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A young student sitting at a loan desk surrounded by fellow students standing. Image credit: Arson McTaggart

“Please rise for the national anthem,” the voice booms over the speakers. The screech of chairs over linoleum; students stand, but their eyes drift to the one chair that doesn’t screech. O Canada, we stand on guard for thee. They’re singled out. All the few can do is breathe and hope their teacher doesn’t reprimand them and hold strong to what they believe. True patriot love in all of us command. 

All across Ottawa, located on unceded, unsurrendered Territory of the Anishinaabe Algonquin Nation, high school students choose to sit down during the national anthem every morning. A political stand using civil disobedience from the students showing their allegiance with the Land Back movement and Indigenous Peoples. 

The first record of this starting in mass quantities was on the first national day of Truth and Reconciliation, at Walkerville Collegiate according to the Windsor Star. Singular students have chosen to do this multiple years before. This show of civil disobedience has grown, especially as we enter the one-year anniversary of the mass grave of Indigenous children found in Kamloops, BC. 

As someone who sits down during the national anthem, I know the feeling of eyes on me as I sit. I have the pleasure of watching as my fellow peers choose to sit down and do their own reflecting. A question commonly asked is: why do YOU sit down? 

“Don’t get me wrong, I love Canada, it’s given me a safe country to grow up in… But I sit because I know that it isn’t that safe place for everyone, specifically people of color and even more specifically Indigenous peoples”, said a grade ten student from Ridgemont High School in Ottawa ON, who started sitting down in November after Indigenous rights week. Two grade ten students from Canterbury started sitting down after seeing their peers do it, “One day I just decided to start sitting, it was difficult because everyone was staring at me but it felt right.

“As a protest against the current state of Indigenous affairs in Canada. We have barely compensated many Indigenous residential school survivors. We haven’t even completed ten calls out of the ninety-two calls to action. The fact that the government is incredibly unempathetic to conditions on Indigenous reserves.”
— Student, Canterbury High School

Students were asked what they were hoping to get out of sitting down. Why would you take the risk of being reprimanded by teachers and peers? 

“I’m hoping that I can at least get people to ask questions to why I’m sitting down. Maybe you can make your own decisions about it, and research more.”
— Student, Canterbury High School

“I hope that other students choose not to stand up for the anthem. I have not been reprimanded yet, but some teachers force me to stand.”
— Student, Canterbury High School

Some students named the anthem as “pointless” and “unnecessary” and wasting students’ school time. So, when they learnt of the growing throng of people sitting down, they found a way to take a stand, by not standing at all. 

“I mainly heard it from other students. I saw some of my peers on social media taking a stand, and I thought, I could do that myself.”
— Student, Canterbury High School 

While choosing to sit down is a small act, it doesn’t always seem so when you’re the only one doing it. The stares and the questions- it feels overwhelming. These students choose to take action. Even if that involves getting singled out by teachers, and talked about by classmates.

“When I’m the only one, I feel mildly uncomfortable, but I know I should just stick to my values and continue sitting down.”
— Student, Canterbury High School

“It is a bit jarring when I sit down and it’s just me, because everyone else looks at you weird, like I’m the odd one out.”
— Student, Canterbury High School 

A new thing that is being brought into day-to-day announcements at school is land acknowledgments. Some students choose to stand for this part too – but what is agreed on, is that they are not close to enough.

“I believe acknowledging who the land actually belongs to is important because we’ve ignored it for so long. And we’ve disrespected the people that own the land for so long that it’s important to actually recognize that they do. I find that land acknowledgments are good but at the same time not enough.”
— Student, Canterbury High School

“I stand for land acknowledgements because before this school year, I believe they weren’t put into the announcements too often. I think they’re quite important, so I do stand, however I do want the school board and the government to do more than just land acknowledgements.”
— Student, Canterbury High School  

It isn’t just the students who see this happening but the teachers. Canterbury High School hired an Indigenous Graduation Coach, Josh Pagan, originally from the Indigenous Education and Learning Team. I had the pleasure of asking him a few questions:

Why do you think students sit down during the national anthem? As a teacher, what is your view on students sitting down? 

“Who knows where the students are in their journey of learning. If they’ve done some reflecting, or research on truth and reconciliation…To be honest it doesn’t bother me either way. I know there’s some kids who sit for the land acknowledgment and stand for the anthem, and vice versa. I think it’s great if they understand why they’re doing it. If they’re just doing it because their friends are doing it, I think they need to reflect more on why they’re doing it.”

What is your view on land acknowledgements?

“I feel there is a time and place for land acknowledgements. There was a spell, we’re kind of getting out of it now, for the past year we kind of reused it, it was like a box checked, a performance.”

A movement is sweeping across Canada giving students ways to support Indigenous Peoples and make waves. Even though every day I am worried when I don’t stand- I will never stop. Maybe you too can fight back, even if you think it’s small. 

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About The Author

Arson McTaggart

Ally Arson McTaggart is a grade ten student at Canterbery High School in Ottawa, ON. They attend the literary arts program provided at CHS. She has been a writer since a very young age, specializing in poetry and fiction, but dabbles in non-fiction. They spend their free time ether with friends or improving their small business, while writing weekly on the side. Arson wishes to go straight into the workplace after high school and begin a writing career.

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