Myths to live by?
In his book A Fair Country John Ralston Saul argues that, among other things that make us unique, Canadians have developed as a society of community out of our close attention to our First Nations/Metis roots. He sees those roots in every Canadian institution and in most Canadian ways of doing things.
It’s the basis of our politeness, our care for one another, our way of doing governance, our way of providing for the least among us. In a sparsely populated landscape peopled by generations of folk grown out of traditions steeped in mutual care for mutual survival, we have grown and developed quite differently from our cousins to the south.
Where they eradicated and conquered to take control of fat resources and easy wealth, we moved in more cautiously, shared the secrets of living with the land and grew to depend and rely upon the wisdom of those who were already here. If the southerners are and were about assimilation, we were and are about mutuality and integration. Both concepts are mythic, of course, but John Ralson Saul writes a myth that, it seems to me, we may well be living by.
It explains a lot. Canadians didn’t put God on their money, they put a concept of God’s love and care into their government. It wasn’t always, or perhaps ever, easily done. We’ve had our general strikes, our small-pox blankets, our whiskey traders; residential schools; and our winner-take-all industrial developments. Our landscape is littered with the grave-sites of the people who came before us, and our hills are pock-marked with mined out pits and crumbling foundations. We are not saints.
But we know what it takes to survive as a people. We know that we are as strong as the weakest among us, we know that our health depends upon the health of our neighbours, that our ability to educate our children depends upon our neighbours ability to educate theirs. We know that we cannot drink water that we empty our waste into, that we cannot breathe air that we expel our sulpher into, that we cannot raise crops in the land we bury our garbage in. We know all of those things and they make a difference in the way we are with one another. We look back in horror, sometimes, but we also look ahead with faith that we will not repeat the mistakes of our ancestors.
We also have a bit of a reputation as a people who are polite, but firm when it comes to bullies. Where our cousins to the south have had the misfortune to occupy both sides of the spectrum, depending on whether they were in Europe, Asia or South and Central America and Africa, we have quietly stood between; called to account; drawn lines in the sand and otherwise done our best to stop the strong from mauling the weak. Or so our myths tell us, anyway.
So here we have our myths: We care for one another; we are rooted in a Metis tradition; we share what we have with the weakest among us; we get between bullies and their targets. We honour God, not on our money, but in our activity. We preach the Gospel of love with a firm aspect, using words only if absolutely necessary. Our myths: who we are, or who we would like to be.
Currently we seem to be in the grips of a governing philosophy led in a rather tyrannical way by one or two angry middle-class, middle-aged white guys who woke up one day in Canada but are desperately trying to become Americans in every way they can. To do so they would have us deny our myths: abandon the poor to their fate; lay the land and the sky and the waters open to those who would despoil them for personal gain; destroy the social fabric that keeps us well cared for; and dishonour the gods of our ancestors by adopting the one on the money.
Maybe we should thank God that they are here, so that we might examine our myths and uphold the ancient truths they represent. Maybe we can make the myths come true, because of them.
Keith Simmonds is a diaconal minister in the Communities in Faith Pastoral Charge serving Beaver Valley, Rossland, Salmo and Trail.