Not So Nice After All

Not So Nice After All

If there is one thing that Canadians like to pride themselves on, it's *not* being an American. It seems that's the ultimate insult, to be called an American.

Everyone knows that Canadians are nice, because they've often told people that is the case. Straight-laced, polite, law-abiding and friendly, no one has a beef with Canadians in the world. Don't tell people you're an American, many people have warned their fellow countrymen before venturing out to Europe or elsewhere; tell them you're Canadian. No one can mistake a loudmouthed American for the quiet yet friendly presence of a Canadian, whose biggest expression of emotion is restricted to the hockey rink. Even no less a social media personality, The Tweet of God, once saluted Canada for "being the world's Ned Flanders who shares a border with Homer Simpson."

Alas, like many cherished myths, Canadians are not so nice after all. It's at this point that I have to swear to you that I really *do* like Canada, or that I'm not claiming all this because of some secret envy of the landmass north of the United States. I'm writing this after having digested hours of interesting radio programs from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the CBC, covering a wide range of topics, from national politics in Ottawa to provincial stories in Cape Breton. I've sampled the wide range of Canadian personalities from British Columbia to St. John's. Even the local stories are interesting in communities to which I have no personal connection. But in the end, I can say that Canadians are really no different from Americans.

It's a national myth that there's this striking, fundamental difference between them and us. There's actually very little light between the two groups. Oh yes, you'll find crime and bad people everywhere, but it's not the seamier side of Canada that I am writing about: it's the **mindset**. Gangland turf wars, corruption in politics, it's the same here as there and everywhere in between. What makes me think that the Canadian myth of being nice and polite is bunk has to do with their treatment of First Nations people. What a striking similarity! Canadians seem to have as much contempt for their Indians as we do ours, but it stings more listening to stories of racism and discrimination coming from First Nation peoples in Canada than it does in America. It goes directly against the image of the selfless and self-effacing Canadian when you realize the extent of the horrors perpetrated against First Nations. It's not just the routine discrimination and incarceration for crimes at greater rates than whites: it's primarily the residential school system. A scathing report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) laid out in detail the extent to which families were broken up or destroyed in the effort to wipe out First Nations culture and language. A long standing effort by the state to "civilize" these people, and in keeping with American attitudes, a callous disregard for treaties. Beginning (but not limited to) in 1905, the residential school system was designed for neglect and failure. The state did not care about First Nations and certainly was not going to give any more attention to these people if they could: money that was supposed to go for indigenous education never got to where it was needed and went back into government coffers. Temporary buildings became permanent schoolhouses that were already shoddily constructed. Children actually died in them. And while Canada prides itself on being a bilingual nation, it's certainly at the expense of the First Nations languages, which probably cannot go silent fast enough.

Believe me, absorbing the knowledge of the callousness of Canadians to First Nations is difficult. Here is a people that loves to project its overall good nature. Nobody fears Canadians because they haven't done anything that people can rally against, as they do anytime the United States makes a move in any direction on the world stage. But listening to these stories on the CBC, particularly regarding the residential school system, a certain sour taste began filling my mouth. Much like Americans, one gets the sense that (white) Canadians are tired of hearing about indigenous issues, about missing and murdered First Nations women, and the long-term effects of the residential schools. It's borne from the resentment that these things that "happened so long ago" are still (needlessly) being talked about to this day. Even the former Conservative government under Stephen Harper seemed to want to get the TRC report out of the news cycle as quickly as possible, lest the country be forced to dwell on unpleasant things that, in their mind, are sad, yes, but just an exercise in dredging up the past and please, we should focus on the future.

One has to wonder if the sudden outpouring of sympathy for Syrian refugees in Canada might not leave some First Nations feeling exasperated. The country seems to be going out of its way to absorb scores of refugees as quickly as possible, that I wouldn't blame any indigenous person for wishing *he* was Syrian to get such attention and promises of jobs and housing. There are remote tribal lands in Canada that still remain under **water boiling advisories after 17 years**. Without ignoring the complexities of tribal and federal interactions, how the hell does this kind of thing occur in a country that likes to tell everyone how compassionate it is? How does nice-guy Canada find the resources and monies to take in tens of thousands of, let's face it, foreigners, while First Nations communities can barely be heard in a country that claims to care about them?

So no, Canada isn't so nice after all. It's just as bigoted, racist and uncaring as the people they claim not to be like: Americans. Sorry, Canadians, you aren't so different after all, and you're unlikely to change anytime soon.