My Reflection on Canada Day: An Immigrant’s Perspective / 2021年加拿大日随感

My Reflection on Canada Day: An Immigrant’s Perspective

Author: Yang Wang

English Translator: Jovial Si

July 2021

 

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.

 

References

Canada Day 2021, brittlestar (Stewart Reynolds), June 30, 2021

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4RWv5f2lzJQ

‘Humiliation Day’: July 1 has added meaning for some Chinese-Canadians, Jennifer Kay Lee, CBC News, June 29, 2017

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/humiliation-day-chinese-canadian-head-tax-exclusion-act-july-1-1.4175025

How Canada Day is being observed in 2021, Alexandra Miekus and Shelby Thevenot, CIC News, July 1, 2021

https://www.cicnews.com/2021/07/canada-day-2021-a-day-of-reckoning-0718481.html#gs.5eci1r

Canada Day muted as country reckons with treatment of indigenous, other minorities, Steve Scherer, Reuters, July 1, 2021

https://www.reuters.com/world/no-reason-celebrate-canada-day-muted-country-reckons-with-dark-colonial-history-2021-07-01/

 

Acknowledgement

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 zheng_si@yahoo.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.

 

 

2021年加拿大日随感

2021年7月1号是加拿大成立154周年的国庆日,但是全加拿大没有了往日的自豪和欢乐。自五月份以来,全加各地陆续发现了1000多个原住民儿童的乱坟岗,让人伤痛,令加拿大蒙羞。原住民在这片土地上生活了几千年甚至上万年,欧洲殖民者来了以后,从1831年到1996年,由政府出资,各个天主教会建立寄宿学校(residential school),把原住民的孩子强行代离他们的父母,集中到这些学校进行所谓的开化教育。他们的课本里,会把原住民称为“野蛮人”(Savage),很多儿童受到性侵或虐待,不少人死在学校或者逃往家中的路上。这些在多个寄宿学校原址发现的、未加任何标记的坟墓,用一根根小小的白骨,标注出这段并不久远的黑暗历史,让人们无从躲避;很多欧洲人文化自大、残忍野蛮的一面暴露无疑。其实也许跟是不是欧洲人无关。任何一个人群,当他们享有绝对的权力,人性中黑暗的一面就会被诱发出来;那些失去家庭保护、文化上被认为低人一等的弱小儿童,就必然会成为受害者。六月中上旬我在上一门课,课堂上还和老师就这个问题辩论过。她说原住民寄宿学校的初衷是好的,为原住民儿童提供了教育机会,大部分学校应该也没那么可怕。我说在我看来,这个主意一开始就是错的;如果真的想帮助原住民,就应该走入他们的社区,在那里建学校或社区组织,而不是把儿童从父母身边带走,交到陌生人手里。这位老师本人还是挺善良的,她的观点应该代表了不少白人的想法。可是,原住民愿意这样吗?这种做法对原住民的生存福祉,真的是利大于弊吗?应该由谁来决定,哪一种文化更高级,让人类更适合在这个星球上居住?我既非白人,也非原住民,从一个旁观者的角度,会自然而然产生这些疑问。当然,我是立足于现代社会,才会有现在的观点,但是二、三十年前乃至一百多年前的社会普遍认识是什么,是个问题。这样的寄宿学校在联邦文件里注明的有139所。迄今被发现的草草掩埋的孩童就有1000多了,还不知以后会发现多少。面对这样触目惊心的惨象,不知这位老师会不会改变她的想法。各级政府倒是取消了不少庆祝活动,下半旗,总理特鲁多在国庆日讲话中号召大家把这一天当作反思日,认识到国家曾经犯过的可怕错误,避免重蹈覆辙。很多人穿着象征支持原住民的橙色衣饰游行。也有组织要对政府和教会提起犯罪诉讼,追究责认。

我2010年移民来到加拿大,到2020这10年间,整个加拿大社会是一种非常开放包容、提倡多元文化的氛围。作为一个新移民,我欣喜于这种新鲜的感觉,完全认同这样的社会理念,所以对加拿大的赞美是毫无保留的。生活日久,接触到的人和事慢慢多起来,对社会深层的问题也就慢慢有了更多了解。尤其是新冠疫情爆发以后,种族主义沉渣泛起,这个社会部分人保守、自大、排外的一面也更多地显露出来。我看到一个更加多面体的加拿大。也更加感觉到社会生态中,每一种颜色都是可贵的;我们每一个人都可以尽力做点事情,发出理性的声音和光亮,让社会变得更加平衡、睿智、有人道主义色彩。多元化的价值,从来没有像今天这样显得那么重要、性命攸关。

