Let's Celebrate the Nation We Can Become

June 30, 2021
Council Column

I’m a Scottish immigrant who’s been afforded opportunities in Canada that I’d never have been presented within my country of birth. I celebrate that fact every Canada Day.

As a poor, lower class working family in Scotland, we lived in government housing and had limited access to educational opportunities. I certainly would not have attended University had my family remained in Scotland, and I and my brothers would not have had the career and lifestyle opportunities in Scotland that we’ve enjoyed here in Canada.

We immigrated in 1967, Canada’s centennial, and first lived in Winnipeg, Manitoba, which hosted one of the nation’s largest centenary multi-cultural celebrations the summer we arrived. That celebration opened our eyes to the possibility of Canada being a nation that welcomed and supported all languages and all cultures; a nation that aspired to be a “cultural mosaic” as opposed to the “melting pot” or cultural assimilation vision that the United States imposed on its immigrants.

But, like so many Canadians, I never knew that while we were celebrating and embracing the diversity of settler and immigrant cultures that make up this country, the nation we took such pride in was actively attempting to eradicate the culture of the people who had lived on this land for millennia prior to its “discovery” by early European explorers.

With the recent revelations of just how extreme the attempted genocide of Canada’s First People was, and the likelihood of more horrific revelations to come, many Canadians are questioning the appropriateness of holding Canada Day celebrations, particularly many First Nations communities and organizations. I empathize with these sentiments, as it’s hard to celebrate a country that actively enabled and allowed thousands of children to be relegated to an unmarked grave when they died as a result of disease, neglect or abuse merely because of the color of their skin and/or their cultural heritage.

But, as an immigrant who’s been afforded such incredible opportunities in this country, I still see the potential of Canada becoming the nation it has long aspired to be, and I believe this potential is worth celebrating on Canada Day.

Today’s generation of Canadians are more open to diversity and inclusion than ever before. They are more aware of the negative impacts of racism than ever before. And, they are quickly becoming more conscious of the historic and present wrongs that First Nations have been subjected to by successive governments, both nationally and provincially.

The time is right to collectively envision a Canada that is a true cultural mosaic, one built upon the language, culture, and rights of the country’s indigenous people and their governments. Canadians from all walks of life and cultural backgrounds must demand that our governments move more quickly to address the wrongs done to First Nations by their predecessors, not merely in words, but with more rapid action to address issues such as clean water, better housing, more supports for mental health and addiction, and the resolution of land claims.

If our governments use this present opportunity to engage Canadians more deeply in the process of reconciliation and the redress of past and present wrongs done to First Nations, and if we can collectively commit to embracing a vision of Canada that fully recognizes and celebrates this country’s aboriginal heritage, then every Canadian (aboriginal, settler, and immigrant) will have something positive to reflect upon and celebrate every Canada Day.

If we cannot celebrate what we’ve been in the past, let’s celebrate and actively work toward the Nation we can, and must, become.

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