In a letter she wrote to her seven children before she died, my mother Katherine Walsh, an immigrant from today's Croatia, said how proud she was of all of us and how we are contributing to this great country.
On this July 1, I believe, as my mom did, that my country is great, but I think much of its true greatness still lies in the future. As a writer and amateur historian, I have become acutely aware in the past decade of the history underlying the settlement of Canada. How Indigenous people were pushed from their traditional lands on to reserves, frequently on some of the least desirable land available, to allow settlers to populate the land and the national railway to push through from coast to coast. How the system of Indian agents and pass systems kept Indigenous people, who had once roamed freely, virtual prisoners on the reserves. How food rations were often withheld to force people to comply. How the residential school system, operating for over 100 years, served to deprive Indigenous children of their cherished families, their languages and cultures, their ceremonies, their connections with the land. How the trauma from this history affects Indigenous people to this day. And how our country remains deprived, for the most part, of the wonderful contributions Indigenous people have to make.
As the COVID-19 pandemic is increasingly teaching us, humanity is interdependent; we are one human race. Like the human body, if one part suffers, the rest of the body is affected, even if it is not aware. Like the human body, which sends its resources, such as white blood cells, to an afflicted area to help it heal, we too as Canadians need to look at our vulnerable populations and attend to their needs to heal.
We can't do this in a paternalistic way as has been done since Confederation, but in true partnership with Indigenous people. Our colonial systems at every level need to change, not only to serve all populations better, but to benefit from the traditional wisdom and knowledge which, despite all odds, the Indigenous people have been able to preserve.
I am optimistic. I think more and more Canadians want to know our true history and to make changes. The first important step is to truly educate ourselves in the vast ways available. In July 2017, the 150th anniversary of the 1867 birth of Canada at Confederation (in which, by the way, Indigenous people were not invited to take part), Indigenous people in Canada spoke out about our history, saying it was no cause to celebrate.
My Croatian and Irish ancestors benefited from coming to Canada, as have I and my children and grandchildren. But I believe that only when every resident can partake both materially and spiritually of the bounties of this country, will Canada will reach its true greatness. And then Canada Day will be a genuine cause for celebration.