June 24, 2015

English Edition, No. 14

June 24, 2015

Quebec's National Holiday

June 24, 2015
Quebec's National Holiday - Geneviève Royer
Origins of June 24 Celebrations - Serge Patenaude

June 24, 2015

Quebec's National Holiday

Quebec's National Holiday on June 24 is the opportunity to celebrate -- with music and song, meetings, parades and neighbourhood activities -- who we are as a people, where we have come from and where we are going. This is a multi-faceted celebration, somewhat similar to the summer solstice and harvest festivities commemorated since time immemorial, recognizing the need to come together to collectively celebrate our common history.

It is also a political celebration, a quality that varies in its expression and clarity depending on the times and on circumstance. It is an occasion to reflect on the conduct of those who govern and to discuss the state of the nation. This need to collectively take stock of the situation grows with the marginalization of the people from political power.

The current Canadian and Quebec governments of Stephen Harper and Philippe Couillard are convinced that the historic problem of vesting the decision-making power in the people as the key to society's development on all fronts is a "fabrication." According to them, all those who are dissatisfied with the current arrangements that no longer respond to the needs of human development should be suspected of representing a danger to society, or of extremism. The Couillard government presents itself as the greatest defender of "diversity" and the greatest adversary of "xenophobia" and in general claims it is the champions of individual rights, while the sole objective is to stir up ill-will and pit one section of society against the other. This is revealed by the fact that in practice, the Couillard and Harper governments are the greatest propagators of islamophobia and the greatest adversaries of the right to conscience, an essential right for human development, with their so-called "war on terror" and "war on radicalization".

It is within that context that the Couillard government, using the pretext of austerity, announced that the National Holiday's budget would be slashed next year by 20 percent. Over the years Saint-Jean Baptiste Day celebrations have permitted people to forge links at the neighbourhood level and in large cultural gatherings irrespective of language, religion or national origin, in celebration of our common identity. This is a widely recognized fact. However according to the Couillard government, such gatherings amongst people in neighbourhood festivities and cultural events make no contribution to the"celebration of diversity" and "the fight against xenophobia". Their solution is to enact laws to ban some, stigmatize others and set up an entire network to encourage people to spy on one another.

The Couillard government in Quebec and Harper government in Ottawa like to pretend for all intents and purposes that the national question, or the constitutional crisis, has been resolved. Harper doesn't want to talk about it at all, while Couillard is looking for an opportunity to go to Ottawa and sign the Canadian Constitution on Quebec's behalf without having obtained anyone's consent. These are solutions of despair and signs of impotence in response to the call of history.

In the same vein, Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) leader François Legault has declared that the National Holiday should be "depoliticized". In his view, "everyone knows that the MCs and artists at the concerts invited by the Mouvement national des Québécois (National Movement of Québécois -- main organizer of the activities) are invited mainly because they clearly support sovereignty." He thus takes up the most discredited argument of the Quebec Liberal and Canadian governments and it is no coincidence that they all declare that everything has been resolved, or that this is not "the time" to raise such issues.

The sense of not being able to exercise control over what is taking place, of not being able to provide solutions to society's problems, in defense of our own interests, has never been greater. By drawing on their rich history and unique experience of living together and by relying on the youth who question all dogmas, the Quebec people are at the dawn of a profound renewal. The primary problem to grapple with is the issue of "Who decides?" In other words, how to vest sovereignty in the people over all matters that concern them. Finding a solution to the problem of who decides is the most unifying endeavour there is. It is a problem that goes right back to the struggle of the Patriots of 1837-1838.

It is therefore urgent to respond to the situation by drawing lessons from the past. The intelligence of a people is based on its ability to take ownership of its history and of the power to decide. Quebec's National Holiday is another opportunity to review our historical journey and look at how, at all the major historical turning points, the defenders of the rich minority in Quebec and Canada block the effort of the people to take control over their own affairs through  "crises" that overwhelm people, in order to jealously defend a political process that guarantees their stranglehold on power and increasingly discourages the participation of the people.

