CBC recently developed a Playlist of Canadian’s 20 favourite Canadian songs. This is a personal response to that exploring my conflicted feelings around celebrating Canada’s 150th in the first place. I will be adding a new song weekly for the next few months.
Why do I have conflicted feelings about my Canadian citizenship? Well, I’m the daughter of a deportee (you can listen to my CBC interview about this here). I only reconnected with him in my twenties and met him in person in Lagos, Nigeria in my thirties. So, ya, it’s complicated.
I also was born and raised on unceded Algonquin territory. The Algonquin were also the allies of my French Canadian ancestors against the English. I know it was one of those The Enemy of My Enemy Is My Friend deals but either way it probably saved some of my ancestors so Meegwetch (Thanks in Algonquin).
As problematic as it is to be a settler in Canada, when you also have been directly impacted by the fact that not everyone who gets to Canada gets to be Canadian-particularly if you have no money-which is really the main reason my dad got deported- Canadian identity will always be problematized, there is no way around it.
We celebrate our welcoming of immigrants and refugees but if you don’t have money we will kick you out and break up your families as we saw recently with the case of Dima Siam, who Canada had on a list to be deported back to Syria because her husband who sponsored her had to go on social assistance for a few months because he was unemployed. Thankfully, due to some awesome activism, she is now a permanent resident. But we still have this Guatemalan family we will be breaking up and deporting this month (the kids to the USA and the parents to Guatemala)..please sign the petition to keep them together here.
But I am a Canadian and whatever that is…that IDENTITY is real for me….I feel it most when I listen to the music produced in this country-music I was raised on-I feel that “Canadian” homey feeling. “This is my home, all I have known” to quote K’naan. Whatever injustices led to my existence, this is where I am. So now what?
I am sharing a collection of songs that give me that “Canadian” “homey” feeling, but each, in their own way, problematize aspects of Canadian identity, the myths we tell ourselves about Canada. And let’s face it, most of us have complicated relationships with our “home”.
The following songs I feel are all celebratory of identity in some way and each deeply resonate with my complicated feelings about my own Canadian identity. I also think each of them “problematize” Canadianness. Like in Ottawa’s own Electric Pow Wow‘s Sisters when actress Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs, from Kahnawake, waves the Mohawk Nation’s Flag out of a car’s sunroof….one of the upcoming songs on the list.
For each song, I will explain what I associate with it when I listen to it. My posts will be super rambling.
Many of the things I associate with these songs include not so great episodes in Canada’s past and present. If you think that it is unpatriotic to try to learn from messed up stuff people in your country have done or continue to do, this is NOT the playlist for you. But I don’t think there is anything unpatriotic about talking about things like this, that’s the only way you can make things better.
What the point of celebrating 150 years if you don’t want to bother to reflect on what happened during that time?
What does Canada mean anyway? Well, if you like me grew up in the age of the Canadian Heritage Minute, you know that Canada means village. You also probably think that Jacques Cartier didn’t know that the word just meant village and wasn’t the name for the whole territory. He knew it just meant village and sometimes referred to the region as Land of Canadas so Land of villages.
Now, what language is Canada in? Blank Stare.
Okay, so Canada comes from Iroquoian-you probably learned about the Iroquois in history class-dialects of Iroquoian are spoken by Haudonosonee First Nations like the Oneida and the Mohawk- Canada still means “town” in Mohawk.
I like the idea that the second largest country by landmass in the world, that has a population that could fit into the US state of California, is called “village”. It just says something about the “Canadian” predicament.
This Canada Day, I recommit to working out how we can live together in this huge state called “village” in a way which favours a real nation to nation relationship with Indigenous peoples, interdependence over exploitation, empowerment over charity, cooperation as inhabitants of the land over partisan politics (my loyalty is to the land and the people on it not to a political party), and the sense that no matter what, we are all in this together, we are not islands, we impact each other’s lives, our choices can hurt or they can help. I want to hurt people less and be hurt less.
Before I begin, as a Canadian music fan, I need to give a show out to A Tribe Called Red, who are the biggest thing to come out of Ottawa (NO OUR CITY IS NOT BORING).
It is pretty much a ritual for me now to play Electric Pow Wow Drum whenever I leave a Canadian city. I always travel by bus, partly it is cheaper, partly because times are more flexible, and partly because I like meeting people on the bus-so many different people take intercity buses so it is a great way to see what Canada looks like across our diversity-particularly class diversity which Canadians often like to ignore. So whenever I leave Ottawa or leave another city to return to Ottawa, I listen to this song. It’s just fills me with a sense of movement, travel, the open road, possibility…and I connect it with the city I come from and have lived in my whole life.
Here is a great interview with A Tribe Called Red, where they explain how they developed the song Electric Pow Wow Drum.