National anthems have unique power. They have the ability to inspire, instill devotion and unify a country. But because of the words they contain, national anthems can also create unrest, resentment and division.
Since I was young, I had difficulty with some of the words in our national anthem. I can’t sing, “Oh Canada, our home and our homeland.” Yes, Canada is me homeland – I was born in Canada. But I am a settler of European descent, and for Europeans, Canada is not “our” homeland.
As settlers, we actually appropriate it from others for whom this was his “homeland”. As difficult as it may be to admit, we as settlers simply cannot use the phrase “our home and our homeland” with integrity and honor.
I realize how bold this statement is. Some people may scoff and say, “Is there nothing sacred, not even the national anthem?” To them, I would reply, weren’t the natives of this land sacred when they were killed, displaced, or forced to assimilate? Wasn’t the land sacred when it was divided and claimed by the settlers?
There are other phrases that concern me, such as “true patriot love” and “we are on guard for you.” Aside from the military images, they also seem hypocritical. For those of us of settler ancestry, U.S it was the invaders. We were the ones for whom the First Nations “stood guard.” It seems like it was okay for us to invade this land, but it is not okay for others. Now what is “our land ”, we must protect ourselves from others who may threaten it.
Skyla Hart, a high school student in Winnipeg, does not endorse the performance of “O Canada,” but remains seated as a way to honor her Cree and Ojibway ancestors. Skyla and others like her encourage us to rethink the meaning of “O Canada.”
Perhaps there are ways to alter the words of the hymn that would be more respectful and inclusive. For example, instead of singing, “O Canada, our home and our homeland,” we could sing, “O Canada, our home in the ancient land.” Some people may feel that words can be altered; some may feel that the hymn must be replaced. Either way, change must come.
Today, National Truth and Reconciliation Day, presents us with an opportunity to ask ourselves if our traditions, including our national anthem, are a true reflection of our attitudes and beliefs, or if they reflect ideals that we no longer hold.
Difficult conversations can be had, but if ever there was a time for them, this is it. May we commit ourselves to listen to, honor and exalt the truth of all the peoples of this earth, so that, together, we can say: “Oh, Canada!”