During the 2nd World War, my mother was a teenager, taken from her village and forced to work in German factories. As with so many of our people, as a “displaced person”, she would never see her parents, or her home, again. Despite the horrors of war and the subsequent experience of prejudice and marginalization during the post war years in Canada, my mother never wavered in her belief that Canada was among the best countries in the world. Her life here was far from easy, yet although she died nearly 30 years ago, her thoughts ring true for me today. Why? Much is wrong. Canada’s systemic destruction of indigenous populations is unfathomable and a betrayal of humanity. The difference, however, between here and so many other places, I imagine my mother would say, is that we can name the wrongs without fear. We can elect leaders who will admit to offenses and injustices and take action to improve and prevent more injury.
Prejudice against others who are identified as “different” from those in power is easily normalized. Once it’s normal, we may not even recognize that we treat someone in a biased way. For example, when Ukrainians first settled in Canada, the majority of Canadians were British (WASP). Ukrainians were considered backward, uncivilized, and called “garlic eaters” and honkies. Now, when garlic is a standard ingredient and speaking various languages is valued here, Ukrainians are part of the mainstream—no longer “different”—therefore no longer targeted with insults.
July 1st is Canada Day. Both COVID and recognition of widespread Indigenous suffering is presenting an opportunity to reflect on our role in the spirit of Canada. Do I treat “others” (homeless, racialized groups, various genders or faiths) with dignity and respect? Do I listen to Indigenous voices and try to understand Canadian history?
Each of us participates in making Canada a better place when we try to treat each other well, when we care about the natural environment, and when we elect leaders who show they care more for the collective wellbeing of all people, than for a balanced budget.
We have the Gospels to guide us in questioning the status quo and caring for the vulnerable. The Church’s participation in residential schools in this country demonstrates how positions of strength and power can obscure Christ’s ever-present message of love and compassion for all people, regardless of their culture or religion. With Residential Schools, the Church embraced cultural norms, rather than Gospel teaching.
On this Sunday of all saints, our faith tradition reminds us that we are all called to sainthood: not perfection or miracle work, but the understanding that Christ is in us and around us. As saints, we bring divine love to life here and now, in each act of kindness, compassion, and generous joy.
Here is an article about research looking at Indigenous and Ukrainian settlement on the prairies: Ukrainians have forgotten their shared history with the Indigenous victims of residential schools. We found this article helpful to understand why so many of us have just learned about the residential schools.