Reid on Saul on Riel on Canada

Sometimes somebody else says it better than you ever could. This is one of those times.

From: “A perfectly incompatible country” by Jennifer Reid, Ottawa Citizen, November 22, 2008

John Ralston Saul suggests in his recent book, A Fair Country, that Canada is a Métis state. I like this argument, though it differs from mine. Where Mr. Saul and I diverge is in our view of what it means to be a country founded on cultural hybridity. He finds a distinct trajectory in Canadian history linking contemporary political values, such as cultural co-operation, with aboriginal precursors. I, on the other hand, find within our Riel myths an ongoing story about collective identity grounded in the destructive polarities that have too often made cultural co-operation impossible.

It may well be our self-consciousness about these incompatibilities that has kept us together. We know that national unity and cultural homogeneity (the supposed benchmarks of the modern nation-state) are impossible. It's that self-consciousness that makes us distinctive and, perhaps, gives us a reason to stay together.

There is something radical about Canada, about the way in which multiple ethnicities, regionalisms, and self-designated nations have been formally integrated into a single geopolitical structure that has managed to survive. It is a community that has been able, thus far, to withstand the basic dichotomies of ethnicity, religion, region, and language that are the foundation -- and the stumbling block -- of all modern western states.

Riel, both the man and the myth, speaks to this radical character. He shows us what makes us distinct in this culturally tangled world of the 21st century.

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