Canada Day and Our Shared History

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With Canadian Multiculturalism Day (June 27th) behind us and Canada Day (July 1st) before us, is there anyone out there feeling conflicted about the celebration of these “national” commemorative days? The accessibility of communications media technology to the average Janae has meant voices that were once silenced are now being heard. This means that our single “national” narrative is giving way to a narrative that is more nuanced, complex, and full of many tensions. A recent article in the Globe and Mail, “Immigration, Intolerance and the ‘Populist Paradox,” suggests that Canada is not really the beacon of tolerance for multiculturalism, despite its “wide open” immigration policy. In the article, Queen’s University professor Keith Banting writes that there is a significant part of the population that either doesn’t support multiculturalism or does so with reservations. He cites underlying fears of economic insecurity, loss of Euro-Christian heritage, and newcomers’ non-conformity to “Canadian values,” as reasons for the discomfort of some. If Banting’s assertions are true, it means that a commemorative day like Canadian Multiculturalism Day could serve more to prop up a desired hope than an expression of a prevailing reality. 

Our single “national” narrative is giving way to a narrative that is more nuanced, complex, and full of many tensions.

If you read the April 2017 edition of this newsletter and have been paying attention to varying news sources, then you are aware that there are a variety of people groups who are boycotting the celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation. They assert that to celebrate Canada’s confederation would be to celebrate Canada’s history of colonization. 

So what do we do? How do we respond to “national” days of celebration that do not inherently acknowledge nuanced narratives? Should we participate in celebrations that uphold the joy of some, while ignoring the pain and oppression of others?

This Canada Day, I feel compelled to lean into and acknowledge the tension that this nation-to-nation story undoubtedly contains. 

May I suggest that we consider developing new traditions, traditions that incorporate lament and provide space for nuanced storytelling--the emergence of a “shared history” and “common memory.” This may mean using Canada Day as a time to celebrate Indigenous and enslaved peoples’ resilience. It may mean incorporating a time of silence or lament in your gathering. It may mean choosing not to attend events that only tell that single story. I’m not sure what it will mean for you, but I know that this year, as I gather with a community of old and new friends (some settlers, some refugees, some first- and second-generation immigrants) this Canada Day, I feel compelled to lean into and acknowledge the tension that this nation-to-nation story undoubtedly contains. 

What will you do this Canada Day to honour the realities of all nations on Turtle Island? Submit your stories to me at barthur@crcna.org and we will feature some of them on our Office of Race Relations Facebook page.

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