The official explanation of the Victoria Day Holiday that appears on the Canadian Government Website reads: “This holiday is named after the British monarch who gave royal assent to Confederation. Queen Victoria, who reigned over Great Britain, was born on May 24, 1819. She enjoyed the longest reign in British history, ascending the throne in 1837 and ruling until 1901—a period of over 62 years! The Parliament of Canada first declared her birthday a holiday in 1845, well before Confederation! The May 24th celebration was a popular one—if you had been a resident of Canada West (Ontario) in 1854, you might have joined a crowd of thousands that gathered in front of Government House in Toronto to shout a cheer to the Queen. In 1901, the year of Victoria’s death, the holiday officially became known as Victoria Day. Since that time, Victoria Day has commemorated two royal birthdays: the birthday of Queen Victoria and that of the current monarch. May 24th is a statutory holiday in all Canadian territories and in seven out of ten provinces. (In Quebec, this date is celebrated as La Journée nationale des Patriotes, orNational Patriots’ Day, in memory of Anglophone and Francophone activists who fought for democratic government in 19th-century Quebec.)“
So, just how should we commemorate Victoria Day in church? Well a 21-gun salute is out of the question. I thought about inviting you to join me in shouting the traditional British cheer to Queen Victoria, but we’re just not the “hip hip horay, hip, hip horay, hipp horay” sort of chaps are we? Maybe we should replace communion wine with Queen Victoria’s favourite drink which according to the internet was a mixture of claret and single malt whiskey. But then if you were the sovereign of 40 million square kilometers with 387 million loyal and some not so loyal subjects, you might just end up mixing a fair amount of single malt in your claret. Queen Victoria, her official title was: Her Majesty Victoria, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Queen, Defender of the Faith, Empress of India.Now there’s a mouthful. Queen of the British Empire; our Queen Elizabeth’s reign may be about to surpass that of Queen Victoria’s but her years on the throne pale in comparison to the power, scope, and majesty of the women who reigned over the British Empire for over 63 years. The Sun never set upon Victoria’s Empire.The Fathers of Confederation could not have created Canada without the consent of the Great Mother Victoria.Empire, planet earth has seen empires come and go.Humans have been creating empires as for longer than we have been recording history. Empires have come and gone, risen and fallen, conquered and been conquered, waxed and waned, they’ve been glorified and vilified, and as is the case with the British Empire, they’ve seen the sun rise and the sun set upon their power.But there is no doubt about the fact that Empires are established by force both military force and economic force. The British Empire like the Roman Empire before them and the American Empire after them, came, saw and conquered.
Canada is what it is today as a result of the clash of Empires. The British and the French came and saw, and they liked what they saw, liked it enough to do battle over it and as the always the British were victorious in battle. At least that’s what the history books tell us.
History as we all know is written by the conquerors and so most of us learned what little we may know of our history from the perspective of the victorious British Empire, with a dash of colour commentary added by the now mighty American Empire. Very few lines are devoted to the life or culture of the peoples who suffered the indignity of being conquered by Empire and what lines are devoted to the conquered ones are lines designed to serve the needs of Empire itself. We know very little about the people who were the first inhabitants of this land that we love to love on this particular weekend.
The first weekend of summer; the weekend that is sometimes referred to as the May two four; synonymous for getting out there into the great outdoors to enjoy a drink or two or four. Beer sales are brisk leading up to this holiday as Canadians all over the country invade the wilderness with their own sort of wildness. Hip hip horay doesn’t quit cover it. We’ve been cooped up over the long winter months and it’s time to party to celebrate all the things we love about being Canadian; all the things we enjoy about being Canadian. Who among us doesn’t have found memories of going camping on the May two four. Even if it is pouring down on the first long weekend of the summer, Canadians just can’t resist the outdoors. Whether its camping or gardening there will be no shortage of folks who will be firing up the barbeque more than once or twice this weekend. While claret mixed with scotch may not be the choice of very many people there will be a good many bevies mixed on this Victoria weekend. So, why not drink a toast to the old girl, hip hip horay!!!
Cheers! And how about one more for the great British Empire. The sun may well have set, but you and I have so very much to be grateful to those conquers of old who secured this great land of ours so that we could enjoy the benefits of empire. We are richly blessed. Hip hip horay!
