Wednesday, June 1, 2016

O Canada. Because it's 2016.

For the 13th time since 1980, the House of Commons is debating changing the national anthem. The first 12 tries were defeated, but this time it might actually pass. The bill just proposes to change "all thy sons" to "all of us."

I think, while we're there, we should go whole hog on this and get rid of "native home" since most of us immigrated here, and get rid of any reference to God to acknowledge we're multi-faith and secular.

AND, if we really want to be inclusive, and since kids in school learn a version of the song that's half French, it would be cool to have a few lines in Ojibwe or Cree. Imagine if the last two lines were in whatever indigenous language is most spoken in each region. So if you travel across Canada to sporting events or visiting schools, you'd hear the various anthem lines particular to each area. It means MORE JOBS for translators, singers, recording studios... to get all those recordings packaged and sent to schools for their morning announcements. Imagine all three founding nations represented in our anthem.

I discussed it with my students and got a variety of responses.  The dominant arguments of my most vocal grade tens went something like this:
"This is all a stupid thing to try to do. People are too sensitive. What's the big deal about "thy sons" anyway? It'll be too complicated if we change it and have to learn a new one. It's just a stupid song. Who cares?"
My grade elevens were all about the changes.

Firstly, if you don't care about the song, then stay out of the way while people debate this.

I think the lyrics of a song that represents our country are very important. Our anthem tells people a bit about who we are and what we think is important. And the anthem links all Canadians, so it should avoid any word choices that clearly exclude anyone.

It might be a chore to learn some new words, but you can always just listen while others sing. The people who will be most affected are children in grade school who actually sing it every day. I think they can cope with a few minor word changes and a couple lines in some cool new languages.

I asked my tens, "If instead of saying "all thy sons command," the original* said, "all white people command," would you feel like that should be changed?"

Of course. Everyone has a problem with that one.

We're much better at detecting racism than discrimination in other areas. I agree that people are too sensitive when some suggest we need trigger warnings and safe spaces set up to accommodate anyone potentially offended by a discussion. But this isn't about the anthem upsetting people. It's about working towards making the anthem as inclusive as possible to build a national community. And it's such an easy and visible thing to do.

When they passed this version into law in 1980, they promised to be open to changes in future. I think the future is now. Anything new is difficult and annoying, but soon enough we get used to it. and in just one generation, everyone will know a version that encompasses the men and women from the three distinct nations who got this ball rolling.

I said as much in a letter to the editor, which says the same as above, but in 200 words and with reference to a recent news piece:
I applaud Wynne’s apology, particularly her insistence that, “Ontario is working to provide the resources and space for Indigenous languages, traditions, teachings and governance to thrive.” The timing is perfect for discussion of a different issue. 
On Monday, the Commons debated a bill to change the lyrics of Canada's national anthem to replace “all thy sons” with “all of us.” Since it’s beyond 2015, and we’re finally beginning to work towards a more inclusive nation, maybe it’s time to make our anthem more fully represent Canada. 
Replacing “thy sons” is a start. We could also consider Canadians who aren’t native and even those who don’t address God in moments of patriotism. 
To demonstrate further inclusion, school children already learn a version that is partly in French. I propose, in light of Wynne’s offer of “space for Indigenous languages to thrive,” that it would be a profound, symbolic action if we included a couple words of the languages of the actual native land when we sing en masse (in addition to “Canada,” of course). Then our three founding nations can be represented in our nation’s anthem. 
Yes, change is difficult. But learning a few new words in a song is a small price to pay for the true north.

* The original 1880 version didn't even say "thy sons command"; it said, "thou dost in us command." See that first link for the history of the song.


Larry Hamelin said...

You are quite correct. I have one tiny quibble.

I agree that people are too sensitive in that we need trigger warnings and safe spaces set up to accommodate anyone offended about anything.

These allegations, as far as I know, are baseless, either entirely fabricated or trivialization and misrepresentation of unobjectionable uses of safe spaces and trigger warnings.

The Mound of Sound said...

Ditch it entirely. The Maple Leaf Forever will do just fine. Won't be that popular in Quebec, of course but it'll be perfect for all the Union Jackals in Victoria.

Marie Snyder said...

I changed it a bit so it's less hyperbolic. It was a throw-away line to acknowledge the level of care some are asked to take to avoid some topics of discussion.

Marie Snyder said...

I prefer the Canadian version of "This Land is Your Land" myself.

Anonymous said...

The word god isn't exclusive to our society it doesn't say what god or whose god.It should be sung in English as that is the language of the majority of the country and world.Nothing should celebrate the natives as its not your land and their languages are even relevant so should not be added to the song.

Marie Snyder said...

God isn't exclusive to our society, but neither is it inclusive of the people within society. English isn the third most common language, and it's only one of our official languages. And it's certainly no more British land than Indigenous.