Displaying the Canadian flag on your backpack used to stand for kindness and respect, writes Michelle Mungall. Photo: Submitted

Displaying the Canadian flag on your backpack used to stand for kindness and respect, writes Michelle Mungall. Photo: Submitted

COLUMN: On mixed feelings about flag and country ahead of Canada Day

Michelle Mungall writes about how we might mark the nation’s birthday in 2022

On a nice day after preschool, some other parents and I were sitting on the grass enjoying the late afternoon sun while our kids ran around the park laughing. We were swapping tips about handling picky eaters when a big truck drove by blazing a large Canadian flag off the back.

“It’s going to be an awkward Canada Day,” said one of the dads as all of our eyes followed the truck turning down a nearby street.

Our conversation found a natural pause as we took a moment to reflect on what our friend said.

My own thoughts went in several directions. I remembered sewing a Canadian flag onto my backpack 20 years ago when I went on my first big trip oversees. That’s what young Canadians did because the locals would recognize our flag as standing for kindness, respect and being a polite person. But that wasn’t our flag’s meaning being used this past winter by people opposing health safety measures.

Rather, people, with whom I fervently disagree, used freedoms of free speech and assembly to hoist our national flag as a symbol for their cause. If our flag absolutely represents them, does it not represent me anymore? Their action has, sadly, left me feeling uneasy, even angry, when I see our flag.

Yet, this isn’t the first time a group has taken our collective flag to represent just themselves, so I believe that, like before, it will come to an end and we’ll all move on.

Also in that mix of thoughts on that beautiful afternoon was something much heavier, something that I think of often.

I’m an 11th generation Canadian. My heritage goes back to Jeanne Trahan, a seven-year-old girl who left France with her family in 1636 and arrived on the shores of Acadia, now Nova Scotia. From then on, the story of Canada’s development is also the story of my family.

On one hand, it’s a story of liberty and prosperity. My ancestors took up opportunities that allowed them to prosper from generation to generation — opportunities that would not have been available to them in Europe.

On the other hand, those opportunities were not pure. My ancestors likely believed the day’s common and racist view that the original inhabitants of the land they plowed weren’t using it effectively. They may have believed that the Indigenous children were better off in residential schools.

One ancestor, Joe Bourgeois, was a prospector in the Kootenays 130 ago when he struck it rich. Although he spoke Ktunaxa and had more love for his Indigenous friends than church and state, he used those friendships and language for his benefit. He left the region with wealth that secured a good life for my family.

The Ktunaxa, however, watched the silver leave on trains that came back with the bricks, tools and nails for a residential school. That school tore apart families, communities and the Nation. They survived, and last summer, like so many other First Nations, they also found children’s unmarked graves at the school.

My heritage means I have personally benefited from centuries of oppressing Indigenous people, as well as many other immigrants to our country. It leaves me feeling ashamed and sad.

It is how a lot of people feel as well, and it leaves them feeling uncomfortable and wondering how to celebrate the good in Canada when we know the bad is abhorrent.

No one said truth and reconciliation was going to be easy though. Hiding from truth serves no one and has no future, so we need to let it motivate us, individually and as a country, to do better. Reconciling the past is a long, winding and bumpy road. But it is worth it, and that we are on this road is worth celebrating.

So maybe you’re feeling like my friend, that this Canada Day is going to be awkward. Maybe you feel that Canada is a wonderful place and every country has a past where you take the good with the bad. Maybe the current Canadian flag leaves you feeling uneasy. However you feel, mark our country’s birthday the way you feel best. Because, we have the freedom to do so.

Michelle Mungall is the former MLA for Nelson-Creston.

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