Tomorrow is Canada Day, the 1st of July. It’ll be the twelfth Canada Day we’ve had since we arrived, and it’s going to be a strange one.
For a long time I admired the Canadian attitude to Canada. The people seemed happy to be Canadian, happy to own it, to wear the maple leaf on anything and everything, to take the national stereotyping in good heart. Canada wasn’t a bad place, so we could relax about liking it, unlike those poor neighbours down south who are so embarrassed about their multiple failures that they have to be fiercely PROUD of their country, and shout down anyone who isn’t.
When the library sent everyone home during Covid, we were encouraged to take some of the online courses that were available, and chief among them was, essentially, “Introduction to the Indigenous Peoples of Canada”. It was a good course, carefully constructed by a group of people who represented a good cross-section of the many nations, bands and tribes and peoples that make up the Indigenous and Metis populations. It was a good course, but hard to switch of the colonial brain, the cynical, analytical part that wants to complain about things that are different. But by doing that, I came to see that we did, what the Europeans did, was inexcusable. We rolled in, made agreements, broke those agreements, then told the people who were here first that they had no claim under a system of law they didn’t subscribe to or even get recognised by. Time and again, colonists have proven they cannot be trusted.
This course wasn’t the first I had heard of the Residential Schools. We’ve visited the Nk’Mip Cultural centre in Osoyoos (https://nkmipdesert.com/) where they have displays about a school that did better by the folks, which tells you how it could have gone. But the course went into detail, and you cannot escape the fact that by trying to commit cultural genocide, the colonists have damaged an entire group of people, then castigated them for that damage.
I come from a small island nation that has been invaded over and over. Saxons, Vikings, Normans, Romans. All came and left their mark on the land and the people. In a play about the meaning of culture, I had an old woman ask her grandchildren if, should the Canadian Indigenous peoples get recompense for their injury, she should be recompensed by the Italians? But that’s disingenuous. This is about events that happened in living memory. About wounds that are still raw. About prejudice that affects hundreds of thousands every day, across generations. We need to sit and listen to those we have hurt, and let them lead the way to restitution. That will be hard, because the way they will go about that process, the steps they will require of us, and the time it will take will all feel different and strange to us. But it CANNOT be done on our terms. This is not for us. It is because of us.
So this Canada Day will be strange. I still love this country and the people in it. I’m still glad we came here, even though that makes us more a part of the problem, until we can find a way to be part of the solution. Canada may not have been a nation before 1867, but it has always been home to the people who lived here. Whether the land belonged to those people, or they belonged to the land is immaterial in light of what was done to them.
I’ve heard many times that the name “Canada” comes from the word “Kanata”, which means “Village”. I have lived in villages before. Everyone knows everyone else. People are able to help one another, and the whole village can come together in times of crisis or celebration. It’s time for Canada to come together and heal.