Today is Canada Day.
Normally, I would be celebrating our nation’s birthday. But I can’t. Not now, anyway.
It’s not because I hate Canada. I don’t. There are so many things I love about this country.
Canada is beautiful. We have stunning landscapes; the mountains, the lakes, the rivers, the oceans - the trees, so many trees, and the amazing wildlife. Deer cohabitate the city I call home, like pets – they even use the crosswalks! When visitors see the deer, or bald eagles, they get excited and exclaim, “Oh, my God, look, look!” and we just turn and go, “Oh. Yeah.”
I love hockey. Even though I was too poor (according to my dad, at least) to be put in minor hockey, I have played floor hockey and/or ball hockey since I was nine. I watch it often and am currently elated to see my Habs in the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since they won it 28 years ago.
My partner is also a Habs fan because she is from Montreal – which I also love. It’s an incredible city! So Is Quebec City. Toronto. Halifax. Saskatoon. Ottawa. Calgary. Vancouver. I also love Jasper, and all of the other amazing parks that I had the pleasure to see on the cross-country drive I took with my oldest son for his university grad gift.
And there are so many wonderful people. Almost everyone we encountered on that trip was so inviting and helpful – not unlike most Rupertites when we are approached by visitors off the cruise ships. Canada has a worldwide reputation of being nice.
Governments come and go but I support many of its programs, particularly those that are on the side of compassion and fairness. (At least in intention. I know they don’t always turn out as promised). For the most part, Canada is a good world citizen and usually breaks up the Scandinavian monopoly on “best country to live in” annual lists.
With the recent discoveries of unmarked graves at residential schools, it’s hard to celebrate the country they were built on. It is kind of like deciding to go ahead with a birthday party after a family member dies.
That said, I do not begrudge anyone who chooses a quieter acknowledgement, sans fireworks and boisterous display, out of respect for those of us who are not in an exultant mood.
Remember that many of us are grieving. It is hard not to think about the children who were neglected and abused, who died far away from their families. We cannot help but wonder about the generations that were lost. For every child, there are untold numbers of grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, grandkids … children that will never be.
And the trickle-down effect is immeasurable, making us wonder how things might have been different. Many of those that came home were damaged and they, in turn, brought damage to their families. Violence, abuse, and alcoholism were not a part of Indigenous culture but, to many, it seems like it.
It’s a lot to carry and, with new graves being found and more to come, this anxiety, that seems to hang on me like a lead blanket, isn’t going away any time soon.
I know most of you are good people and that the many of you who are struggling with the decision to celebrate or not are non-indigenous, people who love the country but are horrified at this dark piece of the foundation it was built on.
Just know that fireworks and parades, cake and music, big demonstrations of affection are not necessary to show your love. Sometimes it is like supporting a troubled friend or family member, and you just have to listen to what is being said and just being there, is enough…for now, anyway.
Rudy Kelly is a Tsimshian writer in Prince Rupert, BC. The first indigenous graduate of the Mount Royal College Journalism Program in 1988, he has written 10 plays and his first novel, ALL NATIVE, was published last year.
- Rudy Kelly last wrote on trauma, the horror of children removed from their families, and why nobody can or should “get over it” anytime soon.
- Mark Milke provides the opposite view: that Canada is far from perfect - as recent discoveries have made only too clear. But that doesn't mean there isn't much to celebrate about this country.
- Jody Vance watched the 2019 federal election from (way) down south, and saw much to appreciate about Canada.