Sunday, July 2, 2017

Canada Day Musings

I have a confession to make: my best friend and I went to see a fireworks display tonight, which is probably pretty damn problematic, because it was in honour of the 150th anniversary of Confederation.

As I write this, it's a little after midnight.  I am sitting in my room, and I hear occasional bangs from other fireworks, which are probably being set off by people in their own backyards.  The display earlier tonight was surprisingly lovely: all bright colours and loud pops and booms.  The local Canada Day committee really outdid themselves tonight.  I have to admit, though, that the commentary provided by the children who were playing close to where my friend and I were sitting was what really made the night for me.  There was just so much joy, and so much fun, in the way that they were perceiving the fireworks display and frequently they made my friend and I laugh with their observations (and, it must be said, their slightly skewed perception of the way fireworks happen in the first place).  It was a good evening, even if Paul & Storm's song about the fireworks-obsessed man named Johnny who accidentally blew himself up was crooning "Way-hey, boom!  And UP SHE GOES!" through my mind for much of it.  :)

The way people have been talking lately, it seems like celebrating Canada is celebrating genocide, and there can be no other valid way to look at it, or else you are a genocidal maniac who dances on the graves of murdered Indigenous children who were victims of the residential school system.  There's a lot of black and white thinking out there; if you celebrate Canada's 150th birthday, they say, you are celebrating genocide (both cultural and literal) and the colonial theft of land from Indigenous people.  You are celebrating an oppressive and uncaring and illegitimate government that doesn't care that Indigenous people have no access to fresh water or health care or quality education.  You are celebrating the oppression of a people and the attempted destruction of their traditions, their cultures, and their very lives.

To be Canadian, then, is to be nothing but a settler and a thief and a murderer.  Certainly nothing to celebrate unless you're a greedy, murderous asshole.

Does it make me a bad person, that I don't really see it that way?

We have racism here.  We have done poorly by the Indigenous peoples whose people were here first.  We have inequality.  We are not perfect.

But we are trying to do better, and I believe that even if we're not there in my lifetime, we carry the potential to be better than we are now.  I believe that even if the government is not sincere in the promises that they have made, many of the ordinary people of Canada are willing to at least try to make things more equitable for those who do not currently benefit from the things that so many of us take for granted.

My experience of Canada is bound to be very different from that of an Indigenous person living on a remote reserve.  Because some parts of my family have been here since at least the eighteenth century (my family name comes from a family who were among the "Foreign Protestants" who settled in what is now Nova Scotia in the middle of the 1700s), and even the most recent immigrants in my direct ancestral line came over about 105 years ago, my experience of Canada will also be very different from that of a Syrian refugee or a recent immigrant who originally came from anywhere else in the world.  Is my perspective any less valid for that?

Can I not be grateful for what I have and what I grew up with while still doing my best to promote a better world for people who have not had my advantages?  Am I harming Indigenous students, colleagues, and relatives (yes, relatives, thanks to some cousins on my mother's side) just by being me and not thinking that I'm a colonialist piece of shit who needs to fuck off and die (or at least permanently fuck off to Europe, though I don't qualify for citizenship anywhere there)?

Is it possible to be Canadian and not have to be totally ashamed of living here?

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