There’s an absolutely wonderful song that was part of one of my favourite musicals, Chess. It’s called “Anthem” and it’s sung by the Russian chess champion on his move to another country. He’s accused of leaving his homeland and renouncing his Russian identity by moving away. Instead, he tells people that his land has no borders, no flags, no politics – instead, his land lives inside his heart.
As a Native and as someone who is learning more and more about my lost and denied culture, I have related to this song for years. Natives often have issues with patriotism because so much of Canada was built on colonialism and on fear, trickery, and massacre. After all, thousands of Native Canadians were sent to residential schools to be abused and to die. Thousands more lost their lands, lost their lives, lost their culture. As someone who was brought up as very patriotic, I find it hard to reconcile my pride and my love for my country with the atrocities that were brought against my people and continue to be brought against them.
The Canadian flag, re-envisioned by a Native artist
So, instead, I focus on why I love Canada. It’s not about the red maple leaf, though seeing that on the world stage reminds me of the great things about our country. It’s not about maple syrup, or my love for poutine, or the wonderful cities and towns full of people that make up this country. Those are only tangential reasons why I love this country.
There are so many things that have happened to Canada this year that have made it hard for me to be proud of our country. I don’t believe in second-class citizenship. I don’t believe in curtailing rights in order to fight a nameless, faceless “terrorist” threat. I don’t believe in harming our environment for monetary gain, and as a Native, I most certainly don’t believe in denying a large part of Canada’s First Peoples help when it comes to living conditions or economy. I am disappointed in our politicians. I am disappointed in the Canadian people’s apparent apathy towards these things.
However, the spirit of my people and of the essence of Canada – that strong work ethic that allowed us to endure years of abuse and terror from white settlers; that perseverance that allowed the other side of my family to eke out a living in an unforgiving climate; that inner core of inflexible steel that allowed the women in my family to live in situations that it would be easier to allow themselves to give up – that is what I love about Canada. We are a country of immigrants, of First Peoples, of people that want better for their children and our country. We are by far not the best country in the world, but we are always striving for better. We believe that we can be the best country in the world, and not because of our patriotism. We believe because we’re willing to do the work to make this land better.
So, I try not to pin my love for Canada on the borders and the flag – I pin it on the people who come here, looking for a better life. On those who were here all along, and yet fight because we know that the tide will turn and things will get better. On those that have been disenfranchised and still get up every morning to petition the government, to bring awareness to their cause, and to love this country – its mountains and forests, its lakes and its plains. We are the stewards of the land and we – all of us – have that responsibility to make our patriotism and our love count.
When it comes to Canada Day, my patriotism’s borders lie around my heart.
Miigwech, Canada. Happy Birthday.