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Breaking Up with my First Love

Updated: Jul 2

Dear Canada,


It’s been three years since I wrote you a love letter. Three years as I’ve been coming out of the fog created by the image of you I have had in my mind for so long, the image you have so carefully curated for me and for so many others. Three years where it has become glaringly obvious how false that image was, though I started to see the cracks long before.


Every year before that, for as long as I can remember, your birthday was my favourite day. I would spend days, sometimes weeks, preparing for it - buying red tops or clothes covered in national symbols, donning temporary tattoos and flag, celebrating with pancakes and picnics and fireworks. I wrote post after post, year after year, about how you were my one true love, the great love of my life, the thing I was most proud of. I would get choked up during the national anthem and at Tim Horton’s commercials. My heart would burst with gratitude and joy at the blessing of being able to live here, in this wonderful, miraculous place.


And it was miraculous for me, in so many ways. You welcomed my family at a time when very few places would, and made space for us to live and learn and grow. I got to live what felt like a utopian childhood, surrounded by friends and neighbours who came from different places and believed different things, but were able to love for and care about one another in deep and meaningful ways. It was a blissful dream.


But like all dreams, it had to come to an end. It happened slowly at first, like the way an alarm clock rings in your dream before really you realise you’re dreaming. I started learning things about you… small things at first, like how you treated other people who looked like me, people I thought of as family; how you messed up my name or spoke about my faith or talked about the places my ancestors called home. But then those (maybe not so) little things became big things, blood soaking the ground I walk every day, tiny bones under my feet and crushed into the walls of parliament, the cries of babies and mothers torn apart generation after generation. I learned that the very things you gave me, the land I lived on, the houses I grew up in, my schools, and my favourite places, were all stolen, stolen and handed to me like they were brand new and bought from the store.


What do you do when you wake up and realise you’ve been sleeping next to a thief and a murderer? How do you come to terms with the fact that someone who has been so good to you, so warm and loving and kind, is also the one killing your siblings at home and abroad, also the one responsible for thousands of children’s deaths, also the one who has the boot on your neck, telling you to lick it.


It was a rude awakening but make no mistake, I am awake now. And I cannot continue to pretend that you are good just because you have often been good to me. Because you use that goodness to excuse the horror, the terrifying truth of who you are. I cannot be your shield anymore. I cannot sit here and defend you, knowing what I know. No matter how much I may have loved you, no matter how much my heart aches at the loss of my imagined ideal, I cannot pretend not to see.


I used to be so excited to teach my children how wonderful you were, so honoured to be able to tell them your stories. And I will tell them still, but I will tell them the truth. I will tell them about the pain and the fear and the heartache you leave in your wake. I will tell them about the lives that were lost, about the children pulled from their mothers’ arms, about the exploitation and the brutality. And though they are not the happy bedtime stories I imagined telling them, I will not lie to them the way you lied to me. They deserve better. I deserved better. We all do.


I do not know where we go from here. I do not know if it will ever be possible for me to look at you with love or joy instead of fear and revulsion. But I know right now, in this moment, I am standing where I need to, alongside my sibling on this land, mourning and grieving, rising and rebelling. It took me so long, too long, to realise what Treaty meant. Treaty is an amanat, a trust between me and my siblings on this land. It is a sacred trust, witness by Allah, that I am duty bound to uphold, with or without you. That duty comes first, before my loyalty to you or my sense of gratitude for what you have given me, because it wasn’t yours to give. And I will do everything in my power to make sure that trust is honoured, that the privileges I have been given are used to break down the walls you have build to hold back your secrets.


The reckoning is here. And I am here for it.


Solidarity, first and always.

S.


ps. In case you’re wondering, the snowflake in the image is a calligraphic representation of al-Haq, one of the names of Allah, meaning the Truth. It seemed fitting.


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