Canada and its 150th birthday
I awoke this morning to the news that Indigenous protestors were being arrested in Ottawa. It appears that overnight they had erected a teepee and in their words were reoccupying Parliament Hill. In the midst of all the celebration around Canada’s 150th birthday the voices of our Indigenous people remind us that their history in this land is much longer. Further many of them feel that this experiment which is Canada has left them behind with disproportionate rates of poverty, homelessness, incarceration and youth suicide. Given these circumstances, is it appropriate to be hosting a celebration?
I must admit that this is a more difficult question than I first realized. I could address this in many ways. First as a Newfoundlander and Labradorean my history in Canada is much shorter than 150 years. We have only been around for 68 of those 150 years. Many Canadians still do not know that for the Dominion of Newfoundland, July 1st was a day of mourning, remembering our horrific losses at the Battle of the Somme in Beaumont Hamel. We still spend our morning somberly remembering. Further, there is my heritage as a member of a family who are all part of the recently formed Qalipu band. Then there is my 4 years I spent in Haida Gwaii and my involvement with the Haida people that gave me such an appreciation of the challenges that Indigenous people have faced because of colonialism.
I have to string that alongside my ancestors who came from England and Scotland and my 24 years that I served this country as a military chaplain. I have always been proud of how we were able to impact for good so many places in our world. I listen to some of our proudest Canadians, our recent immigrants, some of whom I am delighted to call friends. They have chosen this country and they love it, often because of the sanctuary it offers them. As one who has travelled broadly, my experience of Canada remains that it is still the best country on Earth.
Having said all of that, I believe the approach to take on Canada Day is to celebrate what has been accomplished. I would include at the top of that list our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It permits all of us to be who we are and who we want to be. At the same time, we have to acknowledge that there is still much work to be done and we must commit ourselves to working together to provide equal opportunities to all Canadians. Until the day that all of us equally enjoy the bounty of this country then none of us truly can.
The writer to Ecclesiastes said,
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
Clearly, July 1, 2017 represents for some of us a time to celebrate and for others a time to protest. It truly is a time for some to weep and a time for others to laugh. For me it will be a time of thankfulness because I live in a country where I have the freedom to choose my response.