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Just three days apart, Hay River saw a Canada Day parade and a rally against racism.

Some might wonder if a celebration of Canada and a protest against racism are sending conflicting messages about the country.

Basically, if a country has racism or is racist, how can it be worth celebrating?

We think celebration and protest can exist side-by-side, and are both equally valid expressions.

Canada – despite its many faults – is still a good country compared to the rest of the planet. There is a case to be made that it’s among the best countries in the world.

Is there racism in Canada? Is there systemic racism in Canada? Do some Canadians deny that racism is as bad as people of colour have experienced it to be?

Unfortunately, the answer to all those questions is yes.

So we’ll repeat our very first question: How can we celebrate a country in which there is pervasive and systemic racism?

Well, we believe that there is hope for Canada, despite its racist past and racist present.

Canada has already faced some of its racist past. We can mention, of course, residential schools as the prime example of a national reckoning.

There is now a popular demand to confront racism in Canada, whether it be built into our institutions, or found in personal interactions.

That’s where protest plays a key and positive role.

In a democracy, we believe that protests, demonstrations, dissent and expressing uncomfortable truths should be supported and even encouraged. It is patriotic and helpful to society – not disruptive – to demand a better country.

Those who are made uncomfortable by protest should listen to what the protesters are saying, calmly consider it, and then examine their own beliefs and opinions.

You’d be surprised what an open mind can do for your soul.

We recognize that we must step carefully when talking about racism. Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people may have different views based on their life experiences.

But everyone has to talk about racism for meaningful change to happen.

And that is another way in which protests are valuable for society. From living in the NWT, we thought we knew a lot about Indigenous views on racism, but we learned a lot more at the July 4 rally about the Indigenous experience in Canada.

It was truly enlightening.

Despite its problems, we feel there is hope for Canada and that the country can change.

Sometimes it feels like the country is moving forward, but, unfortunately, sometimes it feels like it is standing still or even moving backwards.

Positive change can be frustratingly slow. Reports and commissions can make their recommendations, which might be only partially implemented or ignored.

Sometimes the change is just symbolic, like having the image of civil rights activist Viola Desmond on the $10 bill.

Sometimes the change is much more than symbolism, like the enshrinement of Indigenous rights in the Canadian Constitution of 1980.

Change can be small or massive, and hopefully the recent wave of protests against racism can hasten more positive change.

So on Canada Day, we can celebrate being Canadian. At a peaceful protest, we can call for an end to racism.

It all means that we believe Canada can become a better country.

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Paul Bickford

Paul Bickford is the reporter for Hay River Hub.

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