Canadians are according to all accounts happy, wealthy and wise. Hip hip horay! Canadians are among the happiest people on the planet. Apparently, our cold, harsh winters make us merrier, not morose because the only people who rank higher than Canadians on the world’s happiness scale are our fellow northerners in Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, and Sweden. Canada ranks then on the happiness charts – our American cousins are a distant 17thin the rankings. Canadians are wealthy our GDP per captia exceeds that of all but ten other countries and of those ten there isn’t a happier country among them, except for those darn Norwegians, but not to worry because we are the largest country on the planet, so there’s much more wealth that we have yet to discover. As of last week, it is official Canadians are wise, or more correctly Canadians are smart; that’s right Canada made the top ten, while the British languish at number 20 and the United States tied with Italy for number 28, Canada ranked number ten in the world when it comes to math and science. Hip hip horay.
Canadians are happy, wealthy and wise. So, here’s to the great British Empire for getting us off to such a magnificent start as a nation. Here’s to the British Empire – they came, they saw, and they conquered and we my friends are the happy beneficiaries of Empire. Who says imperialism is evil? Don’t believe everything you hear. None of us would be doing quite so well if it weren’t for some very happy accidents of history that sees us on the right side of Empire. We owe the agents of her majesty Queen Victoria a great deal and there is so very much that we enjoy that would not be possible without there can do, might makes right approach to civilizing this great land of ours.
Okay….I am about to choke on my words. Even though I come by this stiff upper lip honestly, I cannot maintain the façade of empire loyalist; not even if all of my ancestors were to rise from their graves to encourage me to keep calm and carry on. An empire is what an empire is. Jesus wept. Jesus wept because empires do what empires do. They come they see they conquer. For Jesus, it was the Romans. For the First Nations of this great land it was the French and the British. They came they saw they conquered. Veni, Vedi, Vechi.
Our view of the Empire may be skewed by the history we have been taught, but not the people of Attawapiskat, or the Anishinaabe, Nakoda, Algonquin, Nipissing, Mohawk, Ononda, Dene, Blackfoot, Salish, or the various First Nations that we beneficiaries of Empire have failed to learn the names of. The sad reality of Empire is that there are winners and losers, the conquers and the conquered and while most of us would balk at being called the conquers, we cannot deny that we are the beneficiaries of Empire. How else can we explain the horrific reality that while we enjoy one of the wealthiest life-styles on the planet the vast majority of our First Nations sisters and brothers are living in conditions that have been labeled by international observers as akin to the third world. While entire communities have no safe supply of drinking water and children go hungry this Victoria Day, we beneficiaries of Empire enjoy our BBQs while others of us shop the garden nurseries bare. While we debate how much lawn we ought to maintain, children of the north have no other option but to drink pop because the water in their taps is toxic. Jesus wept. But we can’t seem to spare the time to shed a tear for our sisters and brothers who daily suffer the indignities of the Empire which continues to benefit us. So immersed in the benefits and demands of empire are we that it is difficult for us to see beyond our own reality to the needs of our sisters and brothers who are struggling not only to recover from the divesting effects of the empires demands, but who are despite our indifference and abuse, rising up from the devastation of the Empire. First Nations people have learned well the excesses of Empire and they are reaching back into the wisdom of their ancestors to discover ways of being in the world that have the potential to transform this country that we love. There is great wisdom that we can learn from our First Nations sisters and brothers. They have stories to tell and they have wisdom to share. In our congregation, we have been blessed to hear some of those stories and to open ourselves to the wisdom of our sisters and brothers. But we are only beginning, there is so much more that we need to hear and learn. There is also so much more that we need to share. We are among the wealthiest nations on the planet and there is no excuse for any among us to be poor. Yes, that will mean that some of us will need to share more of what we have; but we have so very much. Others of us will need to advocate not just on behalf of, but with our First Nations sisters and brothers. For too long know we have imagined that we know what they need, when we barely know who they are. It is time for us to listen and to take direction from our sisters and brothers. And for those of us raised in the bosom of empire this isn’t going to be easy. Our arrogance in believing that we are the head of the body, has caused us to lose track of our hearts and the suffering our arrogance has caused to some of the members of the body, has caused the whole body to suffer. By ignoring the wisdom of our sisters and brothers we have felt free to rape and pillage the land. By ignoring the wisdom of our sisters and brothers we have selfishly enslaved not just our First Nations sisters and brothers but our entire nation to the shackles of empire by building a nation in which capitalism reigns supreme.
