Wednesday, March 16, 2011


It’s official! Canada has a national tartan! On Wednesday, March 9, 2011, the Stephen Harper government announced that the Maple Leaf tartan is Canada's official tartan. If there were any doubts that the government considers Canada officially a white man’s (woman’s) country you need look no further. The Tartan is definitely not a part of Native Canadian culture or the culture of any of the other racialized people who live in this Great White North. Mind you, this wonderful news came within hours of House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken's rulings on misbehaviour of various government people including a Cabinet Minister which I will not go into here. Anyone interested in reading more about the shenanigans of the elected officials can do their own research. Okay, fine, you twisted my arm – Milliken ruled that the Harper government breached parliamentary privilege by refusing to fully disclose cost estimates for its “tough-on-crime agenda,” corporate tax cuts and plans to purchase stealth fighter jets. He also ruled that International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda breached parliamentary privilege by misleading MPs about an altered document. Also, starting today, March 16, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs is holding three days of hearings on whether to uphold Milliken's ruling and to decide what, if any, sanctions to impose. Well, with all that I skeptically thought the whole tartan thing was a red herring! You know, to divert our attention away from the “double rebuke” by Milliken.

Well with all that being so, I now have the unenviable task of choosing Canada’s official kente pattern. I know, I know there will be challenges from other kente authorities, those who were actually born in Ghana and know kente from the roots up. However I claim some rights to choose Canada’s kente being the descendant (my elders assured me this is accurate) of Kofi who led the Berbice Revolution, in Guyana, South America on February 23, 1763. That information is for anyone who wants to argue about my Ghanaian pedigree. Kofi’s name identifies him as an Akan man from Ghana and so I rest my case for claiming authentic Ghanaian descent.

However, here is some history I gleaned about Canada’s now official tartan. The plaid was designed in 1964 by David Weiser in anticipation of the 100th anniversary of Confederation in 1967. It is worn by some military pipe bands and was featured in some costumes at the closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics held in Vancouver last year. The four colours of the tartan reflect the colours of the maple leaf as it changes through the seasons--green in the spring, gold in the early autumn, red at the first frost and brown after falling. "The Maple Leaf Tartan has been worn proudly and enjoyed by Canadians for decades, but has never been elevated to the level of an official symbol-until now," Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages James Moore said in a communique. Moore said that making it a formal symbol recognizes the role that Canadians of Scottish descent played in forming the country. On October 21 last year, the Government of Canada announced that April 6 will be formally recognized as Tartan Day. This April 6, Canadians across the country will be able to celebrate this day with a new official symbol of Canada.

Wow! So not only am I under pressure to design a Canadian kente, I have to whip up support to ensure there is a National Kente Day when all Canadians will celebrate the official Canadian kente. But wait! I cannot do any of this except in my imagination or here on paper because I am not an elected official and hardly likely to be anytime soon since the next federal election is almost upon us and I have not been approached by any of the big three political parties (or is it now a big six?) to become their candidate. Alas and alack!! I think some other African Canadian woman already has that spot. After all we can only get there one at a time. No room for more than one at a time.

But wait! Again! As I read further, I realise this is nothing new, Canadians of Scottish descent have been at this for a while. By “this” I mean trying to get an official Canadian tartan. Unfortunately, even though Africans have been living and toiling on this great land at least since the first Great Scot arrived on these shores (if not before) those Africans did not have the luxury of bringing kente or any other cloth with them since they did not come willingly, they were enslaved. Those who came willingly, fleeing slavery in the neighbouring USA had most likely long since forgotten about kente and were running for their lives. Even if they had any kente, fetching it while hiding from vicious dogs and men intent on returning them to a life of brutal bondage would not have been high on their list of priorities.

When I read that two senators had put forward private member's bills (Bill S-222 and Bill S-226) to “further promote Canada’s Scottish heritage” for a minute I thought “maybe I can hope to be appointed senator.” I know, wild daydream, there is already an African Canadian woman senator, only one at a time.

Liberal Senator Elizabeth Hubley’s Bill S-226, which would establish the Maple Leaf tartan as Canada’s national tartan was supported by Conservative Senator John Wallace’s Bill S-222 to establish April 6 as Tartan Day in Canada. Was I as a Canadian supposed to be consulted about this? Maybe not. Apparently the good senators (Elizabeth Hubley and John Wallace) were inspired by the celebration of Robbie Burns Day. This bit of information about Robbie Burns Day was gleaned from someone in the know: Robbie Burns Day celebrates the birth of Scottish poet Robert Burns, who wrote in the dialect of the lowland Scots and whose work has been translated into several languages.

While some Canadian Scots may have been able to hold on to Robbie Burn’s language, the only bit of African language I know is not even a West African language from where I claim my ancestry but it is Kiswhali which is mostly an East African language. However, Kiswahili is the most widely spoken African language and also spoken in some parts of the Congo where I also claim ancestry. Whew! Alrighty then! I am safe with the whole language thing now. But know this; I have not given up on an official Canadian kente. Watch out for when I get enough money to go to the land of my ancestors and change my name to Abena Agbetu. I will really get in gear to go all out for an official Canadian kente. There will be no stopping me then!

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