As participant on a panel on Interreligious Studies, Vancouver School of Theology, I recently introduced myself as a lover of jig-saw puzzles. Every piece has its unique colour, its unique bumps and indentations, and if a single piece is missing, the picture is always incomplete.
Ditto for the diversity of the human community. The picture is incomplete if some are left out or have somehow gone missing. Each piece of humanity whatever its shape adds something to the whole. And yet, in real life, all too often, people seem to reject some of their fellow humans, or they cluster together only with those who have the same colour and the same shape. They start to value sameness over diversity.
Canadians are better than most in this regard, and there is much that we have reason to celebrate. On the other hand, I fear that we still have a long way to go to complete the picture. I think of this each time I hear someone remind us that we sit (are squatters upon?) the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of Indigenous people. It leads me to think of how few Indigenous people I actually know and include in my circle of friends and community. I also started to think about how little I actually know about Indigenous cultures, and how little thought I have given to what I might learn from them. Finally, my thoughts drifted to my own grandchildren, and I tried to imagine them as five-year-olds, screaming and clinging to their parents when the government and church authorities came to take them to residential schools where they were forbidden to even speak their own language. It was 1996, my lifetime and perhaps yours, when the last residential school in Canada closed its doors.
Among the lessons to be learned from the past is that Canadians were wrong to “try to kill the Indian in the Indian” as it was worded when I went to school. Statements that we now consider racist were the norm not so long ago. I often fear that some- or perhaps many Canadians have simply changed the way that they speak, but not the way that they feel.
In a 2017 article, Macleans Magazine asked “Is racism different in Canada?” Macleans concluded that “Canadians have a tendency not to be less racist than Americans, but less loud about it.” In a similar article in The Walrus, a professor at McGill states that Canadians are (and I quote) “more insidious and covert” in their racism.
Along with you, I celebrate the progress we have made toward accepting that people of all cultures and religions have a valued place in the Canadian mosaic, but we must not sweep the past under the rug and pretend that it was never there. When attitudes are driven underground, all too often, they re-surface in new and hateful forms. As Mary Tyrone puts it in Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night, “The past is the present, isn’t it? It’s the future, too. We all try to lie out of that but life won’t let us.”