When I was a kid, if anybody asked who and what I was, I would likely have answered proudly: ‘I’m Craig and I’m Canadian.’
That answer doesn’t work anymore, at least not the second half of it.
The assumption I would have unthinkingly made back in, say the mid to late 60s when my definitions of citizenship and identity were taking ‘final’ shape, was that the label ‘Canadian’ referred to caucasians of European and predominantly British heritage, the racial and national grouping that dominated during the colonization of North America in general and north of the 49th Parallel in particular. My upbringing and education did nothing to disabuse me of those notions. The only First Nations people I ever saw were in subordinate roles on TV westerns produced in the States… most often they were portrayed as the enemy, attacking the innocent settlers who were appropriating their territories.
Five decades on those skewed assumptions, so entrenched that it couldn’t even be called smug to hold them back then, have been swept into the dustbin of history – and atrocious history at that. To the ‘victors’ went the spoils along with the paternalistic prerogative to write official texts. Half a century later, though, the ‘spoils’ have been declared a dispossession by those who want to be polite, theft by those more interested in accuracy. As for the predominance of caucasian Europeans in Canadian society, that status has long-since been challenged statistically, socially, economically and culturally.
So for me to label myself a ‘Canadian’ anywhere other than an airport security counter, or perhaps when I’m travelling in a foreign land, is meaningless – sort of like identifying as a hockey fan when the guy in the seat next to me wants to know, ‘Which team are you rooting for?’
To lay claim to the title Canadian, particularly while the national dialogue about reconciliation is ongoing, would be preemptive, to put it mildly. The meaning of the term Canadian has to be redefined in the coming years. But titles that are being stuck to me as substitutes in the meantime don’t work either. To say I’m ‘non-aboriginal’ doesn’t describe who and what I am; it’s an exclusive term. To say I’m a ‘settler’ or an ‘occupier’ doesn’t describe me either. I was born in Canada, have no other place to go or that I would want to go. Canada is my home.
So I choose to call myself a EuroCan – a Canadian of European descent.
Many, who (like myself) are justifiably sickened by colonial history, will want to label me otherwise, and I accept that. But it’s important to remember that, to succeed, reconciliation must approach wrenching issues from many points of view, in a spirit of respectful dialogue. Everyone has to accept responsibility for a sincere and just outcome. Ultimately, you have to be talking not only to a people, but to persons, to achieve reconciliation, and to talk to people with cultural and social sensitivity you need a name for them. EuroCan works for me.