Canada. A country of reconciliation?

My latest column for the Christian Courier.

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What would be an honest answer to the question posed by the title of this column? Some might offer a half-hearted “We are trying?” in reply to that question. Others would say that even such a half-hearted answer gives us too much credit – that the correct answer is closer to a flat-out “No.” For my part, I would venture that we have taken some baby steps in the direction of reconciliation, but that we still have a very long way to go.

Now this is not a resoundingly positive note on which to begin a column marking Canada’s 150th birthday. Couldn’t another question have been asked? Perhaps one that would invite more celebratory reflection on our national identity? Perhaps, yes. But I must confess my uneasiness with the Canadian predilection for national self-congratulation, and so my reflections here will not trend in that direction.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has now come and gone, and much meaningful work was done within the seven years of its mandate. Most important, survivors of the residential schools came with grace and courage to share their stories – reminding the nation and its churches of the violence that was done to them and their communities in the name of Christian faith and of civilization. Stories of abuse. Stories of loneliness. Stories of language lost. Stories of families torn apart. Continue reading

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National Immigration Day?

My parents are immigrants to Canada. My mom and dad came to this country with their families, from the Netherlands, in 1951 and 1952 respectively. They know what it is to adapt to a new culture, to learn a new language, and to start over again making friends and family connections in a foreign country. My parents understand all of this in a way that I likely never will.

9780307359728It is widely understood that Canada is a nation of immigrants. From the first waves of non-aboriginal immigrants (the French and British), to the most recent waves from China, India, and the Philippines (those are the top three countries of origin for 2013), Canada is a nation built by those ‘from away’. This is true even of the earliest aboriginal populations of the continent, who likely arrived on the continent about 30,000 years ago via a land bridge from Asia.

Maybe we need a National Immigration Day in Canada.

Stories of migration and immigration are vital to the literature of Canada. And among the most recent contributions to that literature is Kim Thuy’s book Ru, a work of fiction that takes the form reflections and reminiscences – vignettes offered from the perspective of a Vietnamese refugee to Canada in the 1970’s. For many Canadians of my generation this narrative will resonate since we remember well the arrival of Vietnamese children in our school classrooms – I remember the day that Hoa arrived at my school, a girl whose family was sponsored by the churches in my town. Continue reading