It's July 1st. Canada Day. On any other year (pandemic aside), we'd be out with fireworks and beer, reaffirming that Canada is Great, and proclaiming our love for our home and native land. Except...except that statement really isn't true is it? "Native land"? It's in our national anthem. But that doesn't make it true. Nor is it true that Canada is Great.
To date, the bodies of 1,148 indigenous children have been found at the sites of three residential school sites across Canada. 1,148 innocent lives, lost to a cultural genocide that we as Canadians have almost completely ignored for far too long.
We as Canadians love to pat ourselves on the back for being a "diverse" country. We hold our diversity up to the rest of the world and say, "See, we're Canada! We're a bastion of tolerance and multiculturalism! Are we not great?"
Except...except that multiculturalism now feels like a lie. Sure, your neighbours might be immigrants from several different countries. Sure, you might have an Ethiopian restaurant on the corner that you love, and an Indian restaurant a couple of blocks over that makes REALLY great saag paneer. Sure, one of the leaders of our government parties might be Sikh. But what does any of this matter? How superficial is all of this, when it's built on the back of systemic, calculated efforts to wipe an entire culture off the map? How cheap does our vaunted diversity feel when over 1100 innocent children (and who knows how many more) paid for it with their lives? How diverse are we REALLY, when the people whose land WE LIVE ON, land which OUR ANCESTORS TOOK FROM THEM are STILL, even today, without clean running water in some cases, without access to things every human has a right to have access to?
CANADA IS NOT GREAT. CANADA IS NOT DIVERSE.
...but we could be.
It all starts with calling this what it is. Genocide.
And that declaration has to come from the top. From our government.
Words have power; to name a thing is to give it meaning. And this thing, this Genocide, has gone without meaning for far too long.
So we give it a name, we call it Genocide. Now what? Now? Now the real work begins...
Names may have power, but that's because they are symbols. Human beings, we love symbols. We put a lot of meaning, a lot of POWER behind symbols. Symbols represent things we value, things we care for. With that said, why then, do so many of our symbols represent things that we are supposed to be against? Why do we accept that places are named after horrible people, why do we still have statues which celebrate bigots? Allowing these symbols to remain intact implies that we are willing to tolerate the horrific things they represent as long as we, the privileged, get something in return.
Alright, so let's tear down statues and name streets. Is that it? Is this reconciliation? No. No, it's not.
Reconciliation, REAL, MEANINGFUL reconciliation, can't happen without representation. Without LISTENING to the people who were wronged. It's fine to be angry, it's fine to feel ashamed, and we should feel angry and ashamed. Horrible acts were committed, and we, all of us, stood by complicit. We were complicit in our willful blindness. We allowed our privilege to shelter us from the uglier parts of our national identity. While we sat in comfortable homes with luxuries like clean water, many if not most indigenous Canadians (the people who have more right to call themselves that than we do, quite frankly), have been made to suffer through "Boil Water" advisories. Through conditions that you would normally see shades of in old UNICEF commercials while an Enya or Sarah MacLachlan song plays in the background and some B-list celebrity talks about some foreign third world country. Where's the sad, mournful pop chanteuse-soundtracked commercial for the 33 First Nation communities who can't drink the water that comes out of their taps? Where's the black-and-white slo-mo footage of neglected First Nations kids who are born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome as a result of addiction epidemics which have plagued First Nations communities across Canada for generations. Addictions epidemics which are a direct result of OUR NEGLECT, OUR COMPLICITY, OUR WILLFUL BLINDNESS?
RECONCILIATION CANNOT HAPPEN WITHOUT REPRESENTATION.
Representation in all of its forms, in Government, in the private sector, in the media. We need more indigenous voices and faces. And we need them yesterday. But Representation is not where this ends either.
RECONCILIATION CANNOT HAPPEN WITHOUT EDUCATION.
Teach this in schools. Teach children the ugly truths about Canada's history, do this not as a penance for past sins, but as a grim reminder. Teach this so that 1,148 children didn't die entirely in vain. Teach our children about the atrocities which were committed; so that the people our ancestors attempted to wipe off the face of the planet are not lost entirely to the ravages of time.
RECONCILIATION CANNOT HAPPEN WITHOUT REPARATION.
Canada is not Great. But it COULD BE. I'm not the only one who thinks so, either. It'll take a lot of work. Seven generations worth of work, if Gord Downie's estimations were correct. That's 150 years. But I'll put in that work, and do my damndest to make sure those who come after me do as well...
Because Canada is not Great. But it COULD BE.
IT WILL BE.