Wednesday, July 21, 2010


A discussion of what a "nation" is , is a sure-fire way to raise emotions and temperatures. Most of us suscribe to the notion that a nation is a geographic entity, easily spotted on a map, recognized by other such entities. But if one speaks to groups of people who live within these entities on the map, one may receive different interpretations of what a nation is.

Canada is a perfect example of the dilemma. On a map, it is a huge blotch, occupying roughly half of the land mass of North America. No problem, right? Now we know what a Canadian is, a person living within that big blotch.

Not so fast. Inside the Canadian blotch, a veritable United Nations of people live together. All races, religions, nationalities and languages are represented. So, it follows that these people must constitute something other than a "Canadian" nationality. But, if that is true, who then is the "true Canadian?" Enter that debate at your peril !!

The truth is, Canada is populated by more than one nation. This idea has gained currency only in the last couple of decades. Before that, Canada was white, largely English-speaking, largely Protestant and incredibly dull and boring. The "French" were sucessfully confined to Quebec, New Brunswick or northern Ontario, and the aboriginals were largely ignored. Many people long for a return to that time, but I am not one of them. I find Canada in its current form an incredibly fascinating place, truly one of the most interesting places on earth in its complexity. Never a dull moment here.

Sadly, one of the nations living in our blotch have been treated shabbily recently. The Iroquois Nationals are a talented lacrosse team and they represent the Haudenosaunee, or Six Nations Confederacy. These people are rightly a sovereign nation, and have proudly borne their own passport whenever they travel. But in the 2010 World Lacrosse Championships, their passport has inexplicably been denied by the authorities in Britain, the host country of the tournament. The result: the Nationals have had to remain at home, taking a principled stand on their sovereignty and nationhood, but paying a huge price by not playing the game they invented and gave to the world.

Strangely, the Canadian government has remained silent on this issue. The US government tried to intervene, with no less a person than Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State trying to intercede on the Iroquois' behalf. But not a word from Canada... why? I will tell you why. Canada does not want the Iroquois to be fully recognized abroad as a sovereign nation because it will strengthen their claims here at home. Even as I write these lines, the years old stand off at Caledonia continues. And we all remember blockades at Deseronto, Ipperwash and the infamous seige at Oka and Kanesetake and Kannewake in Quebec. The Iroquois have an historic and legitimate claim to sovereignty which Canada seems reluctant to recognize. Did we silently ask the British to ignore the passport in order to send a quiet message that the Indian Wars are still on, and that Canada will dictate the terms of reference, not the Iroquois?

The whole affair is shameful and an embarrasment to all of us. If Canada is to be a shining example of how people of many nations can live together in peace and co-operation, working for the common good and the welfare of all people ( in the true and strict definition of the word "welfare"), then our government should have spoken loudly and strongly in support of the Iroquois in their assertion of nationhood. But that would have been the right thing to do: when has the Canadian government, especially in its current form, ever done that?

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