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What Is Kaputall?

Oxford defines Kaput as "broken and useless; no longer working or effective" - similar to our unbalanced economic system. This is a page dedicated to the intersection of capitalism and social, political, and environmental problems.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Nationalism and Public Memory

A private member's bill has been introduced in the Canadian Parliament regarding the lyrics to the national anthem. A longtime co-op supporter and hero of mine, Ottawa-Vanier MP Mauril Bélanger, wants to change the words ''in all thy sons command'' to ''in all of us command''. Bélanger's initiative to make our national anthem gender neutral is well-intentioned. However, it should have us consider all the lyrics in general, if not the role that the national anthem should play in celebrating our country.

We are seldom are in contact with the national anthem, hearing it at the start of a hockey game, special event, or Canada day. As a teacher, however, I hear O Canada every single day at work. The English lyrics, which were added to Calixa Lavallée's instrumental music in 1906, invoke plenty of other references, if we were truly interested in changing the song, that are worth an edit. Among them are ''god'', ''patriot'', and ''native'' which surely are as gauche as the lyric in question.

Canadians should not be debating changing one element of their anthem without seriously considering the others. Moreover, it's helpful to examine what changing the lyrics mean in the first place. As an historian, it's likely unsurprising that I am not a fan of historical revisionism. We should always be conscientious of the meaning of history and we should not be keen to skip to change words in order to erase realities.

I would argue that would be a better strategy to engage in critically examining the lyrics, rather than changing them. This could happen at school, but it's naturally going to play out in the media cycles in the short term (for better or for worse) Perhaps we could even consider having two sets of lyrics. It may seem complicated, but this is in fact how history works.

Consider the case of Duncan Camphell Scott. It is unlikely you've ever heard of him, but he worked in what was then called the Department of Indian Affairs for 52 years and was instrumental in establishing the Indian Residential School System. He famously noted that we should kill the Indian in the child. It was not until 2014 that a plaque was erected near his grave which describes his ''notorious'' career in destroying the culture of millions of First Nations. His original grave was not touched.

That may make some people uncomfortable - the notion that we should leave his original memory intact. However, it's important to create new history rather than erasing the old one. The latter reminds me of the revolutionary zeal of 1789 or 1917. History should be studied, not retouched.

This bill is likely to pass now that the Liberals have a majority government. It may take some time to get sorted out, but in the interim, I'm thankful to sing the national anthem every morning in French.

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