About the Blog:

Guelph Politico is locally sourced and dedicated to covering the political and cultural scene in the City of Guelph. Est. 2008.

Monday, May 20, 2013

On Victoria Day...

I have long railed about the bastardization of Victoria Day by those who call it "May 2-4," if only to avoid pratfalls like the one that had befallen by boss a few weeks ago when he was trying to book time off at a resort up north for the May 24th weekend. And while that is a weekend off, you have to be an American citizen or resident to enjoy it, because this current weekend, in Canada, is the holiday weekend. 
Apparently there's a petition going around to change the name of Victoria Day, and while I'm thankful it's not for it to officially be changed to "May 2-4," I still have my doubts. A group, including such notable names as Margaret Atwood, Elizabeth May and Gordon Pinsent, want to rename the holiday “Victoria and First Peoples Day.”
“The newly named holiday would be an opportunity to commemorate that venerable relationship, to celebrate unique Indigenous cultures, to revisit our shared history, and to provide an opportunity for all Canadians to participate in the diverse and extraordinary heritage of our country,” the petition reads.
“I know there is a great deal of monarchists in this country but I think also that there is also an awful lot of talk about how First Nations people, Inuit people, indigenous people in this country are being treated,” added actor Peter Keleghan, a spokesperson for the campaign.
A noble sentiment, and while I support it in principle, does it make sense to tack that on to Victoria Day? “For centuries, Canadians, the First Nations, the Inuit, and the Metis have had a close affinity with the British Monarchy,” the petition says. Or they've at least they've had a closer affinity with the Crown then they have with, say, the Federal government, especially seeing as how things currently stand. Regardless though, is shoe-horning the recognition of Canada's First Nations people on a holiday people barely remember the name of already really going to do anything to develop greater awareness of the First Nations' issues? I hardly think so.
That's not to say though that it wouldn't be a nice gesture, but let's be clear: that's all it is. A gesture. To address the tremendous inequalities and challenges faced by First Nations people, an open and honest discussion from coast to coast to coast is what's needed. We need to admit that there's no single issue that's at the heart of the problem, and neither is there a single, fix-all solution that will make everything okay. Holidays are fun, but ultimately it will do even less than having a singular meeting on the matter with the Prime Minister. 
As for the presumption that Victoria Day is meaningless, and thus appropriate for amalgamation with new holiday ideas, it's insulting. I experienced a little of this on an episode of the Gang of Four last year when we discussed the practicality of government spending to mark the War of 1812, an overwhelming sense that if your cultural heritage is white and English then you are not given the same room to celebrate as if you were another race, religion, nationality or orientation in Canada. 
I understand the notion of of privilege as it pertains to my social and ethnic class, but it seems that sometimes it's gone too far the other way. Not only am I now not allowed to recognize my own heritage and culture, not only am I made to feel wrong for wanting to recognize it, but it now looks like that people want to take it away so that it won't be recognized. Ask any 10 people on the street the meaning of Victoria Day, or Butler's Rangers, or even what the War of 1812 was about or who it involved, and I doubt they'd be able to tell you. You could credit that to a more heterogeneous culture, or white guilt, but it is a fact they we're forgetting our history and for the most part, no one cares. 
This where the goals of those who want to keep Victoria Day as is, and those that want to rename it align. We want to remember, we want to help others remember, and we want our history and culture to mean something. And that's even better argument to keep those things separate and distinct because, if anything, we should be creating more opportunities to remember our cultural heritage, not less.

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