Today’s Daily Stoic writing prompt: What can I stop making excuses for?
A timely question, and I’m going to answer it not for me, but for us–that is, for those of us living in Canada who are not Indigenous, the group often called settlers, which I think is a good neutral name. And to be quite frank, we need to stop making excuses for the racist behaviour of past governments and other institutions towards Indigenous people. “It was another time” doesn’t make it right. And while we’re here, we need to stop making excuses why we can’t start to try to repair that relationship with the peoples who made good-faith treaties with our predecessors that have been broken, time and time again.
I ran across this image in my FB memories today (by artist Cody Church) It’s filled with Canadian icons and iconic things. Do you notice who isn’t there?
There’s only a single person of colour. And no Indigenous representation at all, unless you count the top left reference (which is probably Farley Mowat; neither figure looks particularly Inuk).
Yes, it’s just a fun, silly cartoon. I liked it enough to share it nine years ago. But apparently the peoples whose land Canada is built on weren’t iconic enough to even rate a single reference. Apparently Mike Myers was more significant than them. Oh, and there’s a Mountie–iconic, for sure, but also not precisely the Dudley Dorights of cartoon lore. Indigenous peoples have a particularly fraught relationship with the RCMP dating back all the way to its inception.
Today, there’s a lot of discussion of whether to “cancel” Canada Day. And people who look like me look at all the fun in a piece of art like this one and become defensive. How dare “they”? “They” are taking away all of the fun, joy, and pride in being a Canadian!
But that’s not why I am proud to be a Canadian.
Look over to the left-hand side at the Canadian soldier with the poppies. More than any other country, I think, Canada understands how to commemorate their war dead–not with rah-rah, patriotism, but with genuine, heartfelt mourning for what is lost when the youth of a nation are slaughtered. We understand sacrifice. We understand the pain of those left behind.
We are being called to do this again.
And we understand the power of ideals. We are capable of great kindness. We think of ourselves as a thoughtful people, seeking to be a voice for peace and reason in the world. That’s why it hurts so much to be shown where we have fallen short of those ideals. We have built up structures and institutions on the backs of those who once welcomed us, made treaties with us, believing that only in becoming like us would these people be worthy of the title of Canadian. But these people did not need that title. They had traditions and history and languages and culture of their own.
Indigenous folks are grieving. The grief is acute at the moment, but it is not new. The youth of their nations have been slaughtered. No one declared war, but there was warfare of a kind, over many, many years. And there is pain for those left behind, for those who were loved but who were made to believe they were not, who died alone, in a strange land.
My culture too often preaches that grief is something to “get past.” But you cannot get past grief by attempting to drown it in positivity and joy. You must sit with grief and give it its due. It will not not be acknowledged. And a debt of shared grief is owed at the moment. Grief pays no heed to a calendar. It will come out when it will. And this is that time.
I do not seek to cancel Canada Day. I seek to transform it. To acknowledge the complexity of the history of this nation that has accepted me, and been a balm and a beacon to an American soul in exile, while at the same time causing great harm to others who walked these lands for hundreds, thousands of years before me. These are both truth. One does negate the other.
In reflection, perhaps in listening, those of us who have arrived late to these shores might again discover that light that guided us here. In accepting past and present, we might then be given the tools to craft a different future that is equitable.
There is great beauty to be found in accepting truth, even when–especially when–there is pain and testing to be endured to be worthy of that truth. Because truth is power, and if you are worthy of it, it will reveal its mysteries and open gateways to the future.