There, I said it.
On one hand, I’m as excited to have a day off with friends and family as the next person. But on the other, the prospect of singing ‘O Canada’ at the top of my lungs and waving my maple leaf doesn’t sit right with me, knowing the abuses that have gone on (and continue to go on) to Indigenous peoples.
Let’s be blunt, Canada is not actually turning 150 years old this year. It’s just been 150 years since European settlers claimed the land from the First Nations. It’s merely the birthday of Canada As We Know It. As such, it feels somewhat ignorant to go around celebrating a history of wrongs that have yet to be made right more than a century later. ‘Sorry we took your land and decimated your culture’ doesn’t quite cut it. Sure, there are decent folk like Gord Downie working to make things better. But we have a long way to go.
When I found myself homeschooling my eight-year-old son last year, I considered the opportunity to teach him a blessing in disguise. The Settlement of Canada was part of his social studies curriculum. And while I obviously didn’t want to bombard him, I was careful not to sugar-coat our national history, either. Right from the off, I wanted his knowledge to be based on truth and facts. I figured it’s the least I can do as a citizen and as a parent.
After all, the past isn’t totally the past when you see the deplorable conditions on many Reserves today. That’s without even mentioning treaty rights, the legacy of Residential Schools, missing/murdered Indigenous women… These issues are complicated, and I can’t possibly unravel them all here. Suffice to say, there is much to be done before we can comfortably move forward as a nation.
So how do I reconcile these feelings with ‘Canada 150’? I can’t. Not completely. Yet in spite of our country’s shameful track record with its native people, I am proud to be Canadian. And by and large, I think that pride is well placed. Imperfect as we are, we carry a reputation as a diverse and tolerant nation. Time and again, we top the ranks for quality of life. We remain one of the safest places in the world. We were one of the first countries to legalize same-sex marriage. We opened our doors and welcomed tens of thousands of Syrian refugees. Multiculturalism here is embraced rather than feared. All of that has to count for something.
So on July First, when I pull out my lawn chair and gaze up at the colourful explosions in the night sky, I will be raising a glass to the country I know and love. Our collective strengths may not negate our flaws. The past can never be erased, and we cannot let our kids forget.
But 150 years on, Canada As We Know It has a lot worth celebrating.
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