Observing the 150th year of Canadian confederation and a New Year’s resolution for settler Canadians

July 1, 2017 will be the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of confederation – the union of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia as provinces in the Dominion of Canada. The formation of Canada as it now exists took place over time, but we typically identify the day of confederation, July 1, 1867, as Canada’s “birthday”. As Canada’s 150th birthday, 2017 will no doubt be filled with celebrations of Canadian history and gestures to a unified vision of Canadian identity.

freestyling-feminism

It wouldn’t surprise anyone who knows me to find that I don’t particularly approve of patriotism. Patriotism relies on uncritical historical narratives, assumes a homogenous national identity[1], and fuels imperialistic/colonial nationalism. But I still have a nostalgic fondness for Heritage Minutes and get that weirdly smug kick out hearing a joke about Canada on an American sitcom, somehow confirming that someone on the writing team must be Canadian and Canadians are funnier than Americans.[2] While I tend to be cynical about state and/or corporate-sponsored celebration of Canadian identity and history, and (probably like many Canadians) I root my personal identity more in my immediate communities/regions of origin and adopted residence than in my national citizenship, I do have enough attachment to the idea of Canada to understand some of the pleasure and meaning many people take from their “Canadian-ness”. At the same time, it’s important to remember (and acknowledge, and act upon) the fact that the political, social, and cultural systems that make up Canada, and give the varied communities and individuals within Canada this sense of loose national connection, have also operated to oppress and fracture communities and cultures that exist on the land outlined by Canadian borders, and often to divide them from their histories prior to the existence of those borders.

I want to propose that it is possible to observe, even celebrate, Canada’s 150th in a non-patriotic manner; in other words, in a way that may take personal meaning and sense of connectedness from aspects of “Canadian-ness” but also works to resist the oppressive imposition of a single “Canadian-ness” on others. A way to do that is to engage in discussion and learning about Canadian histories and identities (plural!) without trying to create something unified. Part of that learning means learning the dark parts of those histories – not just the nationalistic narratives that affirm a Canadian identity of tolerance, liberalism, and harmonious diversity. The complex, conflicting, and downright bad parts of our histories have as much to do with what Canada is now as a society, nation, and culture, as the more uplifting episodes do. If you are invested in Canada, whether through personal identification as a Canadian, or simply because you are a citizen or resident of Canada as a social-political entity, then you should want to learn and grapple with the problematic aspects of Canada in order to understand how to move it forward in a positive way.

Since we are still at the beginning of January and I am a believer in New Year’s resolutions (harness the power of an arbitrary delineation of time and that brand new day planner for good!!), I have a suggestion for a New Year’s resolution that can help Canadians (especially settler Canadians) mark Canada’s 150th year in a meaningful way, which is to read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report on the history and legacy of residential schools over the course of the year. The final report is long and multipart, so it might help to find or form a reading discussion group with a schedule, or even to just select a year’s worth of reading for yourself. The history component begins with the origins of European colonialism and goes up to 2000, so those volumes alone can provide a long view of Canadian history from a perspective that many of us only got a partial introduction to in school. All the volumes are available to download as pdf. I’ll be reading it and be participating in a dis

[1] Even when that national identity includes the keywords “multicultural” and “diverse”.

[2] I have no idea if this is a relatable Canadian experience, or just me.


lizElisabeth came to Edmonton to do a Masters degree in History at the University of Alberta after completing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art History at the University of Victoria. Her research interests include medieval and early modern social and cultural history, especially issues around medical history and persecution. In the first year of her Masters degree, Elisabeth received the Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, followed by the Walter H. Johns Fellowship, Queen Elizabeth II Graduate Scholarship, and the Field Law Leilani Muir Graduate Research Scholarship.She  presented at the HCGSA Conference at University of Alberta in 2016 and will be writing the entry on Leprosy in World Christianity for the De Gruyter’s Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Reception (forthcoming). She has worked as a Research Assistant at the University of Alberta, and as a contract researcher and writer for the Government of Alberta’s Heritage division. In addition to her work as a writer and researcher, Elisabeth works with the Art Gallery of Alberta.

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