Canada Day has meant very different things to me in the past, as a child it was often a time to go downtown in Edmonton and enjoy parades, face painting and ice cream. While I was working in the Parks system it was always a marathon of a shift either dealing with monster crowds enjoying out natural areas.
When I moved to Fort McMurray it has been a long weekend away from town, either a trip to Edmonton or some other locations. I have spent very few Canada’s days in McMurray and I have always seen the holiday as an excuse to attend a pancake breakfast and watch fireworks.
This year is different. It is different for a number of reasons, Canada’s 150th brings a lot of hype. I will be receiving an award from the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo for my contributions during the first 100 hours of the wildfire. But most of all, I am different. The all or nothing thinking, seeing things in black and white resulted in me assigning whatever meaning was simplest or easiest to a lot of things in my life. So Canada Day has been good, never looked past it. This year, I’m looking at things different and the world has opened up a whole new world of nuance and understanding.
This started at the Pride parade, I had the privilege of meeting some of the kind people from the Edmonton Two Spirit Community and we got on the topic of Canada’s 150th. I learned many things that day and gained an awareness of the effect colonialism had on our aboriginal communities. More info on the concerns of Canada’s 150th available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qDQpKNa3UIA
Colonialism has a cost and the reality is certain communities paid a higher cost than other communities. Aboriginals who had been on this land longer than any European bore the brunt of that cost. I know you are not reading this blog for a history lesson, so I will tell you what this means for me.
To me, this is yet another example of how I took the simplest explanation and was willing to run with it because it felt good. Celebrating felt good. Mental illness can feel good at the time. It feels good to pretend to have the best story at a party, it feels good to be the center of attention and sometimes it feels good ignore the hurtful things that have happened. I trusted that feeling, I took that “good” feeling to mean that everything I was doing was ok. I knew I was deceiving myself, I knew lying was wrong but I could ignore that because on some level it felt right. I got the attention I wanted therefore everything was ok, right? Wrong.
My life is not spilt into good or bad, right or wrong. It is more complicated than that and that complication is not something I am going to shy away from. One of the questions I have asked myself a lot in the last few months is “how did this happen? How could I lie to the people most important to me? How could I be so cruel?” A part of that answer is mental illness but a larger part of that answer is that I was willing to believe my own narrative without considering the bigger picture.
What that conversation with the Edmonton Two Spirit Community showed me is that there are moments worth celebrating and there are moments worth mourning, across my history and across the history of Canada. My willingness to ignore the messy parts of my life, the uncomfortable, unconscionable things that I had done lead me down a very dark path. I feel that ignoring the messy parts of Canada’s history may lead down a similar path.
For me, it was painful, hurtful and extremely unpleasant to acknowledge the terrible things I have done in the name of trying to be “normal”; but I did them and I am sorry. I see the people in the Two Spirit Community experiencing pain that is on a scale that I cannot imagine, hurt that is deeply rooted and just a sadness that is tangible when they speak about it. For me it was like I could feel that despair and that loss surround them.
This Canada Day is different, I do recognize that colonialism has given me the privileged, technology, comforts and many of the convenience that I enjoy. I also know in that same way colonialism has stolen cultures from others, abused communities, isolated entire groups of individuals and created biases in people that are felt today.
So yes, I will be celebrating. I will be celebrating an awareness of the complexity of the life I have. I will be celebrating my new relationship with people from the Two Spirit Community and hopefully next year I will be celebrating sharing a connection with more of the indigenous people around me. I cannot change, fix or alter the past but I do have the ability to recognize it and acknowledge it.
Happy Canada Day.