A Valorization of White Settler Nationalism? the Canadian Sesquicentennial Anniversary

By Ellis, Everton G. | Canadian Review of Sociology, February 2018 | Go to article overview

A Valorization of White Settler Nationalism? the Canadian Sesquicentennial Anniversary


Ellis, Everton G., Canadian Review of Sociology


EVENTS LEADING UP TO THE sesquicentennial anniversary (150th) celebrations of the Canadian Confederation came and ended with a day of fanfare and a display of fireworks on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. The celebrations were observed nationally over a period four days, starting with National Aboriginal Day (June 21), Saint-Jean Baptiste Day (June 24), Canadian Multiculturalism Day (June 27), and culminating with Canada Day (July 1). On Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada Day festivities echoed with a series of impressive speeches from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau; the ceremonial head of government, Governor General David Johnston; representatives of the British Royal Family, the Prince of Wales, Charles and his wife Camilla Parker Bowles; and songs and performances from other invited guests. And of course, how can we forget the thousands of patriotic Canadians that thronged the lawns of Parliament Hill, singing O Canada? In a similar manner, numerous cities and small towns, from coast to coast to coast, observed the occasion with ceremonies, lavish parties, and fireworks. However, I believe that celebrations associated with the sesquicentennial anniversary raise important questions for us to consider. What is being celebrated by Canada? For whom were these celebrations planned? And what segments of the population were excluded from these celebrations?

From an anticolonial perspective, the 150th anniversary celebrations represent a time to reflect on the emergence of the Canadian state, its "successes," and the sacrificial efforts of those individuals and groups, for example, the "Fathers" of Confederation, members of the military (past and present), and other Canadians who have made a significant contribution to the process of nation building. But we must be reminded that nation building in this country has long rested on the shoulders of Aboriginals and other non white groups who were subjected to varying degrees of racism and labor exploitation. Canada as we now know it, like it did in the past, continues to benefit from the labor of colored bodies whose desirability or permanent admission to this social formation is influenced by economic and ideological factors. For over a century, Canada's immigration policy has been used to facilitate the influx of seasonal or temporary laborers from poorer countries in the south who satisfy employers' desire for a cheap, docile, and disposable labor force, especially in the live-in caregiver program, and the agricultural and customer service industries. Together with ideological factors, Canadian immigration policy contributes to the perpetuation and dominance of "Whiteness" in this social formation.

The sesquicentennial anniversary of Canadian Confederation appears to be a celebration of what Razack (2013), Baldwin, Cameron, and Kobayashi (2011), and Dua (2007) refer to as the perpetuation of white settler nationalism in Canada. With the intent of reproducing the dominance of the white racial majority that existed in Britain, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald, in an 1867 oration to the federal Parliament, declared Canada a "white man's country" (Dua 2007:446). Since then, the Canadian state has engaged in a series of practices and discourse that directly curtail Indigenous and other nonwhites groups from contributing to the development of the Canadian nation state. Thus, the observance of 150 years of nationhood (re)affirms that the discourse and practices associated with the colonial project (colonialism) in Canada is an ongoing process. The manner in which the celebrations unfolded, treats with condescension the culture and presence of Indigenous groups that predates the European contact on this land. And so it appears that the planners of the Canada Day festivities on Parliament Hill (and by extension the Canadian state) purposed on valorizing a mainstream "White" Canadian culture. Had the Canadian government accorded the Indigenous groups and their cultures the respect deserved, then there would have been no need for activists to disrupt the national celebrations (Ballingall 2017). …

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