Time for another edition of “Allison’s Word,” and a return to a topic I brought up exactly one year ago this weekend:
“Uh, Allison? Didn’t you say all of that before?”
Yes, I did. But Canada is a country worth talking up any time of year. And this is especially true on the very day I write this — Saturday, July 1, 2017. It’s the 150th anniversary of confederation, commemorating the date in 1867 when three (soon to be four) British colonies united under one dominion, gaining some of its own self-governance while remaining part of what was then known as the British Commonwealth.
And for the most of this entire year of 2017, Canada has been celebrating from coast to coast to coast. This week has been a big one for celebrations and commemorations, of course, with none other than Charles, Prince of Wales (and heir apparent to Canada’s official head of state, Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom), arriving in the northern territory of Nunavut on Thursday for the start of a 3-day visit to Canada.
And on this big day, of course, Canadians will run the gamut of celebrations organized and otherwise — parades, speeches, citizenship ceremonies, concerts, cookouts, ball games, fireworks, even the birthdays of “centennial babies” — all held to fete Canada on its 150th birthday. Here, you can find an ongoing rundown of the big things happening today; as I write this, the weather forecast is calling for a chance of thunderstorms in the national capital of Ottawa.
“Getting rained on during your big day is a bummer.”
At least Canadians have the freedom and opportunity to celebrate their nation’s big day any way they wish. Of course, they’re also celebrating all that makes them Canadian and bringing their talents, skills, pride, and humility to the world.
“Better watch out for them. They look just like us.”
I’ll interpret that as good humor. As I noted in my post from a year ago, so many Canadians have passionately yet unselfishly brought their talents to the world’s benefit, from academia to government, science to medicine, literature to fine arts, athletics to entertainment. And, yes, while some of them have had to reach those heights outside Canada’s borders, at least those back home can take pride in the fact that they’re Canadian.
“My god, they’re coming down and taking our jobs!”
Well, Disembodied Voice, are you a Nobel laureate? (Canada as 22 of them.) Have you gone into space like Roberta Bondar or Chris Hatfield? Have you won the Stanley Cup? Or can you, say, portray 22 some-odd characters in a deeply heavy and suspenseful dramatic series every week?
“Uh… you’re right on all counts, especially that last one; I’m no Tatiana Maslany.”
Or a Michael J. Fox, or a Kiefer Sutherland, or any of the several hundred past and present actors and actresses who call Canada their home and native land. But, hey, as the saying goes, you can always practice, practice, practice before getting to Carnegie Hall.
Of course, being extremely talented yet quite humble and polite…
*LOL* Yeah, and saying “sorry” a lot are just some of what makes Canadians, well, Canadians. There are 150 facts about Canada that you can find at this link. And, I highlighted several Canadian English terms and colloquialisms in that post from one year ago, but I want to highlight here a newer feature on national and regional Canadian terms in a CBC.ca quiz you can take right here.
“How’d you do?”
Uh… well, there’s a term included in the quiz that’s called “hitting the rhubarb,” and let’s just say it suitably describes how I did on said quiz.
I want to use the balance of this post to talk up three other things about Canada; I’ve talked about some of them before, but they shouldn’t go without highlight on this post at this time in our world. The first is about Canada’s current head of government, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“Justin Trudeau? He’s a dreamboat!”
Asked and answered last year. Since 2015’s federal election, Justin Trudeau has presented himself as a paragon of positiveness and respect to others (two words: “sunny ways“). This was on full display last Sunday, when Trudeau, along with his wife, marched in Toronto’s LGBT pride parade, doing so for the second year in a row.
The Canadian-born journalist Aliya Jasmine Sovani, who I happily follow on Twitter, said it best when showing off that first tweet above saying, “World leaders can show compassion, respect, inclusiveness, integrity, [and] ability to evolve… while still ruling with power.” That’s an obvious jab at You Know Who, who since January has ruled over the U.S. by exhibiting traits that are the opposite of compassion, respect, inclusiveness, integrity, and evolution.
“DJT didn’t even give official recognition to Pride Month. Ugh!”
The fact that You Know Who is so divisive and Justin Trudeau is the exact opposite, and that Canada doesn’t seem as divisive as the U.S. is right now, has made Canadians more proud to be Canadian. Or at least those in the province of Manitoba, who were surveyed last month for a poll that was released yesterday by the Winnipeg Free Press. It could be a byproduct of the national pride a commemoration such as Canada’s sesquicentennial can generate. But to me, it’s more about one world leader governing a country where respect for others is the national norm, despite a great many differences, while another world leader brings his country shame and embarrassment by making an utter mockery of himself and the office he holds and fostering an “us vs. them” philosophy.
Let’s transition from Good Canada to Bad Canada at this point.
“You mean Canada isn’t entirely perfect?”
No, and I’m about to explain a big reason why. First, let’s note that Canada has earned high marks for what it brings to its citizens and the world. A U.S. News & World Report survey of “Best Countries” ranked Canada 2nd overall (behind only Switzerland) and first in the category of “Quality of Life.”
“That’s certainly something to crow about.”
But there’s a big “but” coming on, and with that, I show you another picture of Justin Trudeau, from just yesterday morning:
That’s a picture of the prime minister exiting from a teepee set up on Parliament Hill in Ottawa and wearing a little more serious look on his face. You can see in the background the stage setup for official Canada Day celebrations. The teepee, however, was a rather late, rather impromptu, and rather very unofficial addition. It was set up by a group of First Nations peoples to whom Trudeau paid a visit on Friday morning to offer what he only termed to assembled media “a message of respect and reconciliation.”
