Welcome to Canada. In August of 1972, Idi Ami Dada, former President of Uganda, ordered all South Asians to leave the country in 90 days. That very same year, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau welcomed my dad and his family to Canada – a country my parents have always ‘painted’ with bright, inviting brushstrokes reflecting Canada’s values of justice, openness, and compassion. In contrast, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada paints a very different canvas – one including the violent brushstrokes I had never previously witnessed.
The TRC argues that Canada’s residential school system for Aboriginal children was never meant to educate but rather to indoctrinate. By severing links with family, language, culture, and identity, the residential school system used cultural genocide as a means of ‘civilizing’ children into Euro-Christian society. Having recently read the summary of the TRC’s final report, I now view Canada and its history through a more critical lens. While I applaud Canada for recognizing the strength of diversity, I realize that Canada has not always been so picture-perfect. After all, depriving a child of their very sense of being hardly paints a picture of justice, openness, and compassion. Re-envisioning my view of Canada by understanding the origins and consequences of cultural genocide is but the beginning of my personal contribution towards reconciliation. Indeed, as the TRC notes, sharing the truth about the lived experiences of survivors is a significant first step but true reconciliation requires the ongoing commitment of all Canadians. A commitment towards a vision of Canada based on relationships of mutual respect between peoples and nations.
#WelcometoCanada. Today, almost fifty years after Idi Amin’s expulsion of Ugandan Asians, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau paints an equally inclusive picture of Canada on social media. But to truly move that picture beyond a tweet requires our acceptance as Canadians of the TRC’s many calls to action. Diversity is indeed Canada’s strength but to embrace diversity goes beyond painting a picture of justice and injustice, openness and close-mindedness, compassion and cruelty. Rather, we must put our Canadian values into practice by seeking to understand the strength and resiliency of our diversity. Only then can we move towards the TRC’s vision of reconciliation – a vision meant to be so much more than picture-perfect. Hence, I intend on brainstorming with my Aboriginal friends and fellow teachers on how to create a learning environment that is both respectful and inspiring, an environment in which we can all share our stories of strength and resilience as a means of building mutual respect.
Welcome to Canada – a country where a canvas may reveal the truth about our history but where our actions will always be more significant than our brushstrokes.
Shelina Adatia is a graduate student at the University of Ottawa