Canada’s 150th Birthday. Party?
(EDIT, Jun 22. This piece is part 2 of my plan to write something, anything at all, every day for 21 days)
As a kid, maybe 9 or 10 years old, I can remember focusing my encyclopedia reading around American history. I was jealous of their varied stories, stretching back so many years longer than Canada’s. They had more Presidents, more stories of glory and war, a grown-up nation built out of tough times. They’d endured both a War of Independence AND a Civil War, fighting back the bad guys and doing what American’s do best — winning.
I remember wanting to be part of a winning country like America. I took to learning what I could about that great country, and spent a lot of time memorizing the names and careers of all the Presidents.
A favourite past time of mine at that age was playing Cowboys and Indians. I played the game with my friends, in my big back yard. It was even more fun when we went to visit friends in the country, and could tear around the barn. Shooting our cap guns across at friends, or, if you were like me, always choosing archery at summer camp because you wanted to shoot like …. yeah….
I longed for the excitement of a nation formed through conflict, where strong moral leadership and rock solid character was the difference between those with political power, and those without it.
I always knew that slavery was bad.
Cowboys and Indians though?
Just backyard games on a Saturday afternoon.
No harm, no foul. Right?
Canadians, too, have a history, or at least a story we like to tell, about how we are a hardy people made up of French Coureurs du Bois and British Loyalists, of immigrants and world travelers, of peacekeeping and second chances. More than anything, the Canadian identity has developed around a certain contra-America, particularly over the last 70 years or so.
And yet, as I’ve learned more about the country that I call my home, I have come to see that we too are a nation borne out of conflict, and a very specific one at that:
Canada’s founding story ultimately involves a one sided conflict in which white Europeans, primarily but not exclusively, from France and Britain, systematically and intentionally destroyed the lives and culture of the Indigenous peoples who lived here. Moreover, the Canadian government has been complicit in perpetuating this conflict, even through to today, where some Indigenous communities still wait, even after 25 years, for the ability to drink their water without first boiling it.
This ‘patriotic season’, I’m sitting in this strange place of wanting to celebrate some of the best and greatest Canadian achievements over the last 150 years. But I just can’t shake the fact that even today ancestors of Canada’s original inhabitants are still pitted against the dominant white culture and made to beg for their supper.
Here is the story of one boy, Chanie Wenjack, memorialized in a moving Hertiage Minute. This 150th Canada Day, I’d rather you know his name than any American President or Canadian Prime Minister.