On Canada Day

The students in a Canadian high school in China were given an assignment by the social studies teacher to ask other teachers about why they love Canada.

One student was worried at the response of one teacher. It was something completely unexpected.

“What is Canada?” asked the teacher.

“Should you love a country that was stolen by from its Indigenous peoples?”

“How did you feel when outsiders came and divided up China among themselves? When Britain took Hong Kong and Portugal took Macau. When Japan took Manchukuo, etc. was that okay?”

The student shook his head.

On July 1, many Canadians will crowd into city squares and parks to listen to the national anthem and watch fireworks in the evening.

It is taken for granted that citizens of a country love that country. That is patriotism. But not everyone is a patriot.

In Canada, the Original Peoples find that their languages are not official. In Canada, the reserves that First Nations have been allotted are Crown lands; that is, the lands do not even belong to the First Nations who have lived there since the world began ((See Arthur J. Ray, I Have Lived Here Since the World Began: An Illustrated History of Canada’s Native People (Toronto: Key Porter Books, 1996, 2005).)) but belong to the Queen in Right of Canada.

Therefore, to be a patriot in Canada means to love a country whose land was stolen from its Original Peoples, to love a country that does not grant official status to the languages spoken by its Original Peoples. ((The Official Languages Act of Canada recognizes equal status for English and French.))

It means to love a country riven by an economic chasm between the descendants of the colonialists and the Original Peoples. Canada was top ranked on the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) from the years 1992-2000. However, when Original Peoples are measured using the same criteria, they rank usually somewhere from 60 to 70 or so, many ranks below Canada as a whole. ((Kevin Lee, “Measuring Poverty among Canada’s Aboriginal People,” Insight, 23 (2), 1999: 2 in John Sutton Lutz, Makuk: A New History of Aboriginal-White Relations (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2008): 293. Found on-reserve Indigenous peoples ranked 65th on the HDI.)) Yet because of the mineral and resource wealth of First Nation lands, First Nation peoples “should be among the continent’s wealthiest residents.” ((See Ward Churchill, Struggle for the Land (Winnipeg: Arbeiter Ring, 1999): 239.)) Instead they have the “lowest per capita income of any population group.” ((See Ward Churchill, Struggle for the Land (Winnipeg: Arbeiter Ring, 1999): 239.))

Water is something that all people need to survive. Water is life. Canada is a land abundant in fresh water; it is assumed by most Canadians that everyone can go to the tap and fill their glass with water and drink. Not so for many First Nations. In November 2006, 86 First Nations communities were under drinking water advisories across Canada. ((Kim Petersen, “The High Cost of Lousy Water,” The Dominion, 22 November 2006.)) Half a year later, little had changed, even though the solution was relatively inexpensive. ((Kim Petersen, “Watered Down Excuse,” The Dominion, 21 May 2007.)) Water is being squandered in the recovery of oil from Alberta’s tar sands, even though putting at peril the health of Indigenous peoples nearby. ((Kim Petersen, “Oil Versus Water,” The Dominion, 21 May 2007. )) The water situation keeps getting worse for First Nations. Health Canada reports, “As of May 31st, 2012, there were 117 First Nations communities across Canada under a Drinking Water Advisory.”

Water is just a small part of the ongoing struggle for rights by Original Peoples in the state called Canada. ((See “Original Peoples,” The Dominion.))

Should a country be loved just because one is a citizen?

Patriotism has an evil flip side. This sentiment is often exploited to command or coerce people — soldiers — to kill people who live in different countries. To the extent that patriotism is a sentiment shared around the world, presumably these slain people loved their countries, too. Is it not morbidly ironic that patriotism — love of country — could inflame hate of another country and the killing of that country’s patriots?

Should not the love be greater for the people of a land and the peoples of the world than any love for a geopolitically defined territory?

Instead of a national day, why not a people day? A day devoted to the love of peoples wherever they might be, and the best place to start seems to be right at home. The people of Canada need to include First Nation peoples. To love means to care that all people have respect — respect for their languages, cultures, and beliefs — to have jobs that protect the dignity of labor, to share equitably in the wealth of a country, to be cared for when ill, and to never be encouraged to take the life of another people unless defending against attack at home.

When Canada achieves something approaching this love, then Canadian teachers abroad may have something worth extolling to their students.

Kim Petersen is an independent writer. He can be emailed at: kimohp at gmail.com. Read other articles by Kim.