Why I choose to celebrate Canada 150 while acknowledging our faults
'On July 1, 2017, my view of Canada will not be limited to the opportunities it afforded me'
Since we immigrated to Canada 12 years ago, our family has made a point of participating fully in Canada Day celebrations.
This year, I am struggling with conflict between the desire to express love to my adopted country and the desire to stand in solidarity with the inhabitants who have been on these lands from time immemorial. I have been thinking about this and trying to decide what to do for some time.
I think most Canadians, no matter where their ancestors hailed from, were somehow shaped by the legacy of colonialism
To my family and my Canadian-born children, Canada is the country of good educational opportunities, universal health care, compassion for refugees, multiculturalism, democracy and freedom.
One of our earliest experiences in Canada was travelling with visiting family from Winnipeg to Victoria, our guests marvelling at how one can travel such long distances and not encounter military checkpoints, cross national borders or be pulled over arbitrarily by police.
And so, every Canada Day we celebrated all of that.
Also, we feel it is important to encourage our children to positively synthesize the different layers of their identity. We want harmony between being Canadian, Muslim and Palestinian. Being part of Canada Day was a great way to emphasize that.
This was important because we, Muslim Arab immigrants in a Western country, find ourselves living along one of the fault lines of global political tensions.
Fault lines in Canada
When I first came to Canada, my awareness of the plight of its Indigenous citizens was somewhere between nonexistent and superficial. I knew very little of the fault lines in Canada's own history and present. Over the years, I hope that my understanding has deepened and matured.
This issue has become important to me because it has become important to the country: the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the activism of Idle No More, issues of racism coming to the forefront of mainstream media, the activism on the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women, and many others.
Personally, I have made Indigenous friends and, through them, have come to respect their traditions and appreciate their struggle. It has helped me connect with my own history and realize that we are connected through similar experiences of colonialism and displacement.
In fact, I think most Canadians, no matter where their ancestors hailed from, were somehow shaped by the legacy of colonialism (and some, of course, were advantaged by it). This is true of descendants of French colonists as it is true of new immigrants from the Indian subcontinent or refugees from Syria.
After some soul searching, I have decided to be part of the festivities on July 1. Our family will spend the day participating in Canada Day activities and events, and top it off with the fireworks show.
We will do more
However, we will do more. We will attend an event organized by Indigenous activists and we will replenish our home library with children's books reflecting Indigenous traditions and stories. Our children will always hear their parents speak of Indigenous people with respect and gratitude.
I will also reach out to my Indigenous friends and tell them that they can count on this distant cousin as an ally and friend. From me, they will not get sympathy, but actionable solidarity.
I also recognize that it is due to their leadership that I and many other Canadians place social justice at the top of our priorities: equitable opportunities for all Canadians, respect for our environment, the safety of women and girls, access to clear water and sanitation and respect for land rights.
On July 1, 2017, my view of Canada will not be limited to the opportunities it afforded me. My Canada includes the parts often unseen and unsung, where there is poverty, substandard housing, water not safe to drink, poor infrastructure, families grieving their girls, mothers and daughters …
My Canada includes those who carry the unshakable burden of history. My Canada also includes resurgent peoples who will assert their rightful place in our history, present and future.
My Canada is a work in progress, progress that we all must commit to accelerating so we bridge the fault lines inside our Canadian family.