On the occasion of Quebec's National Holiday, at all the public gatherings where people meet with one another, let us recognize the urgency of breaking the isolation and marginalization imposed upon us by those who want us to distrust one another. Let us think about how we can unite in citizens' committees for democratic renewal in neighbourhoods and workplaces so that the initiative is kept in our hands, to enable us to assume our role in determining the affairs of Quebec.

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Origins of June 24 Celebrations- Serge Patenaude -

The origins of celebrations on or around June 24 are ancient and varied. Among the pagans the summer solstice (which according to the Julian calendar falls on June 24), was celebrated by bonfires symbolizing the life-giving power of the sun. Today, these bonfires persist as the oldest symbol of these celebrations. In addition to being a ritual to mark the change of seasons, the ancient celebrations were also milestone in the agricultural production cycle -- the beginning of arduous work on the land to be completed at the end of summer.

In Catholic France during medieval times, the celebration was known as Saint John the Baptist Day, taking its name from the sanctuaries established by the Catholic Church to fight paganism. It was brought to the colonies of the French empire in opposition to the summer solstice celebrated by the Aboriginal Nations on around the same date. The church, through the Council of Trent (1545-1563) attempted to Christianize that custom, a celebration of light around a joyous bonfire, by replacing it with a portrayal of submission in the person of Saint John the Baptist, "the lamb of God." In the same vein, Monseigneur de Saint-Vallier, in his 1702 Catechism for the Diocese of Quebec directed at the Canadiens, noted that the Catholic Church in the New World considered the ceremony acceptable so long as the "dances and superstitions" of the Natives were banished.

In 1908, Pope Pius X, advocating the division of the Canadian people into so-called French Canadians and English Canadians that the British empire was so determined to impose, named Saint John the Baptist as the patron saint of "French Canadians."

However, the celebration regained its popular character at the end of the 1960s with the resurgence of the movement for Quebec's independence and the people's sovereignty. The symbol of division and submission was swept aside and once again people danced joyfully around a bonfire. June 24 was renamed Quebec National Holiday by National Assembly resolution in May 1977.

It is also noteworthy that since the 2004 on National Aboriginal Day, which also falls around the same time of year a "Solstice of the Nations" is held by the First Nations in Quebec, along with a "Fire Ceremony." These events are "an expression of exchange and friendship amongst nations living in Quebec" so as to "encourage closer ties amongst the peoples living on Quebec territory."

Today the celebration of June 24 rejoins another modern and forward-looking tradition established some 180 years ago -- the celebration of the Quebec nation and all its inhabitants. On March 8, 1834, 19th century revolutionary and progressive patriots founded the Aide-toi, le ciel t'aidera Society ("God helps those who help themselves"). The aim of that patriotic institution was to "provide a designated place for thought (to all those who recognized the necessity for change) to discuss the country's state of affairs" and "to rekindle the burning desire of love of country, either by shedding light on the deeds of those governing us, or by paying a fair tribute of praise to the eloquent and brave defenders of our rights." It was that society, led by elected representative Ludger Duvernay, publisher and editor of the patriots' newspaper La Minerve, which on June 24, 1834 organized the banquet in the garden of the lawyer Jean-François-Marie-Joseph MacDonell to institute a national celebration for Canadiens of all origins. Today, the term Quebeckers of all origins is used.

June 24: 1834: Ludger Duvernay and the members of the Aide-toi, le ciel t'aidera Society
institute June 24 as Quebec's National Day. (www.fetenationale.qc.ca)

What was established on June 24, 1834 by Ludger Duvernay, his fellow patriots and the elected members of the Patriot Party was a national celebration. As for the original proposal, what Ludger Duvernay, the patriots and their political party organized was the celebration of the Canadiens, today the Quebec nation. Thus, it was the first celebration of the people of that nation, where Duvernay, the patriots, the elected patriots and their party recognized the people as "the primary source of all legitimate authority," and in doing so also recognized their sovereignty.

