When the 2021 Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards was honouring Ryan Reynolds last month with a National Arts Centre Award, former Barenaked Ladies lead singer Steven Page was tasked with writing a tribute song to the Canadian actor.
Page came up with “Canada Loves You Back”, a nod to Reynolds’ relationship with his home country, including his philanthropic contributions made over the course of the pandemic.
The song and video were supposed to be a fun one-off, featuring cameos from the likes of William Shatner and Vancouver Canucks legends Stan Smyl and Henrik and Daniel Sedin.
But it was soon realized that the song’s impact could provide a boost to the charities that Reynolds had worked with in the past.
“They got so many requests for it that Steven Page decided, you know, he would re-edit it and make it a quality (product) that could be purchased,” said Karen Joseph, CEO of Reconciliation Canada in an interview with Windspeaker.com.
It is now available to stream and purchase on all major platforms.
Reynolds had personally chosen Reconciliation Canada to receive the proceeds from all downloads and streams of the single. He had previously donated to the organization after the location of unmarked burials of the remains of children who attended residential schools across Canada.
“The donations that we received over that time made a significant difference to our organization and really allowed us to level up on a lot of the programming that we were trying to do,” Joseph said.
“You could recognize the urgency and the deep pain, that deep grief that it caused across the country, not just for Indigenous people, but for all people. And I think that really made reconciliation relevant in a way that it never had been prior to that.”
Joseph was a co-founder of Reconciliation Canada in 2012, which works to “inspire positive change in communities.”
Joseph says Page and Reynolds followed in the footsteps of late Gord Downie, front man of The Tragically Hip, who co-founded the Downie Wenjack Fund in 2016 to honour Chanie Wenjack, a 12-year-old boy who died while running away from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School.
“Basically, what they did was they introduced a brand new audience, a whole different demographic to the conversation around reconciliation that likely would have never been engaged in it,” Joseph said.
“I think every Canadian, every person in the country can do that. They can have those conversations and influence the people around them.
“I’m thrilled and a little overwhelmed with all of the positivity around [the single],” Page said in a press release.
Joseph said that while more non-Indigenous Canadians have been made aware of reconciliation in recent years, there’s a need for further education about the day-to-day challenges Indigenous Canadians still face.
Many people have heard the term reconciliation, she said, “but they really don’t recognize the gravity of the situation and the current nature of it.
“Reconciliation is kind of discussed in a ‘that was then’ kind of tone, as opposed to how that shows up every single day, and all of the systems that we as Indigenous people encounter. We are suffering the impacts of colonization and in all of these policies, but we didn’t make any of them. And so there really needs to be a much stronger focus on the involvement of the larger Canadian society in this conversation.”
Joseph said philanthropic contributions to Indigenous causes still hover around one per cent of all donations in Canada.
“If you look at any demographic, our death rates, suicide rates, mental health, all of those things. We sort of have the worst end of all of that,” Joseph said. “So, there’s a huge disparity there that needs to get addressed.”
Joseph said her work can be mentally challenging, but is “unbelievably rewarding.”
“I didn’t necessarily come into reconciliation with open arms,” she said. “I have a very long history of living in this country and grew up with all of the challenges that any Indigenous person does. What we’ve realized as an organization is it does take a heavy toll. And if it doesn’t take a heavy toll from a mental health perspective, it tends to take a toll in a different way. So through physical discomfort, and we noticed that across our entire team, whether you’re Indigenous or non-Indigenous, because if you’re a human being this affects you.”
Joseph’s work in reconciliation has largely been influenced by her father, Dr. Robert Joseph, the former executive director of the Indian Residential School Survivors Society, as well as a member of the Order of Canada.
“One of the things that my father always says is, it doesn’t matter how many apologies you receive or how many or how much financial compensation you receive, or any of those kinds of things,” Joseph said. “He said what really matters in reconciliation is that all of our children are able to walk down the street and be treated with dignity. And for me, that’s the ultimate goal of reconciliation.”
By Adam Laskaris, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter