The uncomfortable disparity between the idyllic vision of Canada celebrated Saturday and the lived realities of many in Indigenous communities was on sharp display in Toronto this afternoon.
A contingent of activists, as well as many Indigenous people who are simply angry at the state of the country, showed up to a Canada Day picnic hosted by Carolyn Bennett, federal minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, at the Spadina Museum.
They came from all over Canada to confront the minister about what they say is a government long on public relations and lofty promises, but short on anything resembling progressive policy change.
“We came to share our narratives and our point of view. And what we see all the time and consistently with the Liberal government is political rhetoric and photo opportunities,” said Tori Cress.
“We’re out here dispelling those myths that everything is OK in the Trudeau government … because nothing is happening,” she added.
According to a Facebook page and website set up for the national day of action dubbed UNsettling Canada 150, the protest was organized by grassroots activists, the local chapter of Idle No More and its provincial counterpart Idle No More Ontario.
When protesters first arrived at the leafy picnic site in a posh pocket of Toronto, Bennett met a few of them in an attempt to pre-empt the demonstration, inviting them into a sharing circle to discuss the issues. Bennett was joined by elder Frances Sanderson, executive director of Nishnawbe Homes, a non-profit Indigenous housing organization.
But Bennett was rebuffed during the conversation. Protestors claimed they had tried multiple times before to meet with her without any success. Bennett denied having received any such invitations, to the best of her knowledge, but admitted change is desperately needed.
“Your communities all across Canada need be to able to look after their own children, in their language and culture. That is the changes that have to be made,” Bennett answered when asked about disappearing Indigenous languages and culture.
“Where’s the money? Where’s the plan?” one man snapped back.
“We have to deal with the provinces and territories and tell them this is unacceptable,” Bennett replied.
There were harbingers all week that Canada Day would include many reminders of the ongoing tension between Indigenous communities and governments at all level. Earlier this week, activists erected a teepee on Parliament Hill in the lead up to Saturday. After initial confrontations with police that threatened to escalate, the teepee was allowed to stay (though it was eventually moved to a different location on the Hill.)