Jeff Melanson: Canada’s 150th Should Signal Recommitment to Unity and Inclusion

As Canada’s 150th birthday approaches, citizens, local, provincial and national governments from coast-to- coast are preparing to celebrate a country that is beloved to many and was recently ranked Best Country in the World by millennials.

While many consider the yearlong celebration as a chance to showcase their national spirit, others are using this milestone to look to the future and recommit to the causes and ideas that have helped make Canada great.

Echoing this double sentiment that underscores the sesquicentennial, the Canadian government has framed the celebrations around four official themes that will be emphasized at the numerous events that are scheduled for the nation’s birthday.

The celebration, which begins December 31st, 2016 with a patriotic fireworks display in Ottawa, will centre around:
pride in diversity and inclusiveness, youth engagement, reconciliation with indigenous peoples and stewardship of the
natural environment.

Even though we are still a few weeks away from the official start of Canada’s 150th, many initiatives have already
begun to help lay the groundwork for the fulfillment of these four themes.

This past summer Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie released The Secret Path, a graphic novel, album, animated film and docuseries that recounted the story of Chanie Wenjack, an indigenous boy who died in 1966 while escaping from a residential school in northern Ontario. The great Canadian author, Joseph Boyden also beautifully told the story in Wenjack.

Despite the story being deeply upsetting for a modern audience who can’t fathom the young boy’s desperation, the
acknowledgment and testament that The Secret Path and Wenjack embodies is helping to foster the much needed
and long overdue reconciliation with indigenous peoples that is needed for a united future. (For a beautiful older
musical telling of the tale – see Willie Dunn’s Charlie Wenjack as well).

Ahead of the yearlong festivities, the Canada Council for the Arts launched the New Chapter: Arts Program to Mark the 150th Anniversary of Confederation, “a special program to support the creation and sharing of exceptional artistic and literary works. It will result in inspiring works that interpret the world we live in and envision our shared future. These works will encourage public engagement in the arts and will promote outreach locally, nationally and internationally.”

The open invitation called especially for indigenous, disabled and young artists to share their stories and art. The
council, as do I, believe that artistic expression is one of the best ways to share and educated about cultural experience.

At the Truth and Reconciliation Summit, held late last month in Banff, broadcaster and master of ceremonies Jesse Wente invited all Canadians to engage more broadly with the diverse communities that form our country.

He believes this is achievable through engagement of indigenous arts.

“I would encourage you to seek out that art, because our truth and stories have been continued in our art for decades; even when we couldn’t speak out, it was in our art,” he said. “Truth and reconciliation is not about short term gain, it is about long term change and today is a step toward that.”

With more than 75 percent of Canadians reporting that they are excited for the major national milestone, it is the perfect time to recommit to building a more inclusive and united country through arts and cultural engagement.