thoughts on canada 150

It's Canada Day, this year dubbed Canada 150, with its own corporate brand and a carefully worded story of that number 150. We also have Canada 150+, which acknowledges that human cultures and societies have been living in what is now Canada for thousands of years.

I have mixed feelings about Canada Day.

First, I despise nationalism of all kinds, including the kind called patriotism. I used to make a distinction between the two (something I learned from my mother), but have come to feel that it is all the same: I am better than you because I live on this piece of land and you don't. In Canada, patriotism mostly translates into complacency, as if "we're much better than our neighbours to the south!" is good enough.

But more importantly, when it comes to Canada 150, are indigenous people. The very concept of Canada 150 excludes and erases the original inhabitants of this land. From an indigenous point of view, Canada 150 marks the beginning of colonialism, occupation, extermination.

This would be bad enough, if the horrors weren't still being lived right here, right now. A country that spends $500,000,000 celebrating itself should be able to bring clean water to everyone who lives here.* The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women issue should be wrapped up by now, a shameful piece of history, not an ongoing battle. Governments should be thanking indigenous leadership on the environmental front, and trying to reverse the damage done to indigenous land and water by extraction industries.

Most of my leftist comrades eschew Canada Day for this reason, and are disgusted by Canada 150.

I agree. And yet... I have another perspective, too.

I love Canada in many ways. I am grateful that I was able to come here and begin my life anew. I love that Canada was an early adopter of equal marriage, and now leads the way in the rights of transpeople. I love Canada's public health care (and wish there was a whole lot more of it). I love that women (mostly) have full control over our reproductive lives. I love the multiculturalism, and the strong reaction when that value is transgressed. Of course there is racism here -- which only means Canadians are human beings -- but the kind of virulence and violence seen every day in the US would never be tolerated here on a large scale.

The indigenous perspective is big news here -- emphasized in the mainstream media and acknowledged by the top level of government. Many countries all over the world refuse to even acknowledge a colonial or genocidal past. Words without action are meaningless, but no action can begin without that acknowledgement; while words alone are insufficient, they are still significant.

I have spent most of my life opposing state power, and there's plenty to work on here, on every front -- peace, environment, labour, health care, gender equity. None of it is good enough. But if we widen the lens to view Canada globally, it's one of the best places to live on the planet. There's a lot I would change and fix, but if we could magically give everyone on the planet the quality of life enjoyed by most Canadians, it would be a vast improvement. (Of course, the planet would collapse, because its resources would be instantly depleted. But we're only talking metaphor here.)

Canada is far from perfect -- and Canadians know that, acknowledge it, and strive for better. Which in turn is part of why I love it here.

Canada 150 doesn't mean a lot to me. But there's no way around it. I love Canada. That's why I'll never stop criticizing it.

* To be fair, most of that money went to repairing and renovating infrastructure that will should last well beyond the July 1, 2017 party. Perhaps that highlights the issue even more starkly!


impudent strumpet said...

This is something I've been thinking about too (and I haven't arrived at specific answers), because I also dislike patriotism and find Canada Day problematic for the reasons you've mentioned. And I realized that another factor is that, like it or not, Canada has celebrated Canada Day every year, and this year is a milestone anniversary.

So to simply be neutral and unmarked (in the linguistic sense), there needs to be a celebration, and it needs to be bigger than usual, because celebration has become the baseline. It's like a politician who lost an election making a boilerplate polite concession speech, or like sending a birthday card to your racist grandmother. It doesn't mean you objectively think they're a good person, it just means you're observing the formalities. And choosing not to observe the formalities would be a major, deliberate slap in the face, as opposed to being a neutral act of quietly sitting at home.

I don't know enough to even begin to speculate on whether the actual Canada 150 plans are an appropriate amount of celebration or way overdone. But from what I'm seeing, they're observing the formalities while acknowledging the ways the formalities are problematic, which I think is a reasonable balance of good intentions, even if the execution is subpar.

laura k said...

I think it's a reasonable balance, too. I was pleased to learn that a lot of the money for the celebration was earmarked for projects that are permanent or at least reuseable. (It's no surprise that piece is lost in most discussions.)

A birthday card to a racist grandmother is a great analogy for me. I had a racist grandmother, and I loved her despite that. Now Canada can be my racist grandmother. :)

Although I stay at home and do nothing regardless! It's only about how I feel.

Amy said...

On the eve of the 4th of July, this resonates with me in many ways. Despite all its flaws, I love the US and am happy I was born here and live here. Its problems far exceed those of Canada, no question. But I still cherish this as the place where my family came to escape the greater oppression and lack of opportunities they faced in Europe. And I never hesitate to criticize all that is wrong here.

We do nothing for July 4th in most years. Once we went to the Wellfleet parade---a bit of small town Americana. Once we went to the Provincetown parade---a spirited statement of diversity and freedom. But mostly we do what we do most summer days. Except that I always read the Declaration of Independence. Its language and its mission never grow old for me. For me that is what the 4th is all about---a statement made in 1776 against an oppressive king and in favor of freedom and liberty.

copyright holder said...

nice to see you still going after what?? approx 12 years?
I used to read your blog from Malaysia back in 2005

allan said...

First post: July 11, 2004!

laura k said...

Patriotism is like religion. It's based on faith and belief, and not subject to reason or fact. I'm pleased I gave up both. But it's a personal thing. Everyone has different needs when it comes to these things.

laura k said...

Welcome back, copyright holder, whoever you are! Yup, I've been at it since July 2004. Go figure.

allan said...

Howard Zinn, from 2006:

On this July 4, we would do well to renounce nationalism and all its symbols: its flags, its pledges of allegiance, its anthems, its insistence in song that God must single out America to be blessed.

Is not nationalism—that devotion to a flag, an anthem, a boundary so fierce it engenders mass murder—one of the great evils of our time, along with racism, along with religious hatred?

These ways of thinking—cultivated, nurtured, indoctrinated from childhood on—have been useful to those in power, and deadly for those out of power. ...


laura k said...

Thanks for that.