In addition to the standard issues of international affairs, economic growth and social equality that most of us expect our government to constantly address, the federal government has spent the last few months placing focus on what on the surface appear to be minor domestic issues. Among these proposals have been the ruling that a portrait of the Queen should hang in all Canadian embassies, flying the Canadian flag should be a constitutional right, memorials for the War of 1812 should receive funding and our army should be renamed “The Royal Canadian Armed Forces”. Although there seems to be a general consensus on Parliament Hill that these measures are not out of line, many Canadians have expressed a belief that these changes hold little significance beyond strengthening the support of Conservative Party members. I have no intention of arguing the point, however we must look beyond the veil of partisan politics in order to see that these measures have the potential to strengthen Canadian unity and the highly enigmatic concept of “Canadian culture”.
|I'll give you a hint, this isn't it.|
In the novel Mother Night, Kurt Vonnegut writes “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” Vonnegut is suggesting that the stories we tell about ourselves are what define us. This concept is absolutely central to the notion of defining a national identity. Anyone who has taken a course on Canadian politics or culture will know that finding a definition for Canadian culture is nearly impossible. Our society is made up of people from all over the world with every background and experience imaginable. Aside from the comedic notion that Canadians share an affinity for hockey, Tim Hortons and beavers, there are very few things that all Canadians can identify with. Perhaps this is because we have spent so much time focusing on the importance of embracing the cultures and traditions of others that Canada has lost sight of what makes us distinct.
|Again, not it. I promise, this happens in other countries too.|
There is a reason that Canada is viewed around the world as a great place to live. There is a reason why every year immigrants flock to our cities to start a new life. Canada is a nation of equality and opportunity where we value the ideas of each individual. This is not something that happened overnight however and we must always remember that our history and heritage have provided the foundation upon which modern Canada is built. Why is the War of 1812 relevant to an immigrant who arrived in Canada yesterday? Because if we didn’t fight as a part of the British Empire, Canada would have been incorporated into the United States before we gained status as an independent nation. Whether your family has been directly impacted by that event, it shaped the development and identity of Canada. Likewise, the Royal Canadian Armed Forces – emphasis on the Royal – participated in both World Wars as part of the British Commonwealth. This being said, as members of the British military forces, the sacrifices, bravery and determination of our soldiers led to Canadians being recognized on both sides of the trenches as a force to be reckoned with. It is our history and heritage as a country that has allowed Canada to become what it is today.
|Nobody is offended that our national police force are "Royal"|
It doesn’t matter whether you or your family participated in any historical event in Canada, what does matter is that if you live here – as a citizen or otherwise – those events have affected your standard of living. And before you ask, yes, our history is absolutely one characterized by a Eurocentric, monarchic worldview that most Canadians have never lived through. However, if we refuse to acknowledge our history because we no longer consider it relevant, we are rejecting a series of events that has allowed Canada to be recognized internationally as a great place to be. It is our ability to weave the cultural traditions and experiences of others into our heritage that allows us to be seen as a tolerant, equal nation. By placing a focus back on telling the stories of our history, the government is inadvertently strengthening our national identity. We need to keep these stories alive in order to how we got where we are today. Instead of erasing these stories because they don’t reflect the experience of everyone, we need to repeat them every opportunity we get. This way newcomers will hear not only what Canada is, but why Canada is. Canada’s heritage is nothing to hide; we have an exciting story to tell and when we fly our flag, we should be proud of the stories that helped get us where we are today.