Whose light? Whose sounds? Whose land?

Posted 08.16.09

IN THE PONTIAC, QUEBEC | Driving through Ottawa on a recent Saturday night, we noticed a hubbub of activity at the Parliament buildings. My daughter gleefully called for us to stop -- how could we drive by this festival? We stopped, not knowing what "festival" it would be.

A Sound and Light Show is what the event was called. The parliament buildings are used as a screen for a collage of images projected onto the halls of government. I recalled that years ago I enjoyed a laser and light show in Montreal's Architectural Park. That was an architect's use of light, very clever and inspiring. How exciting to see what was to come here in Ottawa, I thought, as the evolution of light art must have progressed significantly over the last fifteen years.

Several small groups of soldiers milled around cleaning-up from an earlier event. The atmosphere was puzzling. Perhaps a hundred people waited for the show, many with children even at the dark hour required for a light show. Immigrants and tourists were mixed with a few white spectators. When the actual display began, my heart sank and my kids panicked.

Here, on the hill belonging to another people not so long ago was a much too-loud and poorly executed display of questionable patriotism. The voice boomed out bilingually (no Algonquin in that equation) informing the small gathering that Canada and the land are spiritually connected.

After that perfunctory nod to our native predecessors, settlers and first parliamentarians were pictured in fuzzy light as the voice continued reflecting on Canada's heritage of fairness and multiculturalism.

And on the other side of the parliament buildings is Victoria Island in the Ottawa River. This, like most of the area, has deep Algonquin roots. The Algonquin people regularly use the island and have requested governance of it for some time. Heritage of fairness, this is not. Victoria Island is merely one example.

In the crowd watching the show, I saw people of many colours. Each of them has a story relating how they came to Canada, a testimony of just how "fair" we Canadians are in our real lives, as opposed to official theory and myth.

Their real experience is stronger than any caricature of ideals projected onto a building posing as an institution of free and unprejudiced governance.

The promotional material for the event portrays the show, the lights and the buildings, in a cartoon format. Is that the reality: are our national myths more cartoon than substance? Should it be only in cartoons that we do not recognize the realities of our debts and obligations toward the First Nations who had this very piece of land taken from them at gun-point?

Don't we all believe Canada has more than two founding peoples? Don't we all in our daily lives do whatever we can to make sure the people our ancestors displaced are treated well and have their culture, history, and traditions celebrated?

This whitewash we saw on those hallowed walls was in full colour, yet anyone with eyes and a heart can see past the rose-coloured glasses we Canadians use to describe ourselves.

Copyright © 2009 Lily Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/08.09