Note: I keep reminding myself that although Twitter and Facebook are great I should remember to put stuff on here. It’s a heck of a lot easier to go back through a blog and find some old post or idea you were playing with. Anyways, here’s one from Twitter, July 23.
So there’s been some talk about statues recently and I took a look at the ones we have in Prince George. The first is of Terry Fox, because before he did his famous cross-country trek he ran in a marathon here.
“In 1964 the provincial government suspended her, along with four other social workers, for their public criticisms of child welfare services, including an open letter to Premier W.A.C. Bennett (Social Credit party).”
And one of her books is described thusly on Amazon:
“An engrossing look at the investigation into the hit-and-run death of Coreen Thomas, a young Native woman in her ninth month of pregnancy, at the wheels of a car driven by a young white man in central BC. The resulting inquest into what might have been just another small-town tragedy turned into an inquiry of racial tensions, both implicit and explicit, that surfaced not only on country backroads but in the courtroom as well, revealing a dual system of justice that treated whites and aboriginals differently. First published in 1990, Judgement at Stoney Creek has been hailed for its moving and deeply personal depiction of a controversial subject that continues to make news today?how the justice system has failed Canada’s aboriginal people.”
Prince George has its problems but I’m pretty cool with the fact our statue honours a woman fired for standing up for children’s rights and then in retirement worked to expose racism in the justice system and society at large.
Last year I was interviewed by a really cool project called The Tale of A Town which consists of a small group of people dropping into a Canadian community, talking to a ton of people and then putting together a story about that community through a short-run interactive show (which I really wish could be replicated on a permanent basis) and a series of short audio clips on their website.
My clip has gone live, and they chose me talking about something I still feel is true: downtown Prince George needs a publicy-accessible building that gives people fifth-storey-or-higher views of the city, something that I realized when I visited someone’s office on the fifth floor of the Royal Bank building. As I said:
“You look out and you see this beautiful view of the Nechako River and the cutbanks, you see the downtown, you see the Crescents, you see how the city fits together… and that’s the first time in my life that I ever saw that view from downtown Prince George.
“And the thing that I realized is unless you are staying in one of these hotels, or happen to work beyond the second floor in one of these buildings, that is a view of the city you don’t have access to. So the vast majority of the people who live in Prince George don’t have this perspective.”
In just about any major city you visit, taking a trip up some sort of tower or another is on the list of quintessential tourist experiences. It gives us perspective on where we are and lets us see the character of the place in a way that you can’t quite capture on the ground.
I really do believe it would help alter people’s views on Prince George.
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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