The land that we all love is being raped and pillaged by the empire from which so many of us continue to benefit while our First Nations sisters and brothers are struggling to survive. Perhaps on this particular weekend we can allow the love of the land that we all share to unite us. While Canadians enjoy the great outdoors, perhaps we can begin this particular summer by paying attention to other members of the body. Members who share a common ancestry which has so much to teach us. Can we look to the earth and begin to see the pain we are causing and hear the groaning of our planet and then open ourselves to the wisdom of our sisters and brothers whose ancestors learned to live in harmony with the earth long before our ancestors arrived in this land? Can we seek ways to listen to our sisters and brothers?
After nearly four years of public hearings the Truth and Reconciliation Commission brought to light the stories of our sisters and brothers. The heart-breaking accounts have exposed the sad realities of decades of imperial arrogance that legislated the systematic abuse of hundreds of thousands of First Nations, Inuit and Metis children and adults. The horrors of the residential school system as devastating as they are, are just the tip of the iceberg. The ongoing legacy of abuse, poverty, addiction, and neglect continue to enslave this country in a cycle of abuse, which even the harshest Victorians would be ashamed. Were once we confined our First Nations sisters and brothers in far off residential schools, now we enslave our First Nations sisters and brothers in far off communities with inadequate resources to meet their needs; or in back alleys of the poorest nations in the land until the addictions with which they are afflicted with as a result of their desperate attempts to escape the realities of their suffering, land them in jail; incarcerated in a systemic cycle of abuse and neglect. Or worse still, the callous ignorance of a system that has failed so many indigenous women and girls who are numbered among the murdered and missing.
We are among the wealthiest the smartest and the happiest people on this planet, surely, we can do better than this? It is not enough to weep. We follow a teacher who wept, and then walked straight into the midst of empire and challenged its very foundations. As friends of the crucified one, our tears are just the beginning. It is long past time for tears.
As friends of the crucified one, our place is to stand in solidarity with the crucified, the abused, the persecuted, the marginalized, the poor, the oppressed, and the forgotten ones so that the forces of empire cannot conquer, so that love shall not die upon the crosses of empire, but rise up and live again so that the powers and principalities, the corporations and indifferent politicians, the greedy and the hateful do not win the day.
It is time to walk into the midst of this empire from which we have taken so very much and say enough. There is enough for everyone. There is enough wealth, enough happiness and enough wisdom to ensure that we can all live together in harmony with the earth. But there will only be enough if we are willing to open ourselves to the wisdom of all the members of the body.
Resurrection begins when listen to the wisdom of our sisters and brothers about the land that we love. Resurrection brings new life when we begin to learn together how to live in harmony with the earth. When we learn from one another what needs to be done to ensure the dignity of all our members resurrection transforms us.
We may or may not be Happy, wealthy, and smart by the Empire’s standards. Definitely some more happy and wealthy, and smarter than others, but too many of us are failing to thrive, and so many are dying. Resurrection is about: Wisdom, Respect, Love, Humility, Honesty, Courage, Truth, its about learning from one another how to use all our blessings in order that each one of our members can thrive. We all have gifts to offer, so let us be reconciled to one another so that together we can enjoy our many blessings.
There is a prayer that comes from the Victorian age which Is appropriate for this particular holiday. The prayer is attributed to Big Thunder of the Algonquins:
Give us hearts to understand;
Never to take from creation’s beauty more than we give;
never to destroy wantonly for the furtherance of greed; never to deny to give our hands for the building of earth’s beauty; never to take from her what we cannot use.
Give us hearts to understand
That to destroy earth’s music is to create confusion; that to wreck her appearance is to blind us to beauty; that as we care for her she will care for us.
We have forgotten who we are.
We have sought only our own security.
We have exploited simply for our own ends.
We have distorted our knowledge.
We have abused our power.
Great Spirit, whose dry lands thirst, help us to find the way to refresh your lands.
Great Spirit, whose waters are choked with debris and pollution, help us to find the way to cleanse your waters.
Great Spirit, whose beautiful earth grows ugly with misuse, help us to find the way to restore beauty to your handiwork.
Great Spirit, whose creatures are being destroyed, help us to find a way to replenish them.
Great Spirit, whose gifts to us are being lost in selfishness and corruption, help us to find the way to restore our humanity.
Oh, Great Spirit, whose voice I hear in the wind, whose breath gives life to the world, hear me;
I need your strength and wisdom.
May I walk in Beauty.
To that I would say, Hip, hip, horay, Hip, hip, horay, Hip, horay! May the Great Spirit who lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond us, move us beyond the legacy of empire toward the harmony of peace amongst the First peoples of this land, together with the settlers of this land. Let us work together using our collective wisdom to care for the earth who is mother to us all. Meegwech.