By Margaret-Anne Enders –
This year, Canada will mark its 150th anniversary. Celebrations are being planned in towns and cities across the country. It’s easy to get drawn into the hype and excitement, especially with so much global political stress. Who wouldn’t want to celebrate? Let’s slow down and think about this for a moment. Who wouldn’t want to celebrate? Canada is country that offers great opportunities. It is a vast land with stunning natural beauty. It has been built up through the generations by immigrants from every continent, each region bringing culture and traditions that have been woven into a rich tapestry. Canada has offered refuge to many and has a long-standing, albeit currently fragile, reputation of standing up for peace and justice throughout the world. What’s not to celebrate?
At the risk of ruining the party, I feel compelled to join other voices in suggesting that if we scratch the surface of our shiny reputation, we will find those who might not find cause for rejoicing. In this 150-year history, many minority groups have experienced suffering and hardship at the hands of Canadian policies, including the Japanese internment camps and the Chinese head tax.
For the original people of this land, 150 years of Canada means 150 years of colonialism. More than that, actually, as colonization started long before the signatures on the British North America (BNA) Act were set to paper. For the First Peoples, this land, the vast spaces, the beauty and fierceness on which they depended for survival and which they viewed sacred, was taken from them and allotted back in small parcels, disrupting sacred connection, food security, and independence. The country that offered refuge to those fleeing situations of oppression was, at the same time, actively oppressing the original inhabitants of this land. While immigrants were generally encouraged to come, and keep their cultures alive (mosaic, not melting pot – remember?), First Nations, Metis, and Inuit were banned from practising and passing on their own cultures and spirituality. Broken treaties, the reserve system, residential schools, and the 60s scoop are just some examples of Government Canada’s oppressive policies throughout the years.
And today, despite an official apology for the harm caused by residential schools, despite the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, racism – both individual and systemic – abounds in our country. With so much reconciliation work left to do, it doesn’t feel right to mark the occasion with celebrations.
Before you accuse me of wanting destroy the party altogether, just wait. We live in a land of such diversity and with a multiplicity of experiences. What I’m actually suggesting is that we make space for the stories that challenge our collective narrative of a picture perfect multicultural country. Let us make space. Let everyone hear the stories of pain, betrayal, and loss, and know that they, too, are part of our history. The tricky thing is that it is uncomfortable. As a society, we do not face discomfort well. We deny, deflect, medicate, and distract—anything to avoid discomfort. And if we truly listened to the stories of the marginalized people of this land, we would have to sit not just with our own discomfort, but in theirs as well. Misery times two. We would have to make space for our own feelings of sorrow, guilt, and uncertainty. But, as Justice Murray Sinclair said during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, reconciliation is uncomfortable.
I am reminded of the often-expressed frustration by non-native people regarding residential schools: “Why don’t they just get over it? Why can’t they just move on?” What if, instead, we made space for the stories? What if we moved from thinking that the era of oppression is over and done with to realizing how much justice work still needs to be done? What if we moved from frustration to compassion? What if we moved from talking to listening? What if we moved from blame to curiosity? What if we made space for authentic relationships to develop? What if we moved from simply not wanting racism in our country to actively working to eliminate it? That would be reconciliation, and therein lies the hope for the next 150 years.
My hope is that the Canada 150 events will include a blend of stories of those who love this land, those who have found refuge and new life here, and those who have experienced its dark side and challenge us into a better future together. I hope that the events will include demonstrations of and plans for genuine reconciliation. Perhaps this 150 milestone will mark a new era in making space for new relationships, ones that can withstand the discomfort of learning and growing together. Now that would be something to celebrate.
In her work with the Multicultural Program at Cariboo Mental Health Association, as well as in her life as a parent, partner, faithful seeker, left-leaning Christian, paddler, and gardener, Margaret-Anne Enders is thrilled to catch glimpses of the Divine in both the ordinary and the extraordinary. To find out more about the Women’s Spirituality Circle, call her at (250) 305-4426 or visit www.womenspiritualitycircle.wordpress.com or on Facebook at Women’s Spirituality Circle in Williams Lake.