With Black History Month right around the corner, we’re featuring some of our leading voices on the subject. At a time when we reflect on our Nation’s 150-year legacy, these individuals inspire audiences to act as change makers towards a better future.
Today’s guest blog is courtesy of Wellness Expert & Personal Development Coach Nova Browning Rutherford. Nova’s Canada 150 presentation ‘Canadian Identity‘ offers an inspiring message on what it means to be Canadian for those who are first generation and beyond.
When someone calls you a ‘true Canadian’, what does that mean?
Some picture a white-haired man with ruddy cheeks in a tattered Oilers jersey, smelling like tractors and Timmies. Maybe a younger boy with dark eyes that absorb the colour of the lakes near Northern Ontario, his family home for generations. Or is the spirit of a true Canadian found in the heart? I imagine a black haired woman with sun-weathered skin walking out of City Hall, her chipped teeth smiling now that she can finally call herself a citizen.
Different experiences. Same pride.
“What are you?” is a question that has dogged me most of my life. I know they mean to say, “where are you from?” as if Chatham, Ontario didn’t match my skin tone. Being a woman of colour (I coined the hue racially ambiguous beige) with no West Indian, African or African-American heritage in a country where cultural pride means everything can be hard to explain.
A new group of young Canadians – Second Gen’s – find the lines of the ‘other’ box blurred. Raised with two sets of influences, culturally and socially, 54% of Second Generation Canadians report both parents were born outside of Canada. This same group is young – under 40 – and view their identity through a unique lens. The rules are being made up as they grow up making “what are you?” a simple question with a not so simple response. I’ll give you my short answer:
My mom is White, of Scottish/Ukrainian background. Her father’s grandparents settled in Saskatchewan from the Ukraine, like many, at the turn of the 20th century. Her mother’s parents, a soldier from Aberdeen, Scotland and a nurse from England, met in WWI and immigrated to Canada.
Dad, is Black Canadian with roots in the Chatham/Windsor area. Meaning, we are descendants of the people who escaped slavery in the U.S., and came to Canada via the Underground Railroad. Not many Canadians can say their ancestors arrived by foot and in 1830 no less. An incredible history.
My deep Canadian roots leave me with no other country to claim, food to eat, or native tongue. This IS the motherland! I am whatever people think I am – positive and negative projections included – which has meant a lifelong struggle with identity. Yet, I feel a pride and love for this country like nothing else in my life.
By using what I call “transferable life skills” Canadians bring the benefits of their journey to this land to create the one of a kind ‘cultural mosaic’ we are so proud of. Tenacity and resourcefulness are paramount when adapting to new surroundings. And can we talk about the heartiness and humor needed to cope with winter?
What kind of person endures? Risks? Strives for more? That DNA is in you and your neighbour.
It’s these life skills, gained in unconventional ways that forge this shared experience. It pulls us over personal obstacles and drives us to make Canada a home to all of us. That’s why, wherever you go in the world, when you meet another Canadian, it feels like meeting someone you already know. What we share is what makes us who we are.
In our 150th year, make a point to seek common denominators in order to expose shared values.
Here are three simple ways to forge a deeper bond and reveal the best that is Canada:
3 WAYS TO SHARE WITH CANADIANS FOR #CANADA150
Savor the Food & Culture
President’s Choice launched the #EatTogether campaign for Canada 150 because… food! Host a work potluck or dinner to show off your skills and share what that dish means to you. Be sure to sample and savour the myriad of cultural festivals – outside of your own – happening all year.
Know Our History
Passages Canada – a storytelling initiative put together by Historica Canada – creates a space for new Canadians and not so new (French, Acadian, Indigenous, Black) to share experiences of identity. The addicting Heritage Minutes to continue telling our stories. Continue speaking the names of Chanie Wenjack, Viola Desmond, Terry Fox, and Emily Carr to reflect on the best that is in all of us.
Explore Natural Wonder
Parks Canada wants you to witness our greatest treasure and is giving away park passes for FREE all 2017! This year, make the time. I was drooling like a dog out the window the first time I drove from Calgary to Vancouver through the Rockies.
The last time someone asked me “What are you?” I pictured that glorious landscape, weathered, wild yet oh so still, and proudly responded, “I’m a Canadian.”