The Day I Was Taught That Canada Was Ordained for White People

Canada coat of arms

Canada’s Coat of Arms

Chapel

I was a bookish thirteen-year old, new to the local Christian school. It was a small institution located at the church our family attended. Up until part way through Grade 8, I had attended public schools. Going to regular chapel services during school hours, even with having been raised in a deeply religious home, was an oddity to me. Strange though it was, having time away from academic classes was a delight (even for a studious person such as myself).

 

The reading for this day’s particular chapel service was from Psalm 72:

Give the king your justice, O God,
    and your righteousness to a king’s son.
May he judge your people with righteousness,
    and your poor with justice.
May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,
    and the hills, in righteousness.
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
    give deliverance to the needy,
    and crush the oppressor.

May he live while the sun endures,
    and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.
May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,
    like showers that water the earth.
In his days may righteousness flourish
    and peace abound, until the moon is no more.

May he have dominion from sea to sea,
    and from the River to the ends of the earth.
May his foes bow down before him,
    and his enemies lick the dust.
10 May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles
    render him tribute,
may the kings of Sheba and Seba
    bring gifts.
11 May all kings fall down before him,
    all nations give him service.

12 For he delivers the needy when they call,
    the poor and those who have no helper.
13 He has pity on the weak and the needy,
    and saves the lives of the needy.
14 From oppression and violence he redeems their life;
    and precious is their blood in his sight.

15 Long may he live!
    May gold of Sheba be given to him.
May prayer be made for him continually,
    and blessings invoked for him all day long.
16 May there be abundance of grain in the land;
    may it wave on the tops of the mountains;
    may its fruit be like Lebanon;
and may people blossom in the cities
    like the grass of the field.
17 May his name endure forever,
    his fame continue as long as the sun.
May all nations be blessed in him;
    may they pronounce him happy.

18 Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
    who alone does wondrous things.
19 Blessed be his glorious name forever;
    may his glory fill the whole earth.
Amen and Amen.

20 The prayers of David son of Jesse are ended.

The Lesson

My science teacher stood at the front of the church sanctuary and asked us if we wanted to know “something cool”. He was a beloved teacher so, of course, we replied with applause. He went on:

 

“Did you know that our country of Canada is in the bible?”

 

Of course we didn’t, but that did sound cool.

 

“Did you know that God foretold the birth of our nation? Even from thousands of years ago?”

 

Of course we didn’t know that either, but that sounded amazing.

 

He licked his thumb, flipped a page over, and read from Psalm 72:8:

 

“May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. Or in Latin, it’s “Et dominabitur a mari usque ad mare, et a flumine usque ad terminos terrae’.”

Text reads Canada's motto in Latin: "A Mari usque ad Mare"

“A Mari usque ad Mare” or “From Sea to Sea”

We sat there staring at him blankly. Did we miss something? Canada wasn’t mentioned once that we heard. Maybe it was a code?

 

“‘From sea to sea’ is our national motto. The first sea is the Atlantic Ocean and, after British Colombia was added as a province, the second sea is the Pacific Ocean!” he paused, as he often did in his teaching, for dramatic effect. “God ordained, even back in the Old Testament, that Canada be born and flourish as a nation. Where else in the world does a single country border not just two, but three oceans? This was God’s plan all along!”

 

One student put up his hand and asked about the river that was mentioned in the Psalm but not mentioned in our national motto. Granted the kid was giving cheek, but in actuality he was asking what we all were thinking.

 

“Well that I can’t say for sure. But what I’d like to believe is that it’s referencing the Saint Lawrence Seaway. If the seas are prophesying about our oceans, then the largest river at the time of our founding would have been the Saint Lawrence!”

 

The kid shut up and went back to picking at a mosquito bite.

 

This was academia taught by our science teacher. (The Saint Lawrence? Really?!)

A God of Dominion Made Sense

As far as are young brains understood the God who was taught to us at church and in school, God was omnipotent (so of course God give whatever land God wanted to the right people); God was omnipresent (so the same God who was present during David’s time was also present at the founding of Canada); and God was the literal inspiration for our bible (meaning if Canada was written about in the Psalms, then God’s word ended all discussion).

