(Clayton Tootoosis. Facebook photo)
By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
A 22-year-old Cree man says he is planning to burn the Canadian flag on Canada Day to symbolize a “cleansing” of Indigenous lands.
Clayton Tootoosis, from the Onion Lake Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, said he plans to torch the Maple Leaf on the community’s sports grounds which is the site of the planned July 1 celebrations.
“The burning of the flag symbolizes the cleansing of our land, the removal of the Canadian image to stop the confusion that the Canadian government has imposed on us,” he said.
Tootoosis, who has contemplated running for chief of his community, said the protest is not aimed at individuals Canadians.
“It’s not the people of Canada, it is just what Canada is trying to do,” said Tootoosis. “They are trying to make us forget our culture and our heritage.”
Tootoosis said the government’s recent decision to rename the Indian Affairs department as Aboriginal Affairs shows Ottawa hasn’t stopped trying to erase the identities of First Nations people.
“The word Aboriginal they are trying to impose on us is meant to put us all together in one box,” said Tootoosis. “We are all different; we have our own distinct culture.”
He believes assimilation is even being pushed at the school-level on reserves.
“Today’s First Nations schools are modern day Indian residential schools. They use the same assimilation, colonization policies as in the beginning of the Indian residential schools,” he said. “The policy is to kill the Indian in the child. We don’t decide what’s taught in our schools. That is why our children grow up confused, believing they are Canadian when in fact we are a nation within a nation, sovereign and self-governing.”
Tootoosis said there is little open support in the community for his plans to set fire to the flag, but he believes fear keeps people from backing his act.
“I asked some people and they said they wouldn’t, that they would be afraid of what the consequences would be,” he said.
Tootoosis, however, is part of a small, but growing movement among some Indigenous youth in the province who have begun to challenge the established political leadership in their communities.
Tootoosis said First Nations communities are in a “state of crisis” and the existing political leadership is failing the people.
Tootoosis is connected to a group youth in the Poundmaker Cree Nation who recently challenged their band leadership and posted the results on YouTube. Tootoosis’ cousin Colby Tootoosis filmed the event that saw band leaders walk out on weeping youth.
“In other communities, the youth are starting to be more vocal for change,” he said. “Here, people are afraid of it. I encounter a lot of resistance because of what I talk about and the ideas I have that scares them and they are not really willing to look at it.”