The Thomas Fisher Struggle and Story exhibit typifies the Canadian problem: how can we be proud of Canada’s founders while honouring the victims of colonialism and genocide? Should we want to develop nationalism? Or is nationalism a perverse form of state-worship, forever marginalizing the other? The Canadian historian faces a nearly impossible task.The Struggle and Story exhibit is well-curated, historically moving, and as white as a prairie winter. Let me rephrase: a history that starts with Champlain and Cartier is as accurate as Mackenzie-King’s Ouija board. While we’ve long since forgiven our former Prime Ministers’ proclivities, we’ve yet to earn the forgiveness of our country’s first inhabitants. Ignoring their history is a bad way to start.
Without doubt, the struggles presented are worthy of remembrance. The exhibit is a trove of important pieces of our history: Wolfe’s Journal, William Lyon-Mackenzie’s expulsion letter, and the original British North America Act are the proverbial tip of the Rockies. Not to mention the life-saving, shrapnel-ridden journal of one World War One veteran without whom this paper – and this college – would bear a different name. In the Fisher Library, man struggles against nature, France against England, Britain against America, and autonomy against colony.
But the struggles of Indigenous peoples, save a few scattered placards, are almost entirely excluded from the glass casings. Part of the oversight comes from the impossible task of telling a story of ten thousand years with only 500 years of European records. But this is the very problem: as soon as we restrict our history to the tales of our European forebears, we’ve failed to tell the honest story of this ancient nation.
I think the desire for Canadian nationalism can bend and skew the kind of stories we tell ourselves about our country’s past. After all, it’s much easier to celebrate the National Pacific Railroad than the Indian Act. But this kind of romanticism belongs with the hope that the Oilers can make playoffs: forever in the past.
The exhibition runs until Saturday, September 9, 2017.
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