The headlines today in my local newspaper reads, “Empire Days Celebration Canceled.” This is about a political brouhaha that started last month when the local city council decided to withhold event funding to a society that has organized a Victoria Day (May) long weekend event complete with parade and fireworks in my fair city of Nanaimo for over 150 years.
The reason? The word “Empire” and the perceived negative connotation relating to British colonialism and that the title is offensive to First Nations people.
This bullying tactic by my local government pissed me off enough that I took the time to write two separate letters to the editor in said newspaper to express my dismay.
The society refused to change their name and drop the word “Empire.” The city tried to negotiate a compromise but the volunteers after being verbally abused on social media decided to pull the plug on the event, probably forever.
I decided to step back a moment and try and understand what was the real factor here that was making me angry over this outcome. Decisions are made everyday that change communities all the time. Why did I feel passionate over this turn of events? So at the risk of offending others, here is what I have come to understand about my feelings about this situation.
When will the non-indigenous citizens of this nation (Canada) have atoned for our ancestors mistakes? Is there a date somewhere out in the distant future marked so that after that date the score card is wiped clean and all parties are back to square one again and everyone regardless of colour, heritage or religious belief can move forward as one to build a strong inclusive nation.
I know that is a simplistic attitude but think about. If we, as diverse human groups, are ever to evolve we need to get rid of the score cards. The ones that say you did this to us a 100 or in some cases a 1000 years ago and we want retribution. Or the ones that say you did this to us so we are going to retaliate and do something back to you. The drive to seek revenge or to right wrongs that can never be righted has to stop.
We don’t have to drop our defenses and express undying love for our enemies, we just need to let go of the past and enter the present with the attitude of respect for each others differences. That is the only way as a world we will ever achieve any level of global peace. It’s not a case of wiping the score cards clean but rather getting rid of them all together. If we continue to operate from the past we may never reach the future.
The loss of the Victoria Day celebration put on by the Empire Society brought home this point for me. Here is a group of people who’s heritage is British and wanting to celebrate this fact have organized a community event and have done so successfully for a century and a half. An event that has since created it’s own history apart from it’s colonial past for this Vancouver Island city where citizens from every walk of life, First Nations included, have come out year after year and enjoyed. But now, after 150 years, one word in the societies name is politically incorrect and offends another.
Okay I’ll be honest here, the word “Empire” has probably been offensive to the First Nation’s people from day one and I totally respect their right to abhor all that it represents to them but I also totally respect the ancestors of the British colonizer’s right to celebrate their heritage and there by contribute to this community. Why should one group’s right be block for another groups rights? It needn’t be a I’m right you’re wrong thing. There is no right, there is no wrong here, just different.
If we could just get past that one stumbling block in this world, throw away the score cards that hold us to past hurts, move forward and evolve into an open minded, inclusive existence where everyone has a right to their heritage (warts and all), their customs and their faith and not be singled out for being different, what a wonderful world our world would truly be.