Image: Trail Head Marker for the Trans Canada Trail, Tuktoyaktuk
Today I am reflecting on the optional readings for Canada Day as we commemorate the birth of our nation.
The passage from Isaiah is fitting as it describes the prophet’s vision for an inclusive society that welcomes all peoples as we live in peace and prosperity together. From my earliest school days I remember learning about the metaphor of Canada as a cultural mosaic, in contrast to the image of a melting pot used by our neighbours to the south. We learned that in this country people come together to share common values but retain the uniqueness of our own culture and background, allowing the richness of diversity to help shape who we are as a nation.
As a first generation Canadian I can say that, growing up, I experienced this inclusion in my own life. My northern European parents found good opportunities here and were able to comfortably raise a family. We practiced our faith and some of the traditions from the old country but also blended with the new. My classroom was not as culturally diverse as we see today but I do not ever recall seeing discrimination against anyone because of their race or culture, with one exception.
His name was Gary, he lived in town but had grown up on the reserve. I think he was Cree. I do not remember anyone ever giving Gary a real hard time. That would have been a mistake as he was a pretty tough kid. What I recall is how we used to make fun of his background and he would often be the one getting us going. I think it is good to be able to laugh at yourself but this was something different. When Gary joked about being poor and about some of the stereotypes which are still all to commonly associated with Indigenous peoples, what was funny to us as kids I can only look back with sadness now.
Canada did not provide too many opportunities for Gary. If I remember correctly he ran into problems with the law shortly after high school and he became another statistic. One of the thirty per cent of incarcerated men in Canada who are Indigenous, despite making up only five per cent of the country’s male population. Some might say that Gary made his own bed and he had to lie in it, but the truth is Gary’s bed was made long before he was even born.
I love this country and there is no where else that I would prefer to live. It is not, however, a perfect place and many people are missing out on the life that this nation promises and many have actually had that promise torn from their grip. We can not change the past but it is important to learn from the past, and to see the present clearly so that we can make a better future together, for everyone.
Isaiah says, “Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come”. What he had to say to the people of Israel is what we need to hear today. As we celebrate the birth of a nation, let us remember that Canada is not a finished product but a living and evolving entity. The future of who we want to be as a people and as a nation is in our hands. It would be worth our while to scrape through the veneer of hockey and Mounties and Tim Horton’s, and think seriously about what it means to really be a nation that espouses justice and inclusion for all people.
The Beatitudes, from Jesus’ sermon on the mount, was the speech that turned the world and all our expectations upside down. Maybe this Canada Day, as we can only join in virtual events from the seclusion of our homes, we can look at things a little differently. Let us put down the flag and the fireworks and give some thought to the first nations of this land who are still mourning the loss of their culture and language and for whom Canada Day is just a reminder of all that has been taken from them.
May we thirst for righteousness and the desire to be peacemakers for then we will truly be blessed and have a nation worthy of our pride and celebration.