by Promod Puri
I am not enthusiastic to celebrate Canada Day this year, but I am not in favour of its cancellation.
The horrific revelations of remains of 215 children in the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, followed by another shock of over 750 unmarked graves at a First Nation Residential School in Saskatchewan, have dampened the spirit of Canada Day.
And the ongoing plight of Indigenous people on or off their Reserves, their incarceration in the back alleys of most Canadian cities’ downtown areas are the scenes that abhor celebration.
My relationship and deep respect for the Indigenous people go back to the early ’70s when I got my first full-time job as editor of The New Nation, an Indian and Metis fortnightly newspaper in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
My editorial vantage place was in the core of the city’s downtown, not far from the affluent corner of Portage and Main. A perfect key spot to witness the lives of migrant Natives escaping the hardships of Reserve living, many without heat, electricity, and water, and then searching for some space to adjust their future of hope in the big city.
For Natives, or some prefer to call Indigenous, life then and life now is just a matter of empathetic realization about how static lives are despite promising better environments.
As we hear the revelations from the disgraced Residential Schools run by the Catholic church with unscrupulous initiative and financial support from the Canadian ruling leadership, we also hear or run into ongoing racial attacks on Asians or other visible minority communities. The most horrifying in recent days was the cold-blooded murder of four in the Muslim family who were just out for an evening walk.
With these hateful, heinous happenings of transparently real racist nature, now and in the past, the question is how in our conscious minds grasp the feel of celebrations on July 1, Canada Day? Shall we cancel the celebrations or keep the tradition and move on?
My answer is not to halt the gusto of celebrations.
Flipping the coin, we see a lot more has changed over the past few decades.
In all its ideological stripes, the current political environment in Canada is much more accommodating to take in its fold the multicultural, multiracial, and multi-religious aspects of Canadian society.
Who could have imagined that the federal New Democratic Party leader would be a Sikh proudly dressed in his ethnic outlook? We have more ministers, MPs, MLAs, city councillors and mayors representing Canada’s diversity than at any time in the history of this nation. The list goes on in other fields from Crown corporations, universities, and big businesses where the ethnic people have climbed the ladder up to the top.
And as far as ordinary folks in the ethnic and visible minorities are concerned, are not we much better than the countries we left behind for whatever reasons?
Ask the refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and many countries from Africa and South America. They got the compassion and the warmth in the tradition of this country right at the airport; on their arrival, they received welcomed by our prime minister with flowers and winter jackets. Where else! If they would not like to celebrate their lives in this country of peace, hope and opportunities?
More than that, ask those children, born in war-torn countries but now enjoying a free and peaceful life on Canadian soil. They are looking forward, proudly holding the tiny Maple Leaf flag with a red scarf on their shoulders, and are spiritedly looking forward to joining the Canada Day festivities. We cannot deny their plain and pure sentiments.
Keep the celebrations on while we genuinely expose the shameful acts of Canadian political, religious and even the racist media of the past towards the Indigenous people and help them restore their culture and heritage. And contribute to erasing the racist blights to which we all suffer.
While recognizing the severe wrongs of the past, Canada Day signifies holding up our flag with pride in celebrating what we have achieved and the celebration of what we aim to achieve to carve out the best civil society among the world’s nations.