The “nice Canadian” stereotype distracts from our colonial shame

Canadians are seen as friendly but the nation’s history says otherwise

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The Canadian flag waves in front of a clear blue sky. The top of a Canadian Parliament building spears the sky in the background.
The Canadian Parliament is built on unceded land. PHOTO: Jason Hafso, Unsplash

By: Kitty Cheung, Assistant Production Editor

Content warning: mentions of Indigenous genocide 

I say this as a Canadian — one with maple syrup flowing through my veins and icicles hanging off my Timbit-loving ass — we are morally vile. The “nice Canadian” is a misleading stereotype that erases and diminishes our shameful reality of colonization. “Our country” was built on the genocide of Indigenous peoples, a foundation which is nothing short of insidious, cruel, and villainous.

Sure, Metro Vancouverites may politely holler thank you’s to bus drivers and tag our land acknowledgements, but there are still entire Indigenous communities without clean drinking water. Access to clean water is a basic human need and a fundamental human right. Our dear democratically-elected government isn’t even trying to get this right. 

The fallacy of the “nice Canadian” puts us on an undeserved pedestal. Migrants from outside of Canada flock to this supposed promised land, many unaware of the nefarious history that made this land “free.” I recognize I am extremely lucky to be here and have access to the freedoms and privileges that I do. But it’s a manifestation of my gratitude that I practice my freedom of expression and criticize Canada’s failures. 

When the mass grave of 215 Indigenous children was found at a Kamloops residential school in 2021, it opened a global conversation around Canada’s shameful history. News headlines began circulating, presenting the discovery as shocking. The stories framed this event as the beginning of a national reckoning. For some, perhaps it was a beginning — however, these realizations of systemic racism should have come a long time ago. The Truth and Reconcilliation Committee released 94 calls to action in 2015, yet many remain uncompleted. Why did the dialogue around the discovery note this as some kind of revelation? This implies these deaths were a surprise, when many Indigenous survivors were already painfully aware of the truth. 

I presume part of this shock comes from the fact that we’ve convinced ourselves we’re so nice, so polite, and oh-so-progressive. When you live with this stereotype as part of your national identity, it’s easier to ignore the colonial horrors that are still ongoing today. 

To challenge this stereotype, we need to learn our history and keep a focus on our actions (or lack thereof). Don’t stop at residential schools and water rights. These problems are mere parts of a wide and repulsive colonial project. 

Other evidence can be found in the near-extinction of bison in 1800s North America. These animals were mass-hunted and left to rot in an attempt to starve out Indigenous peoples of the Plains and coerce them into signing treaties. The Sixties Scoopextending from 1960 well into the 1980s — was responsible for thousands of Indigenous children being “scooped” up by social workers without warning or their families consent and adopted into Euro-Canadian households. Many of these children faced abuse and the erasure of their cultural identities. To this day, there’s still a gross overrepresentation of Indigenous children in the BC foster care system. Alongside these cruel stories are plenty more of Indigenous strength and excellence, but this is an article pointing out Canada’s colonial shame — I’ll leave you to do your own research. 

If you live on this land and proudly claim to be a “nice” Canadian, question whether this country deserves your pride. Know that loving Canada means realizing and defying its deeply rooted flaws. Know that we must criticize ourselves as a nation instead of hiding behind a stereotype. How else will we grow?