Canada’s 150th, and how should we think about incomplete progress?

Image: Map of Canada by Pmg via, released to public domain.

Canada is 150 years old today, and there will be parties, and speeches, and fireworks.

I’m Canadian, and proud of my country – we’re mostly progressive, mostly supportive of diversity and human rights at home, and mostly a force for good abroad in the world.  We’re also mostly getting better on all those axes.  But we aren’t perfect on any of them, and like everyone, we have darker history (both pre- and post-Confederation) than we’d like.  I live on, and write this blog from, the traditional, unceded territory of the Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) and Mi’kmaq peoples. There is an enormous amount to regret about Canada’s past and present treatment of its indigenous peoples. It doesn’t end there, of course; I also live in a region where the 18th century expulsion of the Acadians* caused heartbreak for thousands.  For these and other reasons, celebrations of “Canada 150” aren’t universally appreciated.  I think it’s appropriate for those who do celebrate to recognize that the celebration is tinged with a little regret, and that celebration should come along with resolution to build further on the progress we’ve made.

All this is also true, I think, of science.

Science, too, has made enormous progress, but remains decidedly imperfect. (I’m talking about the way we do science, not “science” the body of knowledge).  We have built towards diversity and inclusivity, and have found ways to call out bad behaviour. We’ve diminished the reign of entrenched senior scientists and found ways for early-career folk to have more influence.   We’re a long way from finished with these projects, but I believe we’re headed in the right direction. (To be fair, my perspective as a rather privileged senior scientist might be making it easier for me to see the progress, or harder for me to see the full amount of progress that’s still needed. Or both.)

How should we celebrate our progress in building a better community of science?  I think much like I’ve suggested celebrating Canada 150: with nuance.  We should recognize, and celebrate, that we’ve come a long way.  That includes commending those who have done good – even those who, while doing good, have fallen short of being perfect.  But we should also recognize that our progress is incomplete, with more yet to be done.  It’s tricky to get this balance right, to celebrate the considerable distance we’ve come without glossing over the ways we need further improvement.  Most importantly, even as we take pride in our progress so far, we all need to recognize our role in taking the next step forward, and the next one after that.

We’ll fail at this sometimes.  We’re all human, and that means we’ll never be perfect to each other all the time.  But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to be.

© Stephen Heard ( July 1, 2017

*^Acadians were French colonists, expelled from their homes in what is now Atlantic Canada and Maine by the British following the Battle of Beaséjour in 1755. This was part of the larger British-French conflict of the Seven Years War.  Acadians were deported to other North American colonies and, later, to France (from where many emigrated to Lousiana; “Cajun” is derived from “Acadian”).  The story of the Acadian expulsion is told, with some artistic licence, in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem Evangeline and in The Band’s song Acadian Driftwood.


2 thoughts on “Canada’s 150th, and how should we think about incomplete progress?

  1. Pingback: Happy 4th birthday, Scientist Sees Squirrel! | Scientist Sees Squirrel

  2. Pingback: Friday links: planning as an act of hope, academic robes vs. robes, and more | Dynamic Ecology

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