We Need to Listen: Guilt and Responsibility in Canada
This is a difficult post to write. It’s painful and awkward, and potentially upsetting. Which is also why it’s important.
This year is “Canada’s 150th birthday.” It’s the sesquicentennial of “our nation’s birth.” Break out the beavertails, deck yourself with maple leaves, and bask politely in our universal health care and handsome prime minister, eh?
This is complicated.
I’m going to start with the simplest quibbles first and work my way up. On a purely historic, pedantic note, “Canada” was an entity long before 1867. Europeans have been calling it that since the 1530s. Indigenous populations were here millennia before that. This is the 150th anniversary of the British North America Act taking effect, that’s all.
That’s just me being persnickety. Let’s move on to the hard stuff.
We have a reputation, we Canadians. We’re polite. We apologize a lot. We’re tolerant, diverse; we value multiculturalism.
Look, there’s no easy way to say this: we treat Indigenous peoples appallingly, and we have for well over 150 years.
I’m not even sure where to start. With residential schools? With broken treaties? With erasure from the historical narrative? The effing garbage-fire of that “Appropriation Award” controversy? Repeated drinking-water crises on Canadian reserves? Epidemics of suicides? The 1,181 indigenous women murdered and missing between 1980 and 2012? The fact that those are only the documented cases?
And it’s not just in the past. It’s not just something that happened in 1867, or 1787, or 1653, or 1535. We’re not done. It isn’t over because it’s 2017: the same history plays out again, and again, and again. How could we be over it, when our country rests on the foundation of such a colonial legacy?
Add another layer of complexity: generally speaking, I’m happy to be Canadian. It’s in every bio I write. “KT Bryski is a Canadian author and playwright…” There are many things that Canada does well. We’ve a lot to be proud of.
But we’re also this:
And hey, while we’re at it, we’re also this:
And yet, we are also these things:
And I don’t know. I don’t have answers. I don’t have suggestions. All I have is a thorny mass of conflicted feelings that I’ve been trying to sort through for over a year.
But perhaps there are two things to consider:
Canada tells itself that we are pluralistic. Our ideal nation-self is one which contains multitudes.
Then perhaps – does “all of the above” get closer to an answer? Can multiple Canadas coexist simultaneously? Can I have strong ties and affection for my country, whilst also being ashamed of its cruelties and failures?
Because Canada does have things of immense beauty and kindness. It also has many things which are horrific beyond words. There is light – I do believe that – but we’ve clung to our “sunny ways” for so long, we have failed to acknowledge and remedy our darkness.
And to even begin to do that, we need to do the very thing that, historically, we suck at.
We need to listen.
Listen. Own it. Listen some more. Repeat.
Happy Canada Day.
What I’m Listening to this Week
A remixed English folk ballad, because reasons. Here’s “The Three Ravens,” which kind of forgets about the ravens halfway through and becomes an allegory instead. You know, as a lot of old English poetry does.
But there’s some beautiful harmonies that remind me vaguely of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. I’m slowly starting to ponder a novel – and I suspect I’ll be listening to this song much more in the coming months.