Watching the CBC's 10-part television series Canada: The Story Of Us had me figuratively scratching my head. It left me flabbergasted and astounded.
For those of you who haven't heard about it or watched it yet, the national broadcasting corporation billed it as "an epic series that tells many of the stories that have shaped this nation -- stories of unsung heroes and darker tales share the spotlight with well-known figures to offer a fresh perspective on Canadian history."
But a number of Quebecois, francophones and anglophones -- including Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil --publicly stated in a critical letter that the show failed to include the role of the Acadians and Mi'kmaq. Bill MacDonald, mayor of Annapolis Royal, also noted that the show portrays Quebec City as Canada's first permanent European settlement, disregarding Port-Royal, which was founded in 1605.
Now a chorus of detractors in Quebec, critics have decried the series' anglo-centric slant on history. For one, the series' depiction of the French of New France is stereotypical and insulting. Samuel de Champlain, amonst others, is portrayed as rough in appearance, wearing raggedy clothes during diplomatic meetings with his comparatively well-dressed British counterparts, who are portrayed as distinguished and clean. These voices from Quebec were eventually joined by Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, who demanded CBC be held accountable for its choices.
There are about 9 million people who very likely share the belief that the story of Canada is about us, too.
I am a Franco-American who grew up in New Hampshire with parents, aunts and uncles who immigrated to the United States in the 1960s from the La Mauricie region of Quebec. If my father and his brothers watched The Story of Us, they would hardly recognize its story as that of the Canada they grew up in. They would have seen themselves, our family, their neighbours and our ancestors as having barely played a part in Canada's history.
There are more than eight million Canadians in and outside of Quebec who can trace their racines (roots) back to French origins. They include francophones, namely in the provinces of Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick. Where were the historians to tell our story?
There's also the story of the all-to-often forgotten and neglected First Nations people, who have a beautiful culture and history. They have a distinct culture and contributed far and beyond to the story of Canada -- a contribution that would not be done justice through means of this blog. That is a story deserving of books, being a part of a mini-series about Canada or even an entire 10-part television series on them for Canada's 150th birthday.
I am not First Nations, but like many people in this country, especially the Quebecois, I feel that our history is an intertwining one. A history that must be represented. Where were the First Nations historians to tell their story?
Why would a television mini-series tell a story from the point of view of analysts and academics such as Robert Brothwell, John English and Daniel Samson -- all distinguished in their fields, but with little to no academic viewpoints representing the First Nations, French or Acadians?
With about eight million people in Quebec -- French, Scots, Irish and English -- and about 1.4 million First Nations in Canada as of the 2011 census, there are about 9 million people who very likely share the belief that the story of Canada is about us, too. Nine million people is a significant portion out of a country of over 33 million. It is about the same percentage of African Americans and Latinos that make up the population of the United States. Where's the equal representation?
Respect should come from all sides, beginning with cordiality, recognition and representation.
The U.S. history books speak of America's early years and the famous proclamation of "no taxation without representation." I will call The Story of Us "documentation without representation."
This is not a political argument, but a cultural one. Respect should come from all sides, beginning with cordiality, recognition and representation.
This television series was made to teach students in school about Canadian history. Instead, it will become propaganda.
As I wrote this, the CBC came out with a statement apologizing to those "who felt misrepresented." The spokesperson said that none of the episodes will be updated or corrected.
This would have been handled differently if the controversy had involved a private company with stakeholders.
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