We are at a crossroads as a nation right now. It seems like we have been at this crossroads for some time. Occasionally we try and start away from it, make some headway, but then we realize that no, we have not yet finished at the crossroads. The crossroads I speak of is our relationship with the First Nations – the peoples who were Canadian before Canada was Canada. Once again in recent weeks we have been confronted with the reality of the legacies of colonialism, of racism, of cultural superiority, and of a deplorable lack of interest in really knowing and loving our neighbour.
The deaths of children in residential schools across this country are tragic. The fact that so little was ever written down about them, and that evidence and memorials of them have been allowed to fade into the grass that covers them is a shame on those responsible and the organizations tasked with their care. My prayer is that with these discoveries, new effort and resources are put into the system to properly recognize them, honour them, and move us as a nation forward with greater respect for each other and a desire to truly reconcile and find a way forward. Greater divides have been bridged elsewhere, even in recent history (I think of the restoration work that has been done amongst the Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda since the 1994 genocide). I have hope that the present nation and the First Nations can come together to create a Canada for all, not just for some.
What does it mean for us who serve Canada in the Canadian Armed Forces? Are we somehow complicit in this injustice, since we serve the government that set up the schools in the first place, that set policies creating the reservation system, that deliberately worked to exclude First Nations from Canadian society until they ceased to follow their traditional ways and became Europeanized? These questions are bigger than me and my small window of understanding, but I do want to bring you a couple thoughts to consider as we approach Canada Day.
First: recognize that for many of our indigenous fellow Canadians, these discoveries have been cause for great grief and reliving of trauma and the generational follow-on effects of trauma. The parents of today are the children of those who attended these schools. That’s real and that has impact that will continue to be felt. For them, Canada Day may feel like celebrating the institution that caused pain. This may be a year to consider very carefully how to be sensitive to this, and be guided accordingly. Changing our plans to celebrate Canada Day does not mean we hate Canada or wish it never was, for the good that has come from our nation’s presence on the world stage. It just means we are willing to set aside our own fun for the sake of our neighbour (Philippians 2:3), and grieve with those who grieve (Romans 12:15).
Second: recall who you serve, and why. All of us joined the military for different reasons. Most of us had more than one reason to join. But few of us joined without somewhere on the list being the idea of service to the place we call home. Defending Canada, and what Canada has come to represent on the world stage: a place of freedom, a place of equality, a place of safety where anyone from anywhere can come and have the opportunity to live in peace and build a life for themselves and their loved ones. Yes, it wasn’t always so, and we have work to do yet, but as member of the military, we have an opportunity to be part of the solution. I admire how so many of us have served through this pandemic by providing access and support to remote indigenous communities without the infrastructure to deal with COVID outbreaks or vaccine distribution. This is a stepping stone towards the future. In every choice we make in uniform, we have an opportunity to show care, respect and interest in the indigenous peoples and communities we are surrounded by. We have a long history of cooperation as well, and have learned so much from them. In that spirit, let us continue to serve, not just Canada, but Canadians of all ethnicities, communities, peoples and traditions. Your uniform stands for Canada, and Canada’s history encompasses more than just the last 154 years. Remember that too.