Where are you from? What do we really mean when we say, “I am a Canadian”? Or do we even say those words? Except for those of us who are not citizens, the rest of us could say, should we choose to, “I am a Canadian”. Especially on Canada Day.
Or are we? If you are Indigenous, what do you say? The Inuit MP representing Nunavut, Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, in explaining why she is not running again in the next election, said, in describing her time in the House of Commons, “I do not belong here.” Do you feel that you belong here?
If we say, “I am a Canadian”, like Joseph in the Bible, we must put on Jacob’s coat of many colours. There would be colours that we might be proud of. Then there would be colours of which we might be deeply ashamed. Or deeply angry. Over the past few months, these shameful colours have been on full display to the world.
Most of us have known about the brutality of the Indian Residential School system, but have chosen to look away. As evidence of the brutality practiced in the Indian Residential Schools, the discovery of unmarked children’s graves at four of these former schools – there were 139 such schools across the country – cannot be ignored. According to Murray Sinclair, the former chair of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, there may be thousands of unmarked graves to be found. Dominating the relationship between Canada and Indigenous people is that for those of us who are settlers, we need to acknowledge that we are living on stolen land. How to address this?
And yet. There is much to be grateful for. Canada is still one of the most sought-after destinations on earth for immigrants. We are blessed with an abundance of natural resources and wilderness. We are a relatively prosperous country even as we keep Indigenous people in remote corners of the country living in overcrowded shacks and without safe drinking water.
For me, Canada Day always seemed to be a self-effacing, poor cousin of the far more brash Independence Day celebrated with great bravado by our neighbours on July 4. But the prejudice we so often smugly project onto the Americans can no longer be ignored in the wake of these unmarked school graves. Then on June 6th, there was the hate-driven slaughter of a Muslim family in London, Ontario. Slavery is part of our history but most chose not to look at that, either. Racism is very much still with us, but many chose not to talk about it.
I want to thank our guest panellists who participated in this episode: Stephen Wright, Cheryl Lyon, Jill Tilley, Yvonne Lai, & Tim Etherington. Your experiences were varied, highly individual and yet so interdependent.
Canada Day, July 1st, 2021. How to mark this day? What do we see when we look in the mirror? Do we really see who is staring back at us?