Originally written on July 1st, 2020.
I’m sure many of you already know the significance of today’s date. For over 150 years, today has marked the “birth” of Canada, the country I call home. Known for its stereotypical niceness, maple syrup, hockey, and Rockies.
The past few years, Canada Day has become an important day in my life: I describe myself as having immense pride in my country and my role as a citizen in it, so this day is an opportunity to remind myself of the opportunities I have had and will continue to have here. Access to healthcare, quality education, embracing multiculturalism, quiet towns, a (mostly) positive image across the world — it’s hard not to be proud.
This year is a bit different.
With the world looking to the United States over the Black Lives Matter movement, I have spent the last few weeks in quiet contemplation about the realities of racism, and my role in perpetuating or challenging whatever reinforces racism. As Canadians have watched from north of the border, we’ve begun to rethink our relationship with Indigenous people in our own country.
And it’s not a good one.
This article isn’t meant to be a history lesson, so I’ll leave these links as a refresher on the racism and genocide that Indigenous people in Canada have faced.
Residential Schools in Canada
Residential schools were government-sponsored religious schools that were established to assimilate Indigenous children…
Final Report | MMIWG
The National Inquiry's Final Report reveals that persistent and deliberate human and Indigenous rights violations and…
To say Indigenous people have been treated poorly in Canada is an understatement. And what is worse, so much of Canada’s foundation is built on the systematic oppression, assimilation, and murder of Indigenous people that were here long before anyone else was.
Despite the celebrations today highlighting the happy aspects of my country (many I listed above), today is a sombre and painful reminder for the darker history of Canada. It’s one many of us have avoided for too long. Hell, I’ve avoided acknowledging it fully in my life.
I was born here. My parents immigrated from Guyana to live here. I never fully asked them why, but I know there was an underlying belief that life could be better here. Guyana, for all its good, has its own problems — and Canada has a lot to offer in comparison. The tale of immigrants leaving their home to come to a new country for opportunity and a better life isn’t a new one in our public discourse.
My childhood wasn’t great, but it was certainly better than it could’ve been elsewhere. I never felt disadvantaged in school, never felt oppressed for my darker skin (have I dealt with prejudice? 100%. If I had a dollar for every white person who went out of their way to ask me where I’m from, I would be rich enough to fly to a different country and get asked the same question), or never felt like opportunities were taken from me because of my skin colour (although the realities behind discrimination are that sometimes it's not clear whether or not skin colour plays a role in decision-making, so maybe it has happened and I’m not aware).
In comparison to what else is out there in the world — a broken education and healthcare system in the United States along with discrimination, rising levels of explicit racism and violence across the globe — it’s easy to say “life is good here!” and leave it at that.
But my role as a citizen, one that is trying to end needless suffering and improve the lives of others, requires me to look at the realities of everything. That includes my own country's failings. And it stings. We have not done enough, nor are we anywhere close to addressing our past.
Thankfully, these realities have been re-introduced into the public discourse, and we’re becoming more educated. It’s my hope that this spurs action long-term, and we can make meaningful change. To no longer “wait for progress”, paraphrasing James Baldwin.
Canada Day has taken a new meaning in my life as of late. These past few days have been spent in quiet contemplation about the different roles I play: as a first-generation child, grateful for the opportunities this country has given me. And, as a Canadian, troubled by my country's lack of progress on its dark history.
I have been wondering whether or not one can hold both pride and shame for the same thing at the same time.
I still haven’t come to a full conclusion yet. All I know is that I wrestle with these two realities in my own mind. Until then, I celebrate Canada’s birthday with a reminder of the work that still needs to be done.
November 2020 Update: I found this quote, also by James Baldwin, that summarizes my conflictual feelings.
“I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”
I’ll leave it at that.