Oh, Canada. How am I supposed to feel about you?

Today is Canada Day and, for the first time in memory, there was no party, no big community gathering. I usually take part in some way but I’m a modest celebrant and just wear something “Canadian,” like a Habs or Jays jersey.

While COVID-19 is responsible for the cancellation of events, the day has been muted, in general. Perhaps this is due to recent events such as the call for an end to systemic racism which, along with unresolved land issues, has many Aboriginals feeling less Canadian and caused some of them to take to the streets today to call attention to it. As an “apple,” I think I have a fairly broad perspective on the issue, which gives me a confused relationship with Canada.

I was not raised in a traditional way. I was not taught the language (except for the swear words and insults!) and most of the traditions. Much of what I do know about my tribal traditions I learned from funerals and working at Aboriginal organizations. This detachment has made me less of a romantic about “our ways,” some of which I find to be muddled and contentious.

The hereditary system, for instance, is essentially the same as the monarchy system, where power, possessions and land/water rights is passed down to family members. But so much is based on memory, oral history, and families don’t always agree. Is great leadership inherent in families? Of course not. In any group, for every strong member, there are at least two schlubs. Every society has flaws in its traditional ways and the world keeps changing so most of those ways are destined to become the “old ways.”

Certainly, the crimes that came from colonization have left wounds and anger that may never heal completely. Still, here we are. We cannot turn back the clock. The manner in which a new society was thrust upon Aboriginal people was horrific and poorly executed, and there is need for reparations and reconciliation. But, change and upheaval was inevitable.

This modern society that we live in has many ills but also many good things that we wouldn’t give up. We live longer and can communicate and travel across great distances in a short time. Food and necessities are in abundance - but not for all, and we really need to address that. We have a democracy that, while flawed, still allows us to choose our leaders.

And Canada tries. It tries to be fair to its Aboriginal people and other minorities, to level the playing field, to be just and compassionate. But the primary purpose of all governments is to get re-elected and that means not rocking the boat too much, so it’s unrealistic to expect significant change at anything but a glacial pace. Unless, of course, we have a violent revolution, and I don’t see that happening. That doesn’t mean, though, that we don’t fight for changes with urgency NOW because, otherwise, it might never get done.

I look around, I watch the news and I know that here, in Canada, we have it better than a large majority of the people on the planet. War, droughts, famine, corrupt governments, and brutal regimes occupy much of the world. And, by most quality of life metrics, Canada is at or near the top of the heap.

Does standing atop that quality of life list make a country the best in the world? Of course not. A country is not just about its land, or its wealth, its systems and services, or its military might. It is also about people and everywhere I go, whether the country is rich or poor, communist, democratic, I find a lot of good people. And I never think, my country is better than yours. That is what nationalists think.

I can live with patriotism, but nationalism is a scourge, no less than racism. It says we are better than others. It is the root of the moral decay of the U.S. and that decay, because of the nation’s immense influence, adversely affects the rest of the world. Every U.S. president I have known, and most U.S. leaders in any area, has called the U.S. “the greatest country in the world” at one point or another and suggested that, because of that, it was its destiny to lead and transform the world.

It is nationalism that caused Colin Kaepernick to lose his job. It puts objects and symbols, like a flag or an anthem, that are said to represent ideals above people and freedom. That is why, during ceremonies, I don’t stare at our flag with blind conviction and I rarely sing the national anthem (although part of that is due to the lyrics, which is a different discussion).

It’s not that I don’t love Canada. I just don’t worship it. It doesn’t belong on a pedestal – no country does. It’s like family members. I love them but I know they are imperfect. They need work. They can be annoying at times and have done shit that wasn’t cool. But I still want to live with them because I know them well and I think that they mean well and, most importantly, can change.

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