When England completely mismanaged the deciding penalty shoot-out of their first major international final since 1966, costing themselves the game and title in the process, I felt, admittedly, a vast sense of relief that I was not English. If you were English, that loss would haunt you for the rest of the year. Whereas, for me, it was easy to move on. Yes, I had been cheering for them—my sense of disappointment in the loss was momentarily acute—but I was cheering for them because it seemed obtuse not to.
Am I English? No. But all four sides of my family are English, having arrived in what we now call Canada between 1850 and 1910. From Cirencester in Gloucestershire to Cranbrook in Kent they came to help make this new land English as Fuck, and, in their minds, they remained English, even after the hyphen was added to make them English-Canadians, even for awhile after the hyphen was dropped and they called themselves Canadians only. But being Canadian was really the same thing as being English, just that people kind of forgot that that’s what it meant.
I asked a friend a little while back what they thought of The Red Ensign. They thought it was the name of a pirate pursued by Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack. When I clarified, and said I was referring to Canada’s original and former national flag, they thought I was pulling their (peg)-leg. Then I produced an image. It was Johnny Depp. He looked angry in mascara. My friend looked confused. I put it away and produced the correct picture: the flag under which Canada fought two world wars. No maple leaf in sight. First time they’d ever seen it.
The Great Flag Debate is not so great anymore. That for the majority of its history Canada operated with a union jack in the top left corner of its official flag is not something we are supposed to know. Nasty debate at the time. It was the progressive and liberal position to get rid of the horrid, British, warmongering symbol. Our new flag was supposed to make Quebec feel more included. Signify our bold new start—together, bilingually and multiculturally, as one. Which, I think, ok fair enough—let’s begin with our artificial, new beginning in 1965. Actually, I came along five years later, so let’s start there.
Since 1970, Canada has gone out of its way to dishonour its obligations to and agreements with the surviving nations of Canada’s illegally claimed portion of—if anyone were serious about decolonizing at all—a continent known since the beginning of memory as Turtle Island. Presently, our political and ruling corporate class has been quite happy to let British symbols get torn down and vandalized. They have been content to watch Catholic churches burn while allowing an Argentine pope catch all sorts of flack from outraged Canadians…for things that neither English governments nor Catholic popes bear any responsibility whatsoever. While it is true that Britain before, during and after Queen Victoria (whose statue in Winnipeg was recently toppled) signed many agreements with many First Nations’ people, it is also true that all of these agreements were violated by Canadian governments—mostly under a maple leaf flag. Maple leaf Canadians haven’t just picked up where English-Canadians left off. On the contrary, the exploitation of land not legally theirs has intensified under maple leaf Canada.
In the blockaded intersection of East Hastings and Clark during Vancouver’s Wet’suwet’en protests protest organizers had written in red chalk the words “Settlers Rise Up!”
I wish. That is to say, I’m willing. As a professor I took my students to Idle No More. As a private citizen, I spent regular shifts blockading the port, showing settler solidarity. It’s the least I can do. It seems to me, though, that it’s also the most I can do…if stay here.
All of the progressive and strategic voting I have done since coming of voting age until the present has not even been enough to get non-poisonous drinking water to the original inhabitants of this land. Canada remains a settler colony whose economy is based on the exploitation of territory to which it does not have legal claim. Once the present national mourning has subsided, and the right rhetoric has again given way to the need for pipelines, maple leaf Canada will still have yet to confront the fundamental and fatal flaw of its nationhood.
The last concert I saw before Covid happened was Wolf Parade (with Land of Talk opening). It was during the Wet’suwet’en protests and when Wolf Parade expressed solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en and their allies, a segment of the audience booed. A person behind me exclaimed, “What the fuck—really?”
The event seemed to give added meaning to Wolf Parade’s song “Forest Green”
“It’s something that you’ve known since birth/
You understand this place is cursed/
It is cursed.”
The song continues,
“We got the sea and the sand/
We got colonial days on stolen, stolen land/
Nationhood shouldn’t force me to live and die on stolen land I didn’t steal.
Which is why I have prepared this plea, which I have forwarded to 10 Downing via registered mail, and I post here for public information.
Please evacuate me. I am as English as you are and this is an emergency. You have met PM Justin. Enough said, am I right? Just nod. I will feel your agreement. Speaking of agreements: Canada has broken all of its with its First Nations’ peoples. As long as European descendants remain in charge here, Canada will continue to violate its agreements. Revoltingly, it will do so in our name.
I have every reason to believe that my English descendants (Boris, buddy, I am in Debrett’s, my family is posher than yours and so is my haircut) would be as appalled as I am to see what Canada has become. The lack of integrity of its ruling class would be a source of unendurable shame. If my English ancestors could see the consequences of their actions, I don’t believe they ever would have come. If they were already here, they’d have left. Which, glad that I’ve finally built my courage up, is what I am proposing.
Call it A Modest (Canadian) Proposal. Beam me back, Boris. I am ready to come home. Please prepare for me a cottage in the Cotswolds where I come from, because Canada isn’t really a country. If Great Britain and its Turtle Island diaspora are serious about healing wounds, fixing the past, and honouring treaties then everything should be on the table: including mass repatriation.
I can speak neither for the masses nor the jackasses running my supposed country, but I am ready now. Cut the red tape. Remember the Red Ensign. Bring me back home. We were never meant to stay this long.
Ever So Pippingly I Remain,
Colin David Snowsell Pelly