We should face up to history and make sure Canada Day is for all

Posted on July 1, 2015 in Governance Debates

TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorials – Two years before Canada’s marks a century and a half as a united nation, we need a deep reflection on the place of the country’s First Nations.
Jun 30 2015.   Editorial

Canada Day – even one that falls awkwardly in the middle of the working week – is a great time for waving flags. And for very good reason. We have so much to celebrate: we’re among the freest, healthiest and wealthiest people in the world.

We also have a rising generation of young people who will ensure that Canada’s best days lie ahead. On the opposite page, Carol Goar introduces us to three of the most impressive < http://www.thestar.com/opinion/columnists/2015/07/01/canadian-values-outlast-political-regimes-goar.html >.

Yet Canada’s 148th birthday should also be a time for reflection on how we can do better. As Ken Dryden writes on our opinion page, Canada Day should be not just a commemoration of what we are, but “an expression of what we can be.”

And this year, two years before we mark a century and a half as a united nation, that should mean first and foremost a deep reflection on the place of the country’s First Nations. In the wake of the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, it’s finally time to face up to that broken relationship.

Such a reflection doesn’t mean repudiating our history. Mature nations are able to take pride in their accomplishments while refusing to shy away from their flaws.

In this we can learn from the Americans. They revere their founding fathers even while acknowledging that many were slave owners, and worse. They have no trouble arguing deeply about their history – and then celebrating the ideals at the root of their republic.

Canadians have a harder time holding these seemingly contradictory thoughts in their heads. In recent months, for example, historians have argued that Sir John A. Macdonald himself orchestrated an overtly racist policy towards native people, a legacy we’re still living with. Others have spoken of “cultural genocide.” Their claims have been met with pained cries: how can we be proud of our country, many ask, when the men who built it are revealed as being so deeply flawed?

The last time Canada celebrated a landmark anniversary – way back in 1967 – that might have been a natural feeling. The country was still unsure of itself, fearful of American domination and worried that its very unity was imperiled by the emergence of a nationalist Quebec.

No wonder, then, that the official Centennial celebrations that year put the emphasis on constructing one grand national narrative – from Colony to Nation. The downside was that many people were left out of the story, especially those who were here even before there was a colony.

This didn’t go unnoticed at the time, especially by First Nations people themselves. Chief Dan George, the renowned west coast actor, poet and activist, spoke out powerfully before 32,000 people at a 100th birthday party for Canada in Vancouver in what he called a “Lament for Confederation.” Almost half a century later it’s worth remembering his words:

“Today, when you celebrate your hundred years, O Canada, I am sad for all the Indian people throughout the land… In the long hundred years since the white man came, I have seen my freedom disappear like the salmon going mysteriously out to sea… When I fought to protect my land I was called a savage. When I neither understood nor welcomed his way of life, I was called lazy. When I tried to rule my people I was stripped of my authority.”

At the time, George held out hope that the following century would be much better, that native people would take their proper place in the institutions of the land. Yet two years before another major anniversary, progress has been painfully slow. If anything, relations between First Nations people and government are even more strained.

It shouldn’t be this way. After the stories that poured out of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, there’s no excuse for not doing better.

By the time we celebrate our 150th Canada Day in 2017, we need to take concrete steps towards fixing the relationship with aboriginal peoples. There’s no contradiction between keeping that in mind and taking special pride today in our country on its official birthday. Ultimately, Canada Day must be for everyone, and only facing up to the truths of the past will make that possible.

< http://www.thestar.com/opinion.html >

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