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To Remember is to Work for Peace


Mennonite Central Committee's Peace Buttons

Tansi Nîtôtemtik,


For many reasons, Remembrance Day is very important in my family. I wear my poppy everyday - it’s tattooed on my back. I was born on November 11th. I share a birth date with a great uncle who died flying bombers in WWII. My family’s tradition of marking Remembrance Day had a significant impact on my path in life. It led me to service, to advocacy, to an appreciation for history and the work of peacebuilding.


On the 11th of November, we remember my family members who didn’t come home and my husband’s grandfather, who did. He didn’t talk about his experience much, but he wrote the most beautiful, melancholic songs about it. We attend (or watch) ceremonies laden with prayer, music, silence and gun fire that evokes a monumental sense of loss and sacrifice - a sacrifice made for us, for our freedom, our rights, our values, for the gift of this ‘magnificent’ country. It’s patriotism on a literal parade. Yet it has a tendency to ignore the parts of our country’s history that are less magnificent.


So, how do we honour and remember the genuine sacrifices made, the lives lost and irrevocably changed, without ignoring the parts of our country’s history that are down-right ugly?


We tell ourselves that brave young souls left their homes and families out of a sense of duty to their country. In the world wars, they enlisted and went abroad to fight an enemy seeking to impose authoritarian rule across a continent (or two). They fought heroically in some of the harshest conditions. They wrote letters home of adventure and homesickness and of plans for their future. Many never returned home. The enemy, however, was vanquished.


We leave out other parts of the story. That the work our soldiers did was sometimes the expected horrid parts of war, and sometimes, much worse.[1] That those who returned home bore invisible wounds that affected them and their loved ones for the rest of their lives. Which unfortunately means that those who returned home commit suicide at a higher rate than those who have not served in the military.[2]


We tell ourselves that these soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice for us, and for a future of freedom. But, the day after we gave thanks for our freedoms, I ask you, dear reader, is our country actually free?


The Canada that sent their youth to fight overseas also legalized cultural genocide against Indigenous peoples, including Indigenous soldiers. For decades before and after the wars, the government denied Indigenous peoples their own culture and took their children away. The resulting cycle of intergenerational trauma was and is compounded by a deeply rooted systemic racism against Indigenous peoples, leading to the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Indigenous soldiers like Tommy Prince fought “for Canada'' [3], yet did not have the right to vote in federal elections until 1960. Is that the freedom they fought for? And today, in a place where a police officer can kick a hole into a young person’s skull, I’m not sure if any of us are really that free.[4]


Recognizing and honouring the loss suffered by our soldiers does not require lifting our deeply flawed national history onto a pedestal. Neither does our deeply flawed national history mean that we should cower with shame or ignore the best parts of Canada. But remembering by manufacturing a black and white narrative of our history serves no good. We must remember all parts of our history, so we can work together towards something better.


To remember - the whole story - is to work for peace. May we work vigilantly to make this country the magnificent one our veterans fought for.


Until next time,


Amy and Team ReconciliACTION



 

[1] See, for example, British bombing at the end of WWII and the bombing of Dresden.


[2] Veterans Affairs Canada, 2017 Veteran Suicide Mortality Study: 1976 to 2012, by Kristen Simkus, Linda VanTil and David Pedlar (Charlottetown: Veterans Affairs Canada, November 2017), online: <www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/about-vac/research/research-directorate/publications/reports/vsms-2017>.


[3] Interestingly, the Military Service Act, 1917 was changed to exclude status Indians from being conscripted into military service precisely because they could not vote, but many Indigenous people volunteered. Click here for more information on conscription.


[4] Jonny Wakefield, “‘Cruel and reprehensible: Edmonton police sued after officer allegedly kicks Indigenous youth in the head”, The Edmonton Journal (3 November 2021), online: <edmontonjournal.com/news/local-news/cruel-and-reprehensible-edmonton-police-sued-after-officer-allegedly-kicks-indigenous-youth-in-the-head>.


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