Photo By: Hermes Rivera from Unsplash

The decision to stand or not to stand for the national anthem has been a hot button issue for several years now, particularly in the United States. Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick can be credited with bringing this topic into the spotlight; in 2016 he knelt during the national anthem when it was played at the top of NFL games during that season. Since then, it has been a point of debate and discussion at even the highest levels of government power.

As professional sports leagues have developed policies around the anthem and what players are and are not allowed to do while it is being played, the issue has mostly settled down in the last couple of years. Interestingly enough though, it’s made a resurgence recently here in Canada.

15-year-old Skyla Hart, a young Indigenous woman in Winnipeg, recently got into trouble at her high school for refusing to stand during the playing of the national anthem, which she did as a means of protesting the historical and ongoing injustices faced by Indigenous peoples in Canada.

Hart has been sitting for the national anthem for five years now, but only now found herself in trouble for this decision at the hands of a few teachers at her high school. However, once it reached the principal’s desk, and now national media, they were quick to change their tune.

I for one find the very few instances wherein we play the national anthem to be bizarre. The last two places I would say the anthem should be played are in schools and at sporting events, yet here we are. I just don’t understand the relevance. Not to mention that mandating people stand at attention during the anthem sounds a bit Soviet-esque if you ask me.

In all honesty though, I can see and understand both sides on this issue. It makes sense that some folks are incredibly proud of their country and will happily stand for the national anthem; to them, it’s a point of pride, and certainly, for some of us (particularly those of us who are white) we have greatly benefitted from Canada. There’s a lot to celebrate from that perspective.

However, objectively speaking Canada is far from perfect. A lot of folks, especially Indigenous peoples, have many reasons to despise Canada, and justifiably so. To force them to not only listen to the national anthem, but observe and honour it is emblematic of Canada’s role as a brutal colonizer of Indigenous peoples and their communities. It’s a lasting symbol of our cruel conquest and genocide that is shoved in their face regularly.

While I was partly joking earlier in this article, our approach to the anthem truly does come from an authoritarian tradition. Requiring people to be proud to live in Canada essentially undercuts what it means to be a free nation. We shouldn’t be trying to silence folks who are making their opinion known that they are in fact not proud of Canada and want to see things changed for the better. The response shouldn’t be to punish them or legislate them away, but it should be to listen and to act in order to actually live up to the ideals Canada supposedly stands for. 

Ultimately, what I’m saying is that reverence shouldn’t be something that’s mandated by government law, it needs to be earned. So good on you Skyla Hart and others who you may have inspired, keep fighting the good fight.