When my son was five and starting school, he kept expressing his distaste for the Canadian national anthem. As he was a laconic little fellow, it took some time to elicit his reasoning. "They keep saying, 'We stand on guard for thee, We stand on guard for thee' - the what? They never tell you."
Of course, I explained the difference between the homonyms "thee" and "the," but the question has nevertheless persisted in haunting me. What should we be standing on guard for? Here is my answer.
I stand on guard for:
The rights and interests of the original inhabitants of this land. We glibly use the term "First Nations," but where are those nations located? We need First Nations to have reified present-day native-led nations in the real geography of the land. I stand on guard for First Nations' nations, their treaty rights and dominion over their own lands.
Our natural resources, our ancient forests, our topsoil, our fresh water and our air quality. Much of the natural offerings of the earth are on said native territory, and giving native people sovereignty over their turf is inherently better than handing it over to Abitibi.
The socialist impulses embedded in Aboriginal culture. I believe native leaders when they say their ancestors didn't sign treaties to give the land away, but to share it. I also stand on guard for the hard-won benefits such as health care, welfare and employment insurance inspired by that same collectivism. (The cutback chisel keeps chipping things off - things like eye care and chiro. Where will it stop next?)
Our freedoms. For the right to pray in any language and the right to blaspheme any god or goddess. For the upside-downian right of cartoonists to mock, satirize, jokify, skewer and caricature in all fields no matter how "tasteless." And for the right to protest, blockade, parade - maybe even stop the trains - and all manner of non-violent manifestations of indignation when governments don't care.
The rights of the incarcerated. If we use prisoners as proxies to enact the darker impulses of our revenge-think, we are complicit and medieval. Aboriginal people are 18.5 per cent of federal inmates but only 2.7 per cent of Canada's population. Think on that.
The poetry, paint, music and other machineries of diversity, flexibility and empathy. And for the concept of a new flag. I have blurry vision, and sometimes the current one looks way too much like someone's heart got blown out of the back of his or her body in a kind of shotgun spatter.
How about some First Nations symbolism? Mexico's flag is entirely composed of imagery imparted to an Aztec priest in a long-ago dream: an eagle perched on a prickly pear devouring a serpent. I would stand on guard for a move to add an eagle feather to our red leaf.
Check the rest of this page for what others stand on guard for.