Friday, August 26, 2016

Let the Light Shine on Our Canadian Identity Parades

"For most of my life, I had this particular story about being a Canadian, and I don't have that story anymore. I don't yet have a new one," says Sue Bland as I visit with her at her Art Show in Fort Qu'Appelle.

It's Canada Day, 2016, and I am just returning from walking in the parade with about fifteen people wearing orange shirts to raise awareness about Orange Shirt Day, September 30th, a day to honour those who survived Residential Schools and to remember those who didn't.

"I think reminding our country about our shared history and those difficult stories can make us even more Canadian," I say, trying to remember what I'd told the CTV reporter, Cally, who had wondered why we thought Canada Day was a good day to promote Orange Shirt Day.

"Have you blogged about it?" says Sue.

I laugh. Sue, who is an ally far ahead of me in experience and humility, knows I have not blogged my continuing Treaty Walks for over two years.

Ever since Canada Day and that conversation with Sue, I have been thinking about the significance of being a settler descendant Treaty Canadian participating in events designed to celebrate Canadian identity. At the root of our discussion, I believe, is the idea that when we bring up these difficult stories of our shared history, we are, quite figuratively, raining on people's parades.

This takes me back to a conversation I was having with a young academic, Sara Solvey, born and raised in Fort Qu'Appelle, who is working on her Masters at the University of Alberta. She and I were discussing the awkwardness of settlers (like us) acknowledging Treaty land, how we struggle to say it and we struggle to hear it.

I am asked to sing O Canada at the SPOKE n' HOT bike Rally in early August; these thoughts about Canadian identity and history are percolating in my mind and heart. I begin overthinking my desire to acknowledge Treaty 4 territory before I sing, working on many drafts, working on my tone of delivery. I write about that adventure and post it on my blog so that it will publish at the moment I begin singing O Canada at 9:00am.

When I arrive at the bike rally, I relax because I only recognize a few faces. It's silly, but it makes me more comfortable to think I'll be making my little speech before singing O Canada to settler-descendant-strangers and not settler-descendant-town-folk. When I speak as an ally, I'm often aware that I'm making settler descendants (like me) awkward or I worry that if there are First Nations people present, that I am awkward in my gesture of solidarity. I do not see anyone I know who is Indigenous at the rally. I am thankful that I will be able to remind these visitors that they will be riding through our valley, around our lakes, on Treaty land. Maybe, for some, this will be their first time hearing this historic reality.

The organizer of the event is a little older than me. Before handing the microphone over, he makes a beautiful speech about always wanting to begin the bike rally with the singing of O Canada. He gets a little choked up. He laughs, acknowledges that he speaks with a British accent, but he has been in Canada for a long time, and he's so proud of our country. He hands me the mic.

Here I go. Red scarf at my neck. Upbeat voice on.

I am happy to share O Canada here
in historic Fort Qu'Appelle
in the heart of Treaty Four
in the traditional territory of the Cree and Saulteaux nations,
in the traditional territory of the Nakota, Dakota, and Lakota nations,
and in the homelands of the Métis nation.

Thank you for standing, and sing with me. O Canada.

I begin singing, in a lower pitch than O Canada is usually sung. A few people join in right away. Some have removed their bike helmets.

O Canada, our home and native land
True patriot love, in all thy sons command
With glowing hearts, we see thee rise,
The true north strong and free

More and more are now singing.

From far and wide, O Canada
We stand on guard for thee

When we get to "God keep our land, glorious and free" enough people are singing that it actually slows down the tempo.

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

There are a few moist eyes. Helmets are strapped back on. Over one hundred settler-descendant-Cyclists turn their bikes toward the start line behind the Rexentre, Fort Qu'Appelle, Treaty Four Territory.

The announcer takes the microphone. "On your mark, get set, go."

The sun is shining on this SPOKE n' HOT event. No settler is hurt in the acknowledgment that they are cycling as Treaty partners through the traditional territories of First Nations and Metis peoples. There is no rain on this parade.

Waiting for O Canada and the start.
Start line.

 Finish Line

Waiting to sing O Canada

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