As I near the end of my trip “back home” to Canada, I’m left with mixed feelings. I’m proud to be Canadian, but also cannot ignore the terrible things that have happened, not only in my lifetime, but for many previous generations in this land, “The True North Strong and Free”.
Canada recently celebrated its 150th birthday. This is the anniversary of the signing of the confederacy of the four colonial provinces, to be added to later, with the most recent province, Nunavut, having been “created” in 1999. (It was separated officially from the Northwest Territories on April 1, 1999, via the Nunavut Act and the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement Act, though the boundaries had been contemplatively drawn in 1993. The creation of Nunavut resulted in the first major change to Canada’s political map since the incorporation of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador in 1949.)
Though there are a great many stories from those pioneers who colonised this land, there are also many sad and devastating stories from the First Nations Peoples who suffered under their rule. Chief Crowfoot of the Blackfoot tribe (1830 – 1890) on his deathbed asked that his children be taken care of, that they should not starve under colonial rule (only four of the twelve didn’t starve, and all of those four later died of tuberculosis). His most memorable words speak of being utterly in the moment, and taking care and notice of the important things in life.
“What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night.
It is the breath of a buffalo in the winter time.
It is as the little shadow that runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.”
He was outlived by his mother, who lived to be over 100 years old.
More recently, there are still tragic stories to be heard in the history of this nation. I remember the Oka Crisis of 1990, a year before I graduated from high school. The Mohawk from the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory near Montreal stood their ground, literally, over a dispute where a landowner wanted to build a golf course on sacred ground, including burial ground. For nine holes in the ground, people died on both sides. Waneek Horn Miller, a First Nations woman was stabbed by a Canadian soldier’s bayonnet behind the lines. Though she survived and became co-captain of Canada’s Olympic women’s water polo team among many other accomplishments, the fact still stands that this should never have happened in the first place.
Canada has always heralded its mission as a cultural mosaic, rather than a melting pot. But this mosaic needs to be agreed and respected first and foremost, and not imposed. So far, the track record has not been all that great, and hopefully we are making strides towards a future that is better for all. Roseanne Supernault, a First Nations woman from the Metis Settlement in North Alberta speaks of this cultural mosaic, and also of the cognitive dissonance that results from trying to answer a call to consciousness.
“As an Indigenous person who partakes in the nation-to-nation relations that happen in Canada, I demand of myself that I strengthen my tolerance – that I allow my brain to hurt from confusion that’s a by-product of education (not necessarily in an institution) or for my body to feel discomfort from hearing things that differ from whatever understanding I think I’ve had prior to new knowledge being received. At the end of the day, tolerance is learning to accept that you can be wrong; the ego cannot possibly know everything in this world.” – Our Canada, Issue Feb/March 2017
I think that Roseanne’s words should be deeply considered, meditated upon, and acted upon all across Canada. For our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s message has always been one of tolerance, of acceptance; that it is our differences and diversity that makes us a strong nation. But the uncomfortable aspects that are involved in this diversity need to be felt, and not ignored. We need to meet these head on, sit with them, talk them through, and find a strong and true reconciliation that isn’t just pretty words and hopeful thoughts.
I’m still proud to be Canadian, but I am also uncomfortable. And in that discomfort I find the heart of acceptance, tolerance, and compassion. We still have a very long way to go in being what we say we are or wish to be, but let’s make the journey count, for all it’s worth.