My Reflection on Canada Day: An Immigrant’s Perspective
Author: Yang Wang
English Translator: Jovial Si
July 1st of 2021 marks the 154th anniversary of Canada. However, it was not celebrated with the joy and pride that were characteristic of this day in the past. The whole nation was disgraced by the heart-wrenching findings of the remains of more than 1,000 Indigenous children in unmarked graves across the country since May.
This land had been home to Indigenous peoples for thousands of years until it was taken by European settlers. Then from 1831 to 1996, Indigenous children were forcibly taken from their parents to attend government-sponsored residential schools, run by Catholic Churches, for the purpose of cultural assimilation. In the schools’ textbooks, Indigenous peoples were called “savages”. Many of the children were sexually abused or mistreated, and many died either at school or while escaping from school. Each and every little white bone in the unmarked graves at former residential sites marks the dark history not-so-distant from now, and the cultural arrogance and barbarity of the European settlers who committed it.
On second thought, perhaps there is not much point in singling out the European settlers. “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It corresponds to the darkness in human nature, and applies to any group of people. Children who lost protection from their families and were deemed culturally inferior would inevitably fall prey to those people.
I had a debate with my instructor on this topic in early June when I was taking a course. She said the intention of the residential schools was good, to give Indigenous children educational opportunities, and most schools were not as horrible as that. I said that the whole idea sounded wrong to me in the very beginning — if they really wanted to help the indigenous people, they should have gone into their communities and built schools or social organizations there, instead of taking children away from parents and putting them in the hands of strangers far away from their homes.
My instructor is quite a kind-hearted person based on what I have observed in class, and I believe her views represent the thoughts of many white people. The question is, did the Indigenous people willingly accept the arrangements? Did the residential schools truly do more good than harm to the well-being of the Indigenous people? Who should have the say over which culture is superior or better for humankind to live on this planet in the long run? As an observer who is neither white nor of Indigenous descent, I cannot help but have these questions in mind. Of course, my views are shaped by the modern society I am in. When we address this issue, however, the common values of the society two to three decades ago or even a century ago need to be put into perspective as well.
There are 139 residential schools listed in federal documents, and so far over 1,000 children’s remains have been found. No one can tell if more will be uncovered in the future. I don’t know whether the instructor would change her opinion in the face of such shocking, ongoing findings. What I knew was governments at all levels cancelled quite a number of Canada Day celebrations, and lowered the Canadian flags to half-mast. In his Canada Day remarks, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked the whole nation to “reflect on our country’s historical failures, and to “charter a new and better path forward”. Many people took to the streets, wearing orange shirts that symbolize solidarity with Indigenous communities. Also, some organizations called for lawsuits against the government and churches to hold them liable for the residential school tragedies.
I immigrated to Canada in 2010. During the ten years until 2020, I had found the Canadian society very open, inclusive, and culturally diverse. As a new immigrant, I rejoiced in this kind of social environment that was fresh to me, and I fully embraced the values so I praised the country from the bottom of my heart, without any reservation. The longer I live here, however, experiencing more people and things, the more I have become aware of the deep-rooted issues in the society. Then since 2020 I have seen the rise of racism along with the outbreak of COVID-19. Stereotyped thinking, arrogance, and xenophobia are like bubbles resurfacing from the bottom of some people’s minds. I therefore got to see more facets of Canada. I came to realize more how precious each and every color is to the fabric of a society. We all can do a part, through rational voices and positive vibe, to build a more balanced, wiser, and more humane social ecosystem. The value of diversity has never been so vital as it feels like today.
On the whole, I still think this is a great country. I am attaching a YouTube video of Steward Reynolds in the references because I couldn’t agree more with him. As a matter of fact, I wrote this article after watching his video. Let’s be honest with where we are, and keep pushing for improvement. Let’s celebrate for all the good things Canada has done, and help fix its problems. A nation is full of hope when its leaders and ordinary people have the willingness to reflect on its past and feel remorse about its mistakes, even though the healing of wounds won’t be an easy process.
I had planned to finish up here, but I just learned that – please forgive for my ignorance – on July 1st of 1923, the Chinese Exclusion Act went into effect. It put me in an even more pensive mood. How overbearing and heartless was the mainstream at that time to pass such a law on this supposedly festive day, that would result in the separation of countless Chinese immigrant families? How could they justify themselves to punish and humiliate the Chinese with this act, in return for their contribution, at the cost of many lives, of building the Canadian Pacific Railway for the country? Shall I still celebrate Canada Day? Would my celebration hurt my fellows who were affected by this Act, although they may have already passed away? Have they, or their descendants, received genuine apologies or compensations from the Canadian government? I pondered and pondered. Then I decided that on this day of next year, I would still raise a glass to this country, for its humanitarian spirit and achievements today, and to all the rational, kind, and friendly people living here. I believe my fellow people who had endured the hardship would be comforted in heaven to see their future generations live in harmony, equality, and prosperity with other Canadians, sharing the joys and tears of this land. Yet I would not celebrate the day in the same way like before. There would be a streak of black kept in my heart, in memory of those who were hurt in the past. I pray that our efforts today will let their souls rest in peace. I guess this is how a person grows mature, and so does a country.
P.S. The original Chinese version of the above article was published on Chinese New Star Times in Toronto on July 7 (https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/Yyh8dCbVTNGKh8O209Xi-g). After I submitted the article, I had some further thoughts. I asked myself, why did the pain become more poignant when I knew my own fellow people were hurt? Is it out of human nature or am I too narrow-minded? Or maybe both? I feel I can understand better now the relentless pursuit by Indigenous and black communities of justice in the context of their histories. It’s easier for on-lookers than for victims to say “let it go” or “let’s move on”. On the other hand, if we don’t let it go, there’s no way for us to truly move on. Perhaps the key lies in our ability to thoroughly correct mistakes both in mind and in action, and asking for thorough reconciliation with sincerity, so that all of us can surpass the past, and move forward together.
Canada Day 2021, brittlestar (Stewart Reynolds), June 30, 2021
‘Humiliation Day’: July 1 has added meaning for some Chinese-Canadians, Jennifer Kay Lee, CBC News, June 29, 2017
How Canada Day is being observed in 2021, Alexandra Miekus and Shelby Thevenot, CIC News, July 1, 2021
Canada Day muted as country reckons with treatment of indigenous, other minorities, Steve Scherer, Reuters, July 1, 2021
Special thanks to EAWLC member, translator and interpreter Ms. Jovial Si for volunteering her time and translating the article from Chinese to English. For questions regarding the translation, please contact Jovial at email@example.com.
For screen-reader users, the article ends here. Below is the original Chinese version THAT YOUR screen-reader may not be able to pick up. If you would like to leave a comment or share your perspective, please jump to the next headings.
文章写完、投稿后，我不禁问自己：为什么自己族人受到伤害才更有切肤之痛。是天性使然，还是自己太狭隘，或兼而有之？感觉更能理解原住民和黑人对过去的执着与追究了。作为旁观者，比受害者更容易说放下、let’s Move On。另一方面，不放下，又确实没法move on。大概关键在于现在的人们是否能够在思想上、行动上彻底清算过去的错误，用十分的诚意，换回受害者的彻底放下，大家一起move on。这算是对反思的反思吧，一并记录下来。
特别鸣谢东西联学社（EAWLC）会员、英语翻译及口译工作者 Jovial Si 的无私帮助，义务提供了本文的英文翻译。如对翻译有任何疑问，请直接联系译者： firstname.lastname@example.org。