Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Friday June 30, 2017
Some people don’t want to celebrate Canada 150, and that’s okay
As Canada gets set to blow out candles representing 150 years of being a nation some very loud voices are trying to drown out some of the cheering and hoots of celebration. Indigenous peoples are marking July 1 as a day to remind maple leaf flag waving people that it is in fact a day to celebrate colonialism, institutional racism, broken treaties, and genocide of first nations. It has added a very interesting twist and pause for thought on a usually sanguine and relaxing Summer holiday in Canada. It contrasts greatly with the comparatively optimistic and boosterish Canada we know from the hued and grainy films and memories of Canada’s centennial year. Not everyone in Canada is celebrating Canada150, and that’s okay.
Like many 48 year olds and many generations before and after me I’m a student of school taught Canadian history through elementary and into university levels. It has served as a launch pad to explore and read up on topics not covered in deep detail in those courses. History knowledge lends itself to appreciate all kinds of other facets of life from food to music, sports, arts & entertainment, science to geography, and the peoples who populate this planet. There are evolving and new interpretations of history and culture being revealed which shouldn’t be resisted, but indeed, be embraced.
As a white middle aged male I admit to bristling somewhat to Canada150 celebrations being referred to as “Colonialism150.” It falls like a wet rag on this annual occasion, made more significant because it’s called sesquicentennial, and forces one to look at the narratives we’ve understood to have built a country, mixed with national pride, and enforced by maple leaves on everything we consume, and the unending smugness we have towards our so called “ally” to the south. It’s intended to make people think beyond the celebratory images of Prime Ministers, and great hockey goals, and unique national food products. To step into the shoes of recent immigrants to Canada, with varied interpretations of a nation outside of what Stephen Harper once infamously dubbed “old-stock” Canadians.
Colonialism150 should make us all reflect on the hardships faced by our own ancestors, whether indigenous and non-ingenous, and put the struggles they faced into the perspective of other humans into a present, and future context. My Scottish ancestors were chased around their island sanctuary of Lewis by their English overlords, as my English ancestors from my other set of genes were scraping enough farthings together to flee from soot choked polluted Croydon in the 1840s to emigrate to Upper Canada. They were hardly “colonists” in the sense of rich land owners ordering natives around upon their arrival. As for my Newfoundland and Irish ancestors from the 2 other branches of my genealogy, just trust me that it wasn’t exactly a cakewalk for them either when they arrived on these shores in the early part of the 1800’s.
Perhaps the most significant aspect for Canada in the past 50 years was the reconciliation/accommodation of Quebec and French speaking minorities across Canada. Think back to the Quiet Revolution of the 60s, which simmered before the FLQ crisis of the early 70s, giving rise to the Parti Québécois, Bill 101, two referenda on separation, the Bloc Québécois, district society, a lot of hollering over borders, some flag burnings, standoffs, and much eye rolling – there are still on going problems, as there always will be, but I think, with a lot of overtures handed to a province which had been overlooked, Quebec in Canada is a lot better off in 2017 than it was in 1967, and that is something to celebrate.
In the 50 years leading to this country’s bicentennial I’m betting the effort made to linguistic minorities since 1967 will be extended to indigenous peoples going forward. That hope is worth waving a Canadian flag about, with the acknowledgement that many indigenous peoples are not celebrating on July 1, and more has to be done to reconcile with the first nations people of the nation we’ve been calling “Canada” for 150 years. Cheer for the accomplishments of a nation born in 1867, but respect the original people of that very land. – Graeme MacKay