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Day or Rage posters
Sunday, Oct. 10 marked the Indigenous Peoples Day of Rage across Turtle Island. Image: Indigenouspeoplesdayofrage.org/Provided
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Attorney Alaina Woolfrey, professor Marcelo Saavedra-Vargas, vice-dean  Nicholas Ng-A-Fook, and U of O student Cedar Iahtail talk colonialism and Day of Rage

Sunday, Oct. 10 marked the Indigenous Peoples Day of Rage across Turtle Island. The movement, which calls for autonomous, anti-colonial, anti-capitalist, and anti-fascist actions, is an opportunity for the Indigenous community to express their collective rage towards the legacy of colonial schools, the lack of essential resources, and other inequities imposed by Canadian systems of oppression.

Although the event did not take place this year in Ottawa, professor Marcelo Saavedra-Vargas from the faculty of arts at the University of Ottawa shared his thoughts regarding the special day.

“This Day of Rage is truly a day in which we have the opportunity to think about what happened on this land and to awaken not to wake up. Awakening implies taking action,” said Saavedra-Vargas in an interview with the Fulcrum. 

Saavedra-Vargas, an Indigenous elder, described the significance of this day for his people and how it marked his childhood. 

“We found this day to be representative for us. We are not going to celebrate the coming of the Europeans, because that was taught to us during our school years. I remember when I was a kid, I used to sing these anthems … congratulating the invaders for having come and discovered us and civilize[d] us,” he said. 

When asked if the Indigenous Peoples Day of Rage has been previously successful in contributing to major changes in Canadian society, Alaina Woolfrey, an Indigenous attorney from Nelligan O’Brien Payne LLP, responded affirmatively. 

“I genuinely believe that Canadians’ acceptance and knowledge about Indigenous history is at its highest. Is there work to be done? Absolutely. Have conversations and awareness increased? Most definitely. Do I feel that days like Indigenous people’s Day of Rage have contributed to this increase? I do. And those Canadians that continue to push their level of compassion and awareness forward offer support and strength to Indigenous communities and persons,” Woolfrey explained. 

The lawyer does not blame the pandemic for the struggles of the Indigenous community, but rather the Canadian representatives who have designed a non-inclusive, bureaucratic system. 

“The pandemic has made things harder for Indigenous communities but let’s be clear — a lack of clean water or proper healthcare services is not a result of the pandemic but rather the reality of the daily life of Indigenous communities. Systems are broken and when things are broken there is rarely one cause. If Ottawa was out of water or access to healthcare and resources for even a day I suspect there would be uproar — angry calls and emails to the city and governmental representatives,” she said. 

Nicholas Ng-A-Fook, the vice-dean of graduate studies and a professor of curriculum studies in the faculty of education at the University of Ottawa, stood in solidarity with Woolfrey’s perspective. 

The vice-dean believes that the Indigenous community has endured a long enough history of experimentation from colonial settlers, such as forced sterilization for First Nations women or the removal of children, to have created a legacy of mistrust. 

“[If] an RCMP officer came to your household to say, [says] if you don’t let us take your kids, and send them 1,000 [of] kilometers away [to a] residential school on a train, we’re gonna put you in jail [and] you’re gonna have a criminal record. Now you have a criminal record, you’re not going to have access to employment, you’re always going to have that [as] part of a marker to demark you from accessibility to other things, when you already don’t have accessibility because you’re on a reserve,” he said. 

Cedar Iahtail, an Indigenous third-year theatre student from the University of Ottawa, also criticized the system for robbing Indigenous communities of their basic human rights. 

“The system that we have now is the same system that tried to enact genocide upon our peoples. It’s the same system that tried to assimilate us into the Canadian colonial governance system, and it’s still the same system that continues to kill us. Through genocidal policies like through various ways through various institutions like hospitals, through even education with a lack of resources on reserve, as well as child welfare,” said Iahtail. 

For professor Ng-A-Fook the celebration by Canadians of Thanksgiving is a slap in the face for First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities since it implies the thankfulness for Canadian systems of oppression, such as the residential schooling system, the provincial schooling systems, the Indian Act, the reserve system, and the PASS system

However, Iahtail believes that any form of fighting against colonialism, effective or not, is a valid reason for people to support the Indigenous Peoples Day of Rage.  

Iahtail encouraged Indigenous and non-Indigenous individuals to educate themselves on Canada’s history by visiting stopline3.org and Native-land.ca, to better learn which land we are benefiting from and occupying.

“With these movements, It provides more [of an] education. It’s kind of like branching off points for people to like dip their toes into like, learn about, like whose land you’re on and how you benefit off of the land that’s, you know, stolen.”