Canadian Nationalism & Racism

Captain Canuck and -isms

Canada Day

Canada Day

As a child, I felt some patriotism – I was a big fan of Captain Canuck and I liked attending Canada Day fireworks in Portage la Prairie. I remember a time when a box of fireworks caught fire and created a spectacular flurry explosions in the air.  This also meant that Island Park bridge might catch fire. If memory serves (and sometimes it doesn’t), my father, a volunteer firefighter at the time, helped put that fire out before the bridge was damaged.

As with many Canadians, I tended to define Canada in opposition to the United States. My affinity to Captain Canuck was possibly a result of Captain America.

I was too young and unaware during the Reagan years to understand the damaging aspects of Reaganomics and Thatcherism. During the second Bush years (GW years), it was easy to feel superior as a Canadian. While our government was still neoliberal, Bush was more neoconservative and quite imperialistic (note: in my view, neoliberalism favours small government and fosters economic – & social – inequality while neoconservatism adds big prisons and big military combined with imperialistic intentions of spreading neoliberalism under the guise of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’).

As I aged and learned more about my country and about world politics, I became less and less patriotic.  And then the Harper years began in Canada and Obama soon rose to power in the United States.  By Canadian standards, Obama is still right-wing but Harper and his team worked (and still work) to make Canada ‘unrecognizable.’ I used to think he intentionally echoed the Bush’s politics but maybe – with his peculiar affinity for Canada’s monarchist roots – it’s the Thatcher years he really admires.

Nowadays, I usually celebrate Canada Day with family and neighbours and I cheer for Canada in the Olympics and in women’s World Cup football.  Even then I feel unease though… While patriotism and exceptionalism can create global inequality, international tensions and war, communities and sports are, in many ways, peaceful and unifying.

While living in St. Lucia, it was even easy to cheer for their national team at a recent cricket match.  I enjoyed the fact that the audience included many passionate – albeit peaceful – fans of both teams.

Canada’s Flag

Canada's Flag

Canada’s Flag

Aesthetically, Canada’s flag is pretty – red, white and maple. The flag turned fifty in February which, on some levels, protects itself from the stigma of the Confederate flag of southern USA states.

The Confederate flag has recently taken additional heat for the echoes of the racist roots of USA. While slavery also existed under the current US flag, the Confederate flag has become a symbol for racism and many are justifiably wanting the flag taken down from public view.

When thinking of the Canadian flag and Canada’s extremely racist colonialist roots, in many ways, Canada’s flag escapes that symbol of racism because of its young age. Slavery, the brutal residential school system, segregation (aka, apartheid), dishonoured treaties and more were all created under the Union Jack (Britain’s flag).

The Canadian flag was first used in 1965. The Portage la Prairie residential school was not closed until 1975 and the last of Canada’s residential schools operated until 1996.  Systemic racism continues to oppress indigenous peoples living within Canada’s borders and our governments continue to ignore the need for an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women (info on MMIW at aptn.ca, CBC.ca, Amnesty.ca). It is for these reasons that, perhaps, Canada’s flag should not escape acting as a symbol of racism.

Resources

Residential School System

Against the Grain (click to view)

Against the Grain (click to view)

   

"Indian Horse" by Richard Wagamese

“Indian Horse” by Richard Wagamese

Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women on Twitter

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