Identity is oftentimes very personal. While we are influenced by our families and friends, no one else can decide how we identify. In all likelihood, you walk past hundreds of people each day, with whom you have nothing in common. But every so often (usually during the Olympics and in the lead up to Canada Day), identity is shared and celebrated. So what is it that makes Canadians Canadian? Is there a tangible ‘Canadianness’ we share, or is it simply geography?
We asked community leaders and educators about Canada’s sesquicentennial anniversary, to reflect on this country’s present, past, and future.
The quotes below are snippets of longer conversations. To read the full transcripts, click on the name of the person you’d like to hear from.
So as far as a Canadian identity goes, it is going to be very different from coast to coast, for individuals. Maybe that’s what Canadian identity is — the freedom to be an individual.
What’s really important is that we have communities that are strong, and we all support each other. And we don’t allow ourselves to break down due to misunderstandings of culture. And we don’t allow ourselves to break down due to misunderstandings of culture. So to answer your question, why is it important for me to be a Canadian? I’d say to look at what’s facing us and make sure that what we become something that we plan and what we want to be
I think the most important work that I can do as mayor is to convene and participate in this deep process of reconciliation. [That means that] we’re not just approaching this work with our minds, we’re also approaching it with our hearts, and we’re beginning from an openhearted place.
It’s funny how we get attached to these decade-long digits: 10, 20, 30, 50, 150 anniversaries. 150 is no different than 151 or 149 in terms of the relevance of the number of years that have passed, but, since as a society we seem to love these kinds of anniversaries, as a historian, it offers a great opportunity to bring the past into the present and look at how the past has shaped and is shaping our lives.
Well maybe I’ll use this question to push another anniversary that’s been more on the forefront of my mind, which is the 75 anniversary of the uprooting and internment of Japanese-Canadians . . . You know, for me, that anniversary is an occasion for remembering the history, for asking what lessons we should carry from that history to the questions that presently are of widespread concern.
I think in the next 150 years, we need to look critically at the past and we need to see what it truly is, and then make adjustments so that in the next 150 years, we can not only try and work through that, but use our past mistakes to not make them moving forward.
So in 150 years, then, we would have settled the relationship with Indigenous peoples, whatever that looks like, and that’s something that, as I said, would be led by Indigenous peoples, [and] we would live in a society where social justice is the primary political impulse. But that’s very, very idealistic. And I’m not sure that we’ll last 150 years. I don’t think the planet will last 150 years, so maybe we should shorten the timeline (laughs).
Oh man. The next 150 years? I guess the ones who have a lot of virtue, and the ones who can see tolerance and practice it, they should be the ones who have a voice. The few people that have a very high level of consciousness — if they can somehow be in office and speak for a large group of people — the society will flourish.
We need to take many steps backwards. We need to be open. And so we have a saying: tth’ihwum tseep ‘i’m’istuhw thun’ ‘uy shkwaluwuns/ — bring in your good feelings . . . I think it’s a really important teaching about moving forward: challenging Canadians to bring in their good feelings, and to bring in being open to new ways of knowing and being; and being open to understanding and not being afraid to go back in order to move forward in a good way.
With files by Cormac O’Brien. A.’s name has been redacted for confidentiality.