders, activists and allies with traditional drumming, prayers and singing. It comes on the heels of the discoveries of hundreds of unmarked graves found at former residential schools across Canada.

"I've been going through this struggle since 1963, and I was born in 1956. So, it's been a long time," said Sylvia Murphy, a Mi'kmaq woman and activist.

Chelsea Jacobs/CBC
Chelsea Jacobs/CBC

The crowd continued to grow throughout the afternoon.

An attempted burning of the Canadian flag was dampened by the weather as participants turned instead to tearing it.

Signs held by supporters were held high above their heads as light winds rippled through the soggy cardboard, while chants of support echoed throughout nearby Bannerman Park and along a busy Military Road as drivers leaned on their vehicle's horn as a sign of solidarity.

"We're really grateful for that solidarity. We're also grateful for the ways that folks have committed to continuing to be fire keepers and movement builders, to continue growing that solidarity," said Leamon.

"We've been shown and let down so many times before by our premiers and prime ministers, by politicians, police, churches, schools and institutions that they are not going to listen to the thousands of hours of lived experiences. They're not going to listen to peace and friendship. They're going to listen to pressure."

Rainy day message

Leamon said Thursday's weather was fitting for what an elder told him was a message from the Creator.

He said the rain represented the tears of the Indigenous lives lost at the hands of institutions.

"We still have to stand in solidarity with Indigenous peoples, rain or shine, and on every day now and moving forward," he said.

"We are feeling the pains of intergenerational trauma and ongoing violence in very real time. These are not single instances. These are not just dark chapters, tragic losses. Apologies, thoughts and prayers, condolences and flags at half-mast will not be enough. We have to find better ways of relating with each other."

Chelsea Jacobs/CBC
Chelsea Jacobs/CBC

With Thursday's rally came built relationships between Leamon's group and other activist organizations in St. John's.

Raven Khadeja, who co-founded Black Lives Matter NL, told CBC News her group stands in solidarity with the province's Indigenous community and understands there can be no justice unless there is justice for all.

"We stand with every minority who feels they don't have a space, they're not welcome," Khadeja said.

"We understand and we feel we identify with the harm done, not just with Indigenous people, but through systemic racism."

Meanwhile, Leamon said, recognizing the true history of Canada and the harms it has inflicted on Indigenous people across the world through systems of violence and oppression is the conversation needed for moving forward.

"That's what we're really drawing attention to, so we can find better ways of living together."

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by these reports.

A national Indian Residential School crisis line has been set up to provide support for residential school survivors and others affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour line: 1-866-925-4419.

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