 

Truth be told, I had been taught a white European God since being in utero. I may never have been taught “from sea to sea” specifically until Grade 8, but my world was still constructed to echo my own white narrative. Who was I to question God? If God ordained such things, then blessed be me.

 

At no time during my partial year at this school was I taught about dominionism or colonialism; I was never taught about residential schools or the breaking of treaties; I was never taught about intergenerational trauma or the systemic poverty and racism faced by Canada’s indigenous peoples.

 

What I was taught was the dangers of indigenous spirituality (all ceremony and regalia were demonic); I was taught that people in poverty chose to remain there because they refused to work hard enough; and I was taught a narrow, white, straight power-hungry God who seemed to care more about acquiring the earth’s land for certain peoples rather than paying attention to the rest of God’s own psalm:

12 For he delivers the needy when they call,
the poor and those who have no helper.
13 He has pity on the weak and the needy,
and saves the lives of the needy.
14 From oppression and violence he redeems their life;
and precious is their blood in his sight.

Exposing the Lies

I attended a different Christian school in another town for the remainder of high school. There I encountered a social studies teacher who often deviated from the approved curriculum and told us that the world was not as we had been taught.

 

From residential schools to the Holocaust to the forced sterilization of differently abled people, my Canada was not necessarily the true, north, strong, and free country I had been taught that it was. Certainly not all of the time, and definitely not for everyone. Even with his off-script lectures, my teacher’s words barely scratched the surface of questioning Canada’s attachment to being the polished peace-keeping country. Not even close.

And Now…?

Canada Day is a difficult day for me to celebrate. It marks the founding of a nation birthed at the expense of hundreds of thousands of indigenous lives still being impacted today. It offers me a privilege of celebrating my freedom and liberty, while righteously shaming anyone else who deviates from the straight, white, Christian narrative. Singing the national anthem is all but impossible as I witness the roles of patriotism and nationalism in the eroding of community both in Canada and the United States.

 

How can we hope to overcome the violence of dominionism when we teach our children that God somehow literally prophesied Canada’s birth? When we use God as the final arbiter of who’s in and who’s out, challenging such doctrines – doctrines that become laws, even countries – becomes almost impossible. Scripture is worshipped as the literal, inerrant word of God, and God apparently is a colonizing asshole.

 

For me, Canada Day has become a day to mourn with many friends who have been left out of the dominant Canadian narrative. It is a day to celebrate those courageous ones who refuse to accept that white Euro-centric God somehow deigned for this land to be given to white Euro-centric Christians for all times in all places.

 

My skin colour affords me measures of privilege I will never fully dismantle in this life. Even as I work to take them apart, my actions and speech will betray how deeply my privilege has laced my heritage. What I can do is live and work with indigenous brothers and sister who strive to write new mottos, new anthems, and new prayers while calling mercy and justice in our current ones.

 

For all of us, all across this land.

 

From sea to sea to sea.

  One thought on “The Day I Was Taught That Canada Was Ordained for White People

  1. July 3, 2018 at 11:41 am

    Someone actually used Psalm 72 in that way?! I am getting so sick of the bible being used to push the agenda of the rich and powerful. Deviating from The topic of Canada and colonialism, something I have increasingly noticed in pop culture media is the suspicious view of the Christian Church. It has become a trope to have a Catholic like priest responsible for keeping some dark secret. It is things like – Psalm 72 predicts Canada – that has feeds these suspicions. Even last week a group of pastors was arrested for protesting Trump and people immediately accused them of a publicity stunt. How do we as the church reconcile with the world for past behaviour? Sorry for the rant, this is where your thoughts led mine to go.

    • Erin Thomas
      July 3, 2018 at 4:46 pm

      It’s indeed so troubling to realize the extent of our colonial settler-ism. Reconciliation is a long, bumpy, lots-of-potholes road. This is why you and I accepted the call to ministry?

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