This is the Canada I grew up in:
Across the street from my house there was a forest that I could (although wasn’t supposed to) walk through to get to my school, where I had kind teachers who looked out for my well being.
I had friends of different backgrounds and origins and we bonded over shared interests and video games.
I was taught police were a source of safety and in my few personal interactions with them, have never had reason to believe otherwise.
I was taught everyone is equal and deserves to be treated with respect.
I was loved.
* * *
Over the past decade or so, I’ve learned that my Canada is not everyone’s Canada.
Or worse, that my Canada is at the expense of other people’s Canada.
That the park where I go to celebrate Canada Day was home to the Lheidli T’enneh, whose homes were burned to make way for the railway that led to the creation of the city I call home, the city where I’ve been able to lead such a blessed life. A city where, looking back, my diverse group of friends didn’t include a single Indigenous person despite having a higher-than-average proportion living here.
A city where it wasn’t until university that I learned anything more than a cursory knowledge of Canada’s relationship with Indigenous people and until after that that I learned the original name of the land I grew up on.
* * *
I feel no guilt for this, but I don’t take pride in it, either. If I don’t deserve blame for residential schools or forced relocations why should I take credit for Suez or the 1972 Summit Series? I had nothing to do with any of it.
What I do have are my values and the ability to choose how I move forward with the knowledge I gain from my every day on earth. I am grateful I was born here, but I’ve come to realize that the mere act of being born here does not afford you all the blessings I’ve been given.
A great many other factors beyond my nationality have shaped who I am and what I’ve been given. And some of the factors that produce good outcomes for me create bad outcomes for others no less deserving.
“Canada” is not some magical entity that is automatically virtuous and good; indeed, there is a great deal of evidence to the contrary. Like any country, the extent to which Canada deserves praise rests at the feet of individuals who fought and struggled for something better than what was already in existence, often with the consequence of being accused of being ungrateful for what they already have.
* * *
The other day I had a group of elementary school kids visit my workplace. On my wall I have a poster with the image of the park I go to celebrate Canada Day and the words “Lheidli T’enneh” on it. The kids recognized the words and what they meant– something I had no knowledge of when I was their age.
That knowledge was achieved by people asking for the original name to be restored, asking the rest of us to confront some truths about this city’s past. For their efforts, they endured racism, accusations of asking for handouts, accusations of being stuck in the past, accusations of not being grateful for what they have.
It wasn’t comfortable.
Now these kids are growing up in a different version of Canada than I did. Unfortunately, we already know their version is not universal, either. Across the country there are still stark gaps in the way the Canadian story plays out depending on where you’re born and who you’re born to.
* * *
I wish the Canada I grew up in were the same Canada everyone grew up in. It’s tough to imagine a better life and I am extremely grateful to have it. But I won’t mistake my good fortune for the good fortune of everyone. I won’t let my own personal happiness cause me to demand everyone else shut up and be happy, too.
If you believe something is perfect or even good enough, you have no incentive to make it better. Being dissatisfied with the status quo is a necessary component for improvement.
The challenge is whether we can live up to the ideals we set ourselves up for. The real challenge is whether we have the strength to admit when we aren’t, and are ready to take the steps to change that even- or especially- when it’s uncomfortable to do so.
* * *
Today, I plan to canoe down a river to the park where we go to celebrate Canada Day. I’m going to eat some food prepared by the multiculturalism society and get some bannock and then watch a band that combines bhangra, hip-hop and Celtic music. I’m going to be grateful for the Canada I have, and to the people who struggle to make some version of my childhood and my life something accessible to everyone. I’ll reflect on what part I play in that struggle, as a help or hindrance, on my values and whether I live up to them, and what I can do better – even if it’s uncomfortable.
* * *
I know this isn’t especially revolutionary or original thinking but it’s where I’m at in my understanding of the country. As I’ve gotten older I’ve treated birthdays as times for reflection as much as for celebration and I feel Canada Day can be the same. Canada doesn’t have feelings. Canada doesn’t care if you celebrate it or not. Canada is another trick of the human imagination, conceived of and sustained by stories- “this is who we are, this is what we stand for.” It’s about a community of people coming together and saying they belong to something bigger. So let’s think about how we can live together better.
Have a good day.
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