但总体来说,这仍是一个比较好的社会。文后所附的YouTube视频链接里,Stewart  Reynolds的观点我非常赞同–事实上,这篇文章正是在看了他的视频后写下的–承认问题,努力解决问题;庆祝这个国家好的一面,每个人尽力去改进它不好的地方。一个从上到下,愿意对过去进行反思,对犯的错误感到羞愧的国家,是有希望的,即使弥合伤痛困难重重。

行文至此,本该结束。但我刚刚了解到–原谅我对历史的无知–7月1号也正好是1923年”排华法案”的生效日。我的心情变得更加复杂起来。那个时代的主流社会,该有多么的高傲、残忍,才会在这个本应普天同庆的日子里,通过一部制造了多少家庭骨肉分离的法案,抹杀中国人为建设加拿大铁路做出的贡献、付出的生命,而要用这部法案来惩罚、羞辱他们?我还应该为这一天喝彩吗?我的喝彩,是不是对受到这个法案影响的我的族人的伤害,进馆他们可能已不在人世?他们或他们的后代,得到加拿大政府真诚的道歉或赔偿了吗?我思考了一下,觉得明年此时,应该还是会为这个国家今天的人道主义精神和成就喝彩,为生活在这里的所有理性、善良、友好的人们喝彩;我那些备尝艰辛的族人,如果天上有知,应该也会希望他们的后代同胞融入这片土地,枝繁叶茂,和其他加拿大人一起平等、幸福地生活在这里,分享它的一切吧,无论是痛苦,还是欢乐。只是,我不会再像前几年那样单纯地、全新地欢庆它;我的心里会有一抹黑色,留给那些被伤害过的人–愿我们今天的努力,让他们的灵魂安息。也许人和国家一样,就是这样一步一步成熟起来的吧。

汪洋

完稿于2021年7月3日,多伦多

 

又: 本文中文原文于7月7日发表在多伦多中文报纸《星星生活周刊的》微信版,链接如下:

https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/Yyh8dCbVTNGKh8O209Xi-g

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。

参考资料:

请见上面英文版最后的references。

 

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: zheng_si@yahoo.com

9 thoughts on “My Reflection on Canada Day: An Immigrant’s Perspective / 2021年加拿大日随感”

  1. Below comments are from Mr. Ian White:
    “I reflect that the final dismantling of the residential school system came after Canada adopted its Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the 1980’s. It is hoped that, with this fundamental protection for human rights in place, atrocities like the Residential School system and the Chinese Exclusion Act will never happen again. It is, of course, one thing to protect people’s rights in law, and another to shift what passes in people’s minds. We still have work to do!”

  2. Below comments are from a white Canadian born female friend:
    “Job well done! I thoroughly enjoyed your article about reflecting upon Canada‘s day. You had some very pointed points to make. So right about power corrupting and that we all could be tempted to have similar thoughts.
    So right about how one looks at things differently when they are directly affected. But you have a positive outlook for the future and that’s what counts.”

  3. Below comments are from E.M.J., a white Canadian born friend:
    “I find the whole subject very distressing and your approach is relatively balanced. I struggle with an assessment of the past through modern eyes. That blanket cruelty that was practiced and accepted around the world for centuries and I don’t think there’s an exception to that. None of it’s right or should have happened, but it did. People thought and behaved differently and we can be grateful that we are doing a slightly better job. Pointing fingers and blaming is not helpful, acknowledging and moving on is better for everyone. ”

  4. Below statement is from Mr. George Elliott Clarke sent over to us:

    “The horrific revelations of definite hundreds and probable
    thousands of unmarked graves of Indigenous and Metis
    children, ripped from the bosoms of their parents and
    homes, and essentially incarcerated in Federal-government-
    sanctioned and religious-order-operated “Residential
    Schools,” reminds us that a process of “Truth and
    Reconciliation,” whose end goal is “healing,” can only
    succeed when History (which is Truth) is fully recovered
    and “Reconciliation” (which is Justice) provides restitution
    and reparations to people and persons who have endured grievous
    wrongs and/or criminal policies and acts.

