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It should have been an a'maze'ing event

Reckoning and celebrating can co-exist
shelley column pic
History matters...celebrations do too

I remember the first time I saw the RCMP Musical Ride. It was such a stately event. So majestic. It filled me with pride that these riders in the internationally recognized red serge were working so magnificently with such beautiful horses in impressive unison.

The history of the Musical Ride goes back to 1873 and grew out of the many riding drills the members of the North-West Mounted Police would undertake in their reliance on horse to cover the vast area under their jurisdiction.

It has been many years since I first attended the event and since this is the 150th anniversary of the RCMP, I didn’t want to miss the chance to see them last month when they came through our province. As I sat in the bleachers seeing the reaction of the audience, I was gratified to witness the level of admiration being shown to the participants.

The 300-person corps back in the days of the NWMP has grown into a globally-recognized and well-respected police force whose official origins date back to an Order-in-Council to respond to an attack on a First Nations community by traders and hunters from south of the 49th.

It is a history not without controversies and challenges—like most institutions and organizations. Of particular note is difficult past relationships with Indigenous communities. Mistakes have been committed. Egregious actions have occurred. Attempts to right the wrongs and apologize for past actions were necessary. Inquiries have been held and investigations undertaken. But for some it hasn’t been enough. The wounds run too deep and change isn’t happening fast enough. That needs to be recognized. But our attempts at reckoning with the past should not take away our opportunity to acknowledge the present. In fact, it is absolutely vital to our understanding of where we are today…and why.

I love a good maze; weaving your way in and out of trees, hedges, bales or corn. They are part fun, part adventure, and fully a horticultural delight. Some are rather amazing from an aerial perspective when a specific design has been created.

Case in point is the Edmonton Corn Maze located on Maskekosihk Trail southwest of the Alberta city. Interesting designs have made it a popular attraction for more than 20 years. With 2023 being the RCMP’s 150th anniversary, the design involved the celebratory 150 logo next to a saluting Mountie. What a great way to honor the organization’s history.

Except in the eyes of some.

Organizers found themselves on the receiving end of backlash so they issued an apology for the “hurt and harm that the RCMP’s history has caused” and for “any pain our design may have triggered.”

Shortly thereafter they felt it necessary to issue another statement after receiving criticism that their initial post was lacking in support for the RCMP. “We in no way wanted to diminish or devalue the good work that they do. The maze design recognizes this 150-year milestone. We thank them for their service.”

This is what happens when we feel the need to jump quickly in response to what has been deemed offensive or insulting. Being called out on one side—and then another—leaves you sitting pretty much nowhere because you can say little that isn’t going to offend.

That is not to minimize the historical difficulties between the RCMP and some communities within our nation. We need to continue addressing that. But to declare we can’t acknowledge a milestone for an organization is not right either.

The RCMP can rightly claim a standard of excellence in many areas while needing to accept responsibility in others. Is that not true of all of us?

No nation, institution or organization can claim a history of unblemished governing, noble agendas or faultless practices. No nation’s history is without its painful chapters, and part of that story for Canada is the RCMP. But…what sets apart nations that rise from those that fall is the ability and motivation to confront the past, reconcile the legacy and understand what is necessary to carve the future.

How can we aspire to anything better if we aren’t allowed to acknowledge what has been? We best not shut down the dialogue. That gets us nowhere.

Do I feel the RCMP 150th anniversary is worthy of commemoration? You bet I do. It is an institution that has played a significant role in nation building. It is a force working for our protection and safety.  It is committed to reconciliation and coming to terms with what has been.

Corporations, countries, business and organizations celebrate all sorts of anniversaries and few are free of pasts that don’t involve regrettable corruption, bigotry or mistreatment of groups or individuals. Sports franchises, political parties, university campuses and yes, police forces, are among the culpable. But it doesn’t mean anyone should be allowed to silence them. Far from it. Only with honest examination and actual discussion will it be possible to hear from everyone involved to understand how they have been impacted.

We may never achieve ultimate unison, but we can work harder at keeping in step with one another. That can only happen if we start with conversation, not cancellation. That’s my outlook.