July 1st is a date that brings mixed emotions for me. I am incredibly proud to be Canadian. My father is from Hong Kong and my mother descended from Norwegian settlers. I am a literal manifestation of the cultural mosaic we claim to love and celebrate in Canada, I have no other land to claim as my home. However, claiming Canadian soil as my “own” doesn’t sit well either. Every time I see signs for 150 celebrations, I cringe a little. Can I still be proud? How do I live tethered to a horrible past while living in respectful remembrance?
How do we rectify the truth that our success and flourishing economy has been built upon lies, oppression, and even slavery?
Not everything about the past 150 years on this soil should be celebrated. In our honest history books, you would read that we have broken treaties, corruption is at almost every turn, and death and terrorism and cultural genocide are strong narrative themes. And if you think that our contemptible, racist history is limited to treaties being broken, you are sadly mistaken.
July 1st holds a significantly racist tinge to it for Indigenous peoples, but it also holds a significant pang for the Chinese community in Canada. Not being part of an Indigenous group, I can’t speak for their oppression. However, I can add more to the discussion about our nation’s corrupt and racist past.
“The progeny of Chinese and whites cannot procreate, or their offspring would be so imperfect that perhaps in the majority of offsprings it would be no better than a mule… they are a fungus, a foreign substance, and unhealt(h)y substance; they are not freemen.” – Report of the Royal Commission on Chinese Immigration: Report and Evidence pg. 303 (Printed in Ottawa, 1885)
(My nieces are a pretty perfect example of how wrong this conclusion was, if you ask me.)
On July 1st, 1923, the Chinese Immigration Act was enacted, prohibiting Chinese immigration to Canada. At the time, thousands of Chinese workers had been working and dying on the treacherous CN railroad (For which we stole land and killed Indigenous people to build our nations economic success, yay. Go us.) and hoped to bring family members to join them. Until July 1st, 1923, a Chinese Head Tax had been instituted to discourage Chinese immigration once Chinese workers were no longer required for construction of the railway. The government had found the Head Tax “in parts, defective”, and decided to prohibit entry altogether. This act separated families indefinitely and it wasn’t repealed until 1947. Then, Chinese-Canadians were finally granted rights to VOTE. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until 1967 that Chinese immigrants were actually able enter Canada under the same criteria as others.
What’s the Chinese Head tax?:
There has been a video circulating on the internet these days. It raises the concerns many Indigenous Peoples are justified in having about the Canada 150 celebrations that are planned across the nation this summer. While this video raises awareness and relays some hard truths, what it doesn’t do is offer any practical solutions. If we are to boycott these celebrations, what should we do on July 1st instead of joining in? How are we supposed to act, what should we be doing in order to bring about positive change? Conversations are compelling, but conversations only become powerful when paired with action. So, here is the constant question on my brain, now that we’ve raised the concerns: What now?
Do we hold a trial and convict John A. McDonald and his colleagues posthumously for racism, murder, fraud, and other crimes? How can we learn from our past without becoming anchored to it? How do we move forward without dismissing just recourse? What are some realistic conclusions that we could honestly follow through on to bring reconciliation and harmony?
How do we work towards an inclusive land where we are working together for a better future for every person? (even-no, especially- if that means being willing to work a little harder)
We’ve also accomplished some incredible things as a nation: On July 20, 2005, Canada became the first country outside Europe and the fourth country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide after the enactment of the Civil Marriage Act.
You can read about many other steps forward we have taken here:
What I wonder is, “How can we celebrate our achievements while reflecting on and acknowledging the dark spots in our past?”
I’m guilty of having a lot to say, but lacking some kind of applicable thought in conclusion.
Racism and prejudice are still alive and well in this country and I wish I could say that I am immune. None of us are immune. If you think you are incapable of subversive racism and prejudice, you are sorely mistaken. Unless you are consciously working towards understanding those around you who look, live, and believe differently from you, you will slip into that treacherously comfortable place among those who agree with you all of the time.
I’ve got nothing.
But here are the practical things I’m trying to do in order to be a better citizen on earth, period:
1) Get over Myself
Stop being so defensive. The end.
It is so hard to listen to people who differ from me if I’m caught up in my own defensiveness. I’m trying to become better at listening and understanding that not everything in disagreement with me is an attack on me
3) Trying to change myself first before trying to change the world
At the end of the day, I can only truly, 100% effect change through my own actions. I can’t control others, and I can’t control what happens. I can control my own words. I can control my own attitude, and I can be a force for change by listening and being present
4) Show Up
Be present for people and for the things that matter to them.
I am ashamed to say that I have only partially participated in some of our local Indigenous celebrations. I feel so strange being so uninformed about traditions that are as Canadian as the earth that I walk upon each day. I want to participate, but I want to do so respectfully and without somehow becoming ignorantly guilty of cultural appropriation. I could really use some guidance in this area, so please, HELP!
At the end of the day, I am thankful for the land that I call home. I am thankful for those who cared for it before me, and I am thankful for the privileges I now reap as a result. I don’t want to lose sight of what was taken so that I could thrive here today.
Maybe this year’s celebration is in asking the question: “What now?” and being willing to just listen.
PS. If you are someone who is getting frustrated by all the conversation regarding the 150 Celebrations, instead of thinking, “Why don’t they all just get over it?” Or “Stop being so sensitive”, I encourage you to take a second, take a breath, and instead of asking, “Why are we even talking about this?” ask, “Why am I so upset by all of this?” I too, shared some of your sentiments once. But when I took a moment to ask myself some hard questions, I found myself in a more compassionate position and maybe you will too!