Re-thinking Canada’s National Narrative
O Canada! Our home on native land!
The Europeans arrived to wide open spaces. Empty. Land to be cleared, cultivated and tamed into lots and plots. Roads carved and structures erected meant a civilization existed where none had before. Terra Nullius – “land belonging to no one” therefore it was reasonable that it should now be theirs to claim as their home and native land.
That is what is taught. That the first settlers came and inserted themselves into empty spaces that were just waiting to be filled by hard work, some elbow grease and a sense of adventure.
And it is that legacy of entitlement and the idea that the land is just there for the taking that has brought us to a point in this country’s history where things like Canada’s breaking with the of Kyoto Accord is actually a logical chapter in tale that has long been fraught with environmental abuse followed by overt denial of that abuse.
In spite of overwhelming evidence that the Alberta tar sands is an environmental disaster of epic proportions the Government continues to promote it as a new frontier that makes economic sense even if it is at the expense of people and land – when necessary, selective amnesia works best.
Visual artist Camille Turner refers to Canada as a “landscape of forgetting.” Her work on projects like Miss Canadiana and Hush Harbour deal with Canada’s accepted / expected overlooking of the history Black Canadians. Canada’s need to separate itself from its aggressive American Cousin whose obsessive enthusiasm for Manifest Destiny is always a PR nightmare has encouraged the adoption of ‘colonial-lite’ – some amount of assimilation is necessary but in the Canadian Mosaic no one gets burned in the Melting Pot. The only problem is that the facts that don’t properly support the fiction get erased – like slavery and a system of apartheid. They drop below the surface but they don’t go away.
In the dynamics of a family we see how generations can go on to willingly participate in a lie. It’s a survival mechanism to ensure the endurance of the clan but as the sins of the fathers are revisited on the sons, like a hiccup in time, the memories come back up.
For Canada that time has come. The ancestors are speaking through the lips of the children born at a time when things looked bright but these souls were perceptive to the fact that things weren’t right. A new generation of spiritual archaeologists are uncovering our culture and exposing it for what it is – problematic and painful. They are accessing the genetic archives where the emotional memories still exist.
This process of digging down through layers has become a mechanism for healing.
Though our language is still awkward and our methods may lack sophistication in the act of uncovering we come together – First Peoples, Settlers and New Immigrants – to get to the bottom of it.
So although unhappy it’s not without hope that I write these words.
MIXED BAG MAG recommends Cultivating Canada: Reconciliation Through the Lenses of Cultural Diversity.
Cultivating Canada is a collection of essays produced by the Aboriginal Healing Foundation
“…Because Canada is a nation of diverse cultures, its people drawn from every region of the world, any discussion of reconciliation must include the perspectives of those who have arrived in more recent days and those who trace their family histories beyond western European colonial states…Those who have arrived in Canada from places of colonization, war, genocide, and devastation will very likely have valuable insights into historical trauma; their perspectives should be considered also.” Read more…
Our home on Native land: The celebration of colonization in Canada by Susana Deranger for www.briarpatchmagazine.com
Genocide, racism and Canada Day: An Algonquin-Anishinaabekwe love letter by Lynn Gehl Gii-Zhigaate-Mnidoo-Kwe for www.rabble.ca
Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein to join Canada’s tar sands ‘healing walk’ by Stephen Leahy for The Guardian
Canadians increasingly reporting aboriginal identity by Gloria Galloway and Tavia Grant for The Globe & Mail
Happy Colonization Day? by Michael Redhead Champagne