the action of surrendering or ceasing to resist an opponent or demand.
For me, pride in Nation was first instilled at the knee of my mother. Born Joan Steele she would recount to me endlessly tales of our famed ancestor, Major General Sir. Sam Steele. My father had taken off when I was an infant thus ending her second shitty marriage. Joan also had the bad luck of having epilepsy in Alberta in the 50’s. The shock treatments they gave her meant she couldn’t remember high school. Despite being desperately poor most of her life she had a fierce pride in our family’s part in creating the nation, perhaps at times, it was all that sustained her.
As a young man I was privileged enough to serve with the 2nd Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. One clear September morning in 1993 some 750 of us stood against some 4000 men of the Croatian Federal Army to halt their bloody ethnic cleansing of Serbian civilians in the Krajina. At the time it was the largest land engagement for Canadian Infantry since the Korean War. Though lacking any weapons much above small arms we stopped them and their tanks cold. Not one human being was harmed behind us. I will never forget moving forward after forcing them back with my 7 man section onto the ground formally held by the enemy. Still under sporadic heavy fire, we found a depression in the ground and laid in a circle with our weapons pointing out and our ankles crossed over each other so that if one of us was hit the men on either side would feel the impact. For a few hours, we were the most forward deployed troops in the United Nations. The men around me didn’t share my accent, my specific culture, or my race and came from thousands of miles from my home. What we had in common, what united us as Canadians was an agreement on a set of basic beliefs about right and wrong and the conduct of human affairs that is the essence of any thoughtful Canadian identity.
The Sam Steele I learned about is the man most Canadians know. Fearless and fierce, yet fair and principled. He probably felt he had much to live up to. His Father Elmes had
served in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic wars. One of his uncles was recorded as being the tallest man in the British occupation forces after the battle of Waterloo. His father’s uncle, whose name he bore, Major Samuel Steele, had mounted the cliffs outside Québec city in 1759 and fought with Wolfe on the Plains of Abraham. He evidently performed well as he subsequently was made Colonel and became Military Adjutant to Lord Amherst, first Governor of Québec. Young Sam saw his first combat at 18 fighting off the American Fenian Raiders along the Ontario border in 1866. He would go on at 23 to become the third man to join, and the first Sargent Major of the storied North West Mounted Police. As a Mountie, he would ride into the camp of Sitting Bull when he crossed the American border, after killing more American soldiers than Canada had in total. Through some deft negotiating he got him to agree to “keep the Queen’s peace” even though he could have destroyed our meager forces in the west. He did such a good job in his role in clearing the right of way for the CPR that Donald Smith would pick him to lead the Lord Strathcona Horse to South Africa in Canada’s first foreign war. A role he would be knighted for. He finished his career with being the General who led the first Canadian contingent to leave for Europe in WW1 on those famous 13 ocean liners. He lies buried in Winnipeg.
“Warriors take this occasion of relating their experience of former days counting their scalps and giving the number of horses they were successful in stealing. This has a pernicious effect on the young men; it makes them unsettled and anxious to emulate the deeds of their forefathers.”Sam Steele
“Any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:-Killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;-Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part-Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and]-Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
For me, the beginnings of real understanding came with the help of an unexpected agent, the Canadian Armed Forces. During my service for the first time I was in a social setting with Indigenous Peoples on equal footing. The rigid hierarchical structure of the forces and the base comradeship somewhat broke through the hard wired attitudes I had formed. In the quiet watches of the night my Indigenous brothers began to recount to me their history and for the very first time, the real history of my nation. It was the first inkling I had of the residential school system. My understanding has grown slowly and through many years of interacting with amazing Indigenous Peoples, experiencing their warmth and wisdom.
Canada, the name we took from the Indigenous Peoples who welcomed us. We have dishonored it, and ourselves in the darkest way possible. And this dishonor will continue for as long as we do nothing. We dare not continue our shameful silence as a population, not if we truly respect ourselves and care for our children’s future. We must have the courage to not recoil from our duty. To fearlessly seize the opportunity afforded to us by the otherworldly but not infinite patience of our Indigenous sisters and brother