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Should O Canada be sung in Iqaluit schools? Some are saying no

In Nunavut’s only city, Iqaluit students are now being faced with a decision. Should the national anthem be sung every morning? Or should it be pushed to the wayside?
Roberto Wakerell-Cruz Montreal, QC

The Canadian national anthem is a song that has been sung across Canada since for decades. Since its original inception in 1880 followed by an English translation in 1906, the anthem has united Canadians under one song.

As many of us remember, the school day typically starts with the national anthem, echoing over a PA system. The anthem contains lyrics of unity, patriotism, and pride.

In Nunavut’s only city, Iqaluit students are now being faced with a decision. Should the national anthem be sung every morning? Or should it be pushed to the wayside?

The Iqaluit District Education Authority (IDEA) recently sent out a survey to parents of Iqaluit-area schools, asking if they believe the national anthem should be sung.

One student, Miles Brewster, believes that the song shouldn’t be sung because of Canada’s less-than-stellar history with Indigenous peoples and residential schools. IDEA has now sent out surveys asking parents if the song should be sung in its four schools.

According to the CBC, the Iqaluit District Education Authority (IDEA) sent a survey to parents asking them to choose one of three options:

• Have the anthem sung at schools every morning.
• Have the anthem sung only on special occasions, such as Remembrance Day.
• Not have the anthem sung at all.

In an email to the CBC, Doug Workman, the educational authority chairman for Iqaluit schools said that the survay was an initiative of the authory.

Miles Brewster, the 12-year-old student who refused to stand for the anthem, was sent to the principal’s office at Aqsarniit Middle School in September of 2018 for sitting during the anthem during class.

He said his decision was based on concerns that his class had not discussed Orange Shirt Day, an event that started in 2013. It was designed to educate people and promote awareness about the Indian residential school system and the impact this system had on Indigenous communities for more than a century in Canada.

Miles’ stepfather himself is a survivor of residential schools in Inuvik, N.W.T.

His mother Janet Brewster said  she believes that it was Miles’ actions that were behind the education authority’s decision to survey Iqaluit area parents on this issue.

She says she thinks it’s “really important to give parents and students the opportunity to have the discussion about the national anthem and to have an opportunity to give input into it and to make a decision that is one that the community has considered and is involved in making.”

Brewster said that Miles continues to sit during the anthem for most mornings, and that a couple of other students have since joined him. His innitial protest has created dialogue among students.

“I feel that it’s important to acknowledge that we are Canadians, but it’s also really important to acknowledge that the national anthem celebrates a country that doesn’t celebrate us,” she said.

“Until we reach substantive equality as Inuit in this country, I don’t feel that it’s necessary to stand or sing the national anthem.”

Brewster said she does not yet know how she’ll respond to the education authority’s survey, but she will speak with her son before making that decision.

History of the anthem

The English version of O Canada has gone under several changes in its short history, with all of them containing the key phrase “Our home and native land.”

Though some may argue that this line represents Indigenous peoples and respects their land, this line is actually derived from a line in the French anthem, which predates the English version by decades.

In the French anthem, the line “Terre de nos aïeux,” which translates to “Land of our ancestors.”

There is actually no representation of Indigenous peoples in the anthem. It’s important to understand the perspective of people even while disagreeing. That said, we are still one country, and should have things between us that are held to a higher value, regardless of race, gender, religion, or history.

There is not going to be a line added to the national anthem explicitly mentioning residential schools. Prime Minister Trudeau recently made a visit out to Iqaluit where he apologized on behalf of Canada for the harsh mistreatment of Indigenous peoples. So perhaps it is time to look forward, rather than look back.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.

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Roberto Wakerell-Cruz
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