    The recent headlines that have shocked and disgusted most
    Canadians are also the signatures of the actual violence
    of the project of White Supremacy and imperial settler colonialism
    that have been too often erased by the propaganda of
    patriotism and the bromides of multiculturalism. We can only
    truly progress as a democratic society promising liberty,
    equality, opportunity, and dignity, when we demolish finally
    the hierarchy of ethnicities that pits European Caucasians
    against Black/Indigenous/People of Colour “Canadians,” that
    ranks settler institutions above Indigenous cultures, and
    that continues to police harass, over-incarcerate, and
    marginalize Black and Indigenous people especially. We
    must own our collective, racist history, so that we can
    repudiate its authors and attend to its repercussions. We
    also need to declare the project to create Canada as “a
    white man’s country” a failed, inhumane, tyrannous, and, yes,
    genocidal effort that had to mandate suspension of civil
    liberties (as when Japanese Canadians were interned in
    labour camps) as well as suppression of human rights (as
    when Indigenous children were forced to Christianize and
    Westernize–“or else”). We must not accept the false belief
    that apologies for past injustices or promises of “good
    behaviour” now represent any actual repudiation of the
    racism–pure-and-simple–that has wrecked and wasted, ruined
    and restricted, so many BIPOC lives and hopes, and continues
    to raise havoc respecting Indigenous Women and Girls in
    particular as well as to torture all those Black and Brown People of
    Colour challenged about, not just their citizenship, but
    their very existence as human beings, in every encounter
    with White Supremacist and/or settler authority. We also
    must not accept the false belief that current governmental
    and constitutional arrangements are “good enough” to allow
    for the transformation of this society. The first thing
    that should be done is to replace the settler Constitution
    with one that puts Indigeneity at the centre of our national
    being so that “our home on Native land” is governed by
    Indigenous principles of environmentalism, pacifism, and
    respect (not just tolerance) of differently spirited persons
    and peoples.

    This moment of reckoning with a past of violent, institutionalized
    racism must not become one marked by the paralysis of grief or
    even the stasis of apology, but rather must be understood as
    the catalyst toward obtaining a truly egalitarian society–with
    empowerment of Indigenous peoples, all women, all visible
    (marginalized) minorities–readily achieved via governmental
    powers of appointment (ministers, boards, agencies, commissions,
    senators, courts) and the people’s power of the educated vote
    versus the colossi of corporate and moneyed propaganda. Indeed,
    we need to understand that, for transformative justice to be
    achieved, we need to identify those actually responsible for
    past and ongoing societal crimes (such as the mismanagement of
    nursing homes), hold them accountable, but also overthrow the
    myth of White Supremacy and the Settler Superiority Complex that
    made and continues to make the seizures of children, the wrongful
    incarceration and injury of children, the miseducation of
    children, and even their lonesome deaths and loathsome burials
    a predictable outcome of their governors’ indictable offenses.

    The people of Canada can say “Happy Canada Day”–truly–once
    we create the Canada that we have always wanted and yet have
    always been denied by those who insist on maintaining “the Vertical
    Mosaic,” with Indigenous and Black people at the bottom,
    silenced in prisons, suffering in poverty, or, worse, their
    children disappeared and their graves desecrated. Good people,
    we can and must remake Canada in our collective image, not that
    of the land-thieves, slave masters, environmental destroyers,
    labour exploiters, and jingoistic imperialists of yore.”

  5. Below comments are from Mr. Martin J. Copeland:
    “This is really well written, and I couldn’t agree with you more. As you know, I’m Jewish, and my parents lived through perhaps the worst of humanity, having gone through the holocaust. Like so many other minorities, we are a people that have learnt to let go and move forward, and cherish every breath we take. My hope, like yours, and the majority of people, is we can all come together as one. At the end of the day, we are all human beings and we need to respect and admire each other at all times. Hopefully, at some point in our future, we will experience people coming together rather than moving apart. And hopefully, we can leave a better world for our children.
    …it’s important to me that every Jewish person continues to do good and make significant contributions to our Community. And yes, unfortunately, there is still a significant amount of discrimination against the Jewish population. In fact, while it’s not well publicized and likely will surprise you, there are more hate crimes in Canada against the Jewish people than any other ethniticity. Read
    https://grandinmedia.ca/religion-a-factor-in-one-third-of-hate-crimes-in-canada/”

  6. Below comments are from Ms. Wyne Tsang:

    “Deeply thank you for sharing the authentic you. Every person needs to find whatever that makes sense for them in order to avoid insanity. Making sense is a continuous process as revealed in your life. Every time you discover new information, it will take work and time to assimilate into your sensible world view. Keep going. That is life.”

  7. Below comment is from Ms. Christine Malec:
    “Thanks for sharing this. It helps me to maintain hope that Canada is still a place and an idea worth working on.”

  8. Evil is in your pride
    Let’s scratch that
    You have reasons
    Reasons
    To believe you are superior

    You created new tools and used imaginatively
    Dreamt beyond the cornfields of your native land
    Your growth courage exploration
    Incomparable unimaginable beyond belief

    You accepted the offer
    You really can transform stone into bread

    The world belonged to you
    Hissed the slithering serpent
    Everything
    Everyone
    You are the pride of kings and nobles
    You can skim over oceans
    Fly over deserts
    To take

    Your brothers’ land
    Your sisters’ children
    Decompose your neighbors’ entire way of life
    And feed my ambition

    Every empire without exception
    The viallger with a whip
    Caught between his sheep and the drone

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