Sometimes you have to listen to Dad - even if your dad happens to be Pierre Trudeau. When asked about apologies for historic injustices, Pierre Trudeau, who did not suffer a fool, said “I think it is the job of governments, to be just within our own time”. His son Justin is now our Prime Minister, but he has ignored that advice in favour of apologizing to everybody for everything (except his own present-day mistakes of course). Justin especially likes to apologize on behalf of our long-dead ancestors. Pierre Trudeau may have been correct though, it is difficult to fix history. We might be better served to govern our own actions here and now.
We run into the weight of history, that inherited mantel of guilt, regularly these days. In Canada, it is customary at any public gathering to begin with an affirmation that goes something like this:
“We acknowledge the land we are meeting on is the traditional territory of many nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples…”
I have some problems with this, and it is not that I wish to be unkind. It is just that to issue a blanket statement is not very specific, for an area which requires some specificity. It ignores accuracy regarding whatever peoples may or may not have actually been in a particular place, and whatever treaties were made. In short, we are simply rewriting history on a whim, and this can be dangerous.
I have given the issues of righting history a lot of thought because my wife is Palestinian. As an observer of many years, I have found that it is unwise to pick the scab of old grievances. Second thing, it is naive and imprudent to imagine we are going to right all the wrongs of history. All those people are gone. In their stead are others, all born to a place to which they now presumably belong and have some kind of claim, despite anything their forefathers may or may not have done.
All of those new people are the wild card in the equation. For those holding on to historic grievances, they are inconvenient to your old arguments. They muddy up your historic claim with present day realities. They are born innocent... unless you decide to blame them too. And so history just gets more complicated.
Collective guilt has always been untidy as it plays out in real life. Communist countries have tried to overturn the past in the name of justice, and all such attempts have turned into revenge and wholesale slaughter. To be declared guilty by class or by skin colour reeks to me of the worst kind of racism. Guilt by group evades that basic truth pointed out by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, that the line dividing good and evil runs through every human heart.
That is because vice or virtue is seated in an individual based on the course he takes. I recall the Bible quote from Micah 6:8 that Jimmy Carter used when sworn in for his presidency. “Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” It is good advice. People who love justice, act justly. Those who love peace, are peaceable. It could not be any other way.
The third thing, and it is not a small thing… I am wondering what the end game is when we are asked to repeat mantras which suggest that the land on which we stand, drive, live, walk, shop, and work has not been had legitimately. Are the writers of such land affirmations suggesting that we should hand over title and deed to our homes? If not, why are we mouthing platitudes?
Last time I checked, there are laws where I live, which govern the division and purchase of land. To buy land I am obliged by the powers that be, to get title to the deed, to prove that I have paid for it lawfully, and that there are no existing liens on that land. Once that has been established, I am free to build and live upon the plot I have purchased, within established limits, and providing I pay my ongoing taxes. It is the law of the land.
Are the purveyors of land affirmations suggesting that these laws no longer apply, that some kind of undefined anarchy now governs rights of ownership? If so, I am really wondering why I am paying land transfer fees, a mortgage, and property taxes. The people who require me to obey laws, have some explaining to do. If they do not have an answer, then I have a land affirmation of my own, and I am fairly passionate about it.
“I acknowledge that the land I am standing on is the traditional territory of Trevor Toop and Abir Harouni, who by their sweat and labour, established a home on this spot with their own savings. This homestead was maintained by their hard work, for the raising and nurturing of their children, to whom they owe some kind of secure and safe existence. The land today is sustained by their care, stewardship and diligence...”
That’s my affirmation, a bit more specific than “somebody lived here sometime”. All others need not apply. Why do I say all this? Because it’s 2019. And because it is enough for us to be just in our own time. Some advice for Junior. Listen to Dad, he was right on that one.