Editorial: On This Canada Day

By John Swartz

So this is the place we have arrived at; people from all over the world literally dying with their effort to come here, while many of us who are born here, or have lived most of their lives surviving on maple syrup and poutine can’t stand the joint.

All the talk the last ten days has been about cancelling Canada Day, or at the least not observing it this year. That’s fine and maybe the correct thing to do. Partying in the wake of tragedy is never a good look.

Some people saw the underlying reason leading many to think we shouldn’t have a Canada Day coming. There was no secret some Indian children never left the residential schools and the suspicion was they were buried on school grounds. The evidence of truth to rumour expected by some people paying attention to the matter, turned into a rude awakening for the majority of the population.

People of generations before me are responsible, or complicit, or willfully ignorant of what was going on and yet here we are, many of us feeling as guilty as the perpetrators, maybe feeling guilty because we never really listened to our First Nations brothers and sisters about their conditions and reality of life.

Canada Day for me has always, maybe not always, but most years, been a time to thank my lucky stars I live here in this land of beautiful scenery, great opportunity and friendly people who often do things well above their pay grades.

We played an important role in getting humans to the moon (which may not have happened without Canadians), and we all felt some sense of pride some of us had the smarts to design and build the Canada Arm. We invented the United Nations Peacekeepers. We are rapidly adopting an attitude of doing what we can to change the course of climate change. Canadians invented basketball and introduced the elements that give modern baseball and football its form and of course gave the world hockey and lacrosse. A Canadian invented the zipper.

We are leaders in cancer research and finding cures. Canadians invented insulin. The earliest breakthroughs leading toward the COVID vaccine were made by Canadians. We have first to last breath health care. We feed the world. A Canadian invented the telephone, and another figured out how to charge the highest prices on the planet to use a phone. We’ve done so well in so many areas an American, Ralph Nader, wrote a book about the things we invented and devised.

And yet, we haven’t figured out how to elect the very best of us to be our leaders. Those people enact laws and policy that would hold lesser mortals back. At this moment in time, we have yet to see our leadership at any level stand up and do the right and necessary things regarding the residential schools stain. And it is a stain. We, as a normally good people, let that happen and it should guide our behavior for evermore. Despite what most of the world thinks of us, we are not perfect and I think this strikes the heart of the current matter. I think the shame some feel is finding out we imperfectly allowed our governments of the past to do bad things in our name, and then they covered up and they passed the buck, which we would never do of our own accord.

One thing Canadians have always done is rise to the challenge. We are perfect at doing what is necessary when up against large forces (sometimes after we have tried everything else) and here’s how we prove it.

Starting today, on the day honouring the founding of this nation, we resolve to be better human beings to each other and we insist our governments do the right things to serve all of us – not factions of our family; on this issue and many others too. In many cases our native friends invited us onto their lands and to their communities, they trusted our leaders of the time when forging living arrangements and some of us took advantage of that good will. No more.

I know there are many people who don’t understand why Natives don’t pay taxes and get government grants to do the things in their communities we all take for granted (as if anything ever happens in any community without a government grant)– like having clean water. They think history started with their first breath and because they didn’t have a direct hand in pushing their neighbours onto the worst land in the worst climates with the least resources it’s not fair an identifiable group of people get benefits they themselves can’t have.

Many of those people likely will not change their point of view. In fact, we have to understand their point of view is being validated by bad actors, mostly far right-wing mouthpieces funded by far right-wing people of wealth and much of the current divide is their responsibility (with help from a media that doesn’t think it can survive without sensationalized headlines and Reader’s Digest stories light on nuance and information). We have to understand the rich and the entrenched corporations in control of the media and the rest of our lives like things just the way they are – otherwise this would have been atoned for and fixed a long time ago.

And when it comes to making change, those voices of the last paragraph don’t have to be part of the solution. It is perfectly fine to cut them out of the conversation. I don’t ask Joe the mechanic how to fix my computer and asking someone at odds with making corrections to shape solutions is not wise; the wheel will just turn one more time with the damage perpetuated by ignorant and self-serving interests.

When some people making policy finally figured out the systemic exclusion of our Native friends was real they compensated. For example, we made another doorway for Natives into the classroom and what do you know; Native people excelled and got their degrees and diplomas the same way everyone else earned them. That they still struggled in the work place and with other institutions has been a tougher nut to crack, but no one can ever say anymore Natives can’t achieve like anyone else when they have the opportunity.

When a runner is sabotaged at the beginning of the race and when the dirty deed is found out, it’s not right or fair to say, ”Ok you can start now,” while the rest of the pack is almost done the race. No, you place them in the pack to make it fair, and that’s what most corrections to institutionalized failures are about. It’s about giving the place in society they would have had if not held back.

As I write, I struggle using terms them and they, but presently Natives are a distinct group within the makeup of this country – and only because our system has made it so. We will be the most Canadian the day we remake our systems and institutions and don’t have to talk about any other group of people as being them and they.

So if you can’t bring yourself to observe Canada Day, that’s fine, that is the Canadian way, just as using the day as an excuse to have fun and get plastered is. Both well-intentioned sides of the do we or don’t we issue will play their role in making this the best country on Earth, even though right now it may not seem to be the best. One only has to look at other places to see how minorities are treated to realize while not perfect, we as individuals are generally better at it, but we also have so much room to grow the systems and institutions we thought were fair. We are the greatest place to live on this planet and we can make it better. It can and will always have to be made better.

Addendum: This was written before the news of the day about another 182 residential school graves being found and two more churches burned. The chorus of condemnation about the church burnings is puzzling, what did anyone expect? Can we not recognize the response to the pain and suffering of those people who were at those schools and their relatives might not be as measured as a retort to a slight at a dinner party? Do we expect them to be as well-behaved as a choir, all things considered? And what is acceptable about the entire thing by our government is best illustrated by this quote from our prime minister, ““This is not the way to go. The destruction of places of worship is unacceptable. And it must stop,” Quick to speak out now when churches are burning, totally fine with being decades late with full and complete rectification of the injustice.


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