This nationality was constituted on basis of the people's struggle against the British empire's military aggression and occupation of their homeland, against the destruction and domination of their national economy by the monopolies of the British empire, such as the British American Land Company by finance capitalists such as McGill, Molson and Moffat. Known as the Chateau Clique, they controlled the Bank of Montreal, imports and exports, naval and railway construction and transportation, the mining and metallurgical industry, the Montreal Gas Lighting Company, McGill University, amongst other things. It was these forces who were responsible for the suppression of the nascent Quebec republic.

The men and women of that nation hailed from Brittany, Normandy, France, Ireland, Scotland and England. Canadiens were considered all those descended from the people of this new nation which constituted itself over time through the struggle for its independent development and the defence of its right to sovereignty. In undertaking their nation-building project, patriots of all backgrounds and their Patriot Party never acted in a sectarian manner based on language, religion or national origin. Never did they declare that they were "French Canadians," nor did they ever declare or take up the defence of "French Canadians." The writings of the patriots, the Patriot Party and its most distinguished leaders such as Nelson, De Lorimier, Chénier, Côté, Duvernay (La Minerve), O'Callaghan (The Vindicator) etc., never employed the "French Canadian" term or concept.

It should be remembered that the founders of associations based on the ethno-cultural, linguistic or religious origins during the 19th century were people such as McGill, Molson and Moffat. They used such associations to undermine the unity of Canadiens in defence of their homeland, their national economy and involved in the building of their republic.

This concept of "French Canadian" as well as today's concepts of "old stock Quebeckers" and of "French Quebeckers," takes its origin from the colonial method of divide and rule. In this specific case, it originates with Lord Durham, the emissary and administrator of the British Empire who, following the suppression of the budding Quebec Republic through force, arbitrarily and unjustly divided the nation into "French Canadians" and English Canadians." He falsified history for self-serving purposes. Durham claimed he found "a quarrel of two races," not the struggle of a people against occupation and domination by a foreign empire, against a state and an absolutist and tyrannical government and a struggle for an independent homeland and the establishment of a democratic Republic.

The real division was not between two imaginary "races" invented for all intents and purposes by the monopolists and capitalists of the British Empire and their administrators. It was between a nation in search of its independence and sovereignty, determined to establish its democratic republic, and a colonialist empire denying that nation's right to be.

The genius and force of character of that people which constituted itself the nation on these lands already inhabited by the Aboriginal Nations, was, amongst other things, such that they refused to accept the negation of their nationality by the British Empire. The British administrators and their collaborators and conciliators did everything to divide the people on an ethno-cultural and linguistic basis such as shamelessly calling them "French Canadians" and "English Canadians." The Canadiens refused the negation of their right to be a nation comprised of all members of their society, regardless of national origin, language and beliefs.

Instead, they adopted a name taken from a Native word, "kebek," thereby affirming their nationhood as the Quebec nation. (Kebek is an Algonquin word meaning narrow passage or strait in this case referring to the area of present day Quebec City and the narrowing of the river at Cape Diamond).

The celebration of the Quebec's National Day includes the celebration of our 19th century patriots, Nelson, De Lorimier, Côté, Chénier, Duvernay, O'Callaghan, etc., -- all those who fought to establish an independent homeland and republic which vests sovereignty in the people. It includes celebrating all those who have espoused and continue to espouse the cause of the Quebec Patriots, in particular all those committed to elaborating a nation-building project in conformity with the needs of the times.

Today once again the nation is called on to define itself in the context of the global turmoil of neo-liberalism. The resolution of this historical problem can only be guided by modern definitions as inspired by the patriots of the 19th century, in opposition to today's versions of the same old dogmas inherited from the colonial past. The nation-building project is once again intimately linked with establishing who decides and the smashing the outmoded and archaic strictures of the past will open a bright future for a modern nation that defends the rights of all.

(Originally published in Chantier Politique in 2014)

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