“First Nations” is the collective term for the groups of various Indigenous peoples in Canada. A good thing about Canada compared to the U.S. is that almost from the moment English settlers arrived in Canada so many centuries ago, Euro-Canadians have generally had cordial, though surely far from perfect, relations with those from First Nations. This is the general opposite of the centuries of conflicts between Native Americans and the U.S. Government and their colonial predecessors and Euro-centric settlers.
“Three words: ‘Trail of Tears.'”
While the quality of life among Euro-Canadians and most other Canadians from other nationalities has generally been okay, the same cannot entirely be said for the Indigenous peoples. (Side note: Don’t call them “Eskimos” or “Indians” or even “Aboriginals;” those terms have definitely fallen out of favor.) The primary reason that group of First Nations peoples set up camp on Parliament Hill this week — what they termed a “reoccupation” (Parliament Hill is situated on the Algonquin people’s traditional territory) — was to highlight the economic disparity many Aboriginal communities face in Canada. They cited in part the Canadian government’s spending on sesquicentennial celebrations while some Indigenous peoples, thanks in part to displacement situations, live in underdeveloped lands and must get by on less-than-ideal financial and living conditions (e.g. no potable water immediately available).
The issues are not solely about living conditions or drinking water either, and with that, I must highlight one of the darkest skeletons in Canada’s collective closet: The residential school system. Here’s the simple explanation: Canada’s federal government routinely plucked Indigenous children from their native lands, families, and cultures, and placed them in boarding schools run by Christian churches. While there, the children had to assimilate into the dominant Canadian culture. They were forced to learn and speak the English or French languages. They were deprived of their ancestral languages and ways of life. They faced abuse (verbal, physical, and sexual) and neglect from their instructors as well. And it was a practice that lasted from at least the 1880s until the last federally operated residential school closed in 1996.
The horrible practice led in part to the disruption of indigenous practices and cultures across generations. As well, it led to those of the estimated 150,000 children who survived the system — that is, if they were able to survive it (at least 6,000 did not) — entering a stigmatized culture, with an increased prevalence of post-traumatic stress, alcoholism, substance abuse, and suicide within Indigenous communities. It’s a culture that, sadly, still persists.
“Yikes. That is a sad legacy.”
And it goes without saying that it’s left a collective scar on the Indigenous peoples that has sadly endured for many, many generations. At least a formal apology was pronounced by the Canadian government in 2008. That year, as well, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established which would bring to light the horrors of the residential schools and recommend actions to help rectify the wrongs and bridge the frayed bonds between Indigenous peoples and the rest of Canada.
So, yeah, with all that, not to mention other economic and social issues (such as missing and murdered Indigenous women), you understand the resentment that many Indigenous peoples harbor towards their being marginalized. That resentment extends to the celebration of Canada Day and the nation’s sesquicentennial. Sure, there will be some from Indigenous cultures who will celebrate this day and see hope for the future.
But many others will celebrate Canada Day out of spite, or at least in a spirit of resistance and cynicism. A few others have gone so far as to say they won’t celebrate it at all.
But it’s not as if Canada’s powers that be have swept the lingering issues under the rug. Heck, even Prime Minister Trudeau has addressed this problem in the video embedded below, his official Canada Day message to all of the country’s citizens, in which he encourages a tone of respect and diversity towards all regardless of background.
So, yeah, it’s not as if Canada claims they’re the most perfect country in the world. Sure, they can claim being amazing and beautiful and all that…
…uh, but they’re not like some countries where some of the citizenry practice a “we’re the best, screw the rest” mentality. Canada seems to be a country where people can aspire to achieve great things, yet in those pursuits remain humble, admit to shortcomings, and aspire to be better in the future. The Indigenous peoples situation is a prime example of that.
Overall, Canada can certainly take pride in being a country where being welcoming, progressive, multicultural, diverse, humble, and other positive adjectives are not bad things. Oh, and being civil as well. With that, I want to highlight an interview NPR’s Morning Edition aired Friday with Mike Myers.
Yeah, the actor/comedian who brought Austin Powers and several other characters to life on Saturday Night Live and in film. Myers, who currently resides in the U.S. but is Canadian-born and proudly Canadian through and through, was interviewed by Morning Edition on the occasion of Canada Day weekend and to highlight a book he wrote late last year — called, simply, Canada — that serves as a “love letter” to his native country. One of the highlights of Myers’ interview that stuck with me all day was how he responded to the question of why he loves Canada:
“In a world where countries have more passion and more oomph, our civility is looking awfully sexy lately. I don’t know of a country that is working as hard as Canada to try to get things right in terms of inclusion, in terms of a level playing field. I think we don’t get everything right, but we’re certainly trying really hard up there.”
Civility. Respect for all. Progressiveness. The desire to rectify egregious wrongs. Oh, and this:
“I say in the book we may not have put a man on the moon but we’ve been awfully nice to the man on Earth. And that is something I’m very proud of.”
So, yeah, let the Roman Empires and Great Britains and United States influence the world with great effect. Canada can be content with bringing niceness to the world.
“And smarts? And talents?”
“A big honor?”
A very big honor; in fact, it’s the highest honor the Government of Canada can bestow on its citizens (only the Order of Merit ranks higher; that comes which Queen Elizabeth in her role as Canada’s monarch). And it came a day before Myers and his fellow patriots celebrate the 150th birthday of one pretty awesome country to look up to, both literally and figuratively. A place of a rich and varied history, and a place where striving to respect others (black and white, native and immigrant, LGBT or straight) is the order of this day and every day. A place called…
To close, let’s circle back to Mike Myers: He narrated for Legion, the Royal British Legion’s official magazine, a beautifully-produced and well-voiced video marking 150 years of Canada, its history (warts and all), what it represents, and what it brings to the world. It’s well worth 5+ minutes of your time, and it encapsulates the great history and significance of Canada better than I could ever do here.