Across Canada, all levels of government and many social and cultural groups have been organizing to celebrate the 150th anniversary of confederation, from July 1, 1867 to July 1, 2017. This date is considered by many to be the official beginning of Canada as a country. However, this story about the beginnings of Canada ignores the long history of Indigenous peoples on their lands, and minimizes or ignores entirely how “Canada” takes place through ongoing, violent processes of occupation and displacement – processes that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has labeled cultural genocide.
The idea for a powerful local alternative to the celebration of Canada 150 came from members of the Okanagan Syilx community. Over conversations, these individuals thought about ways to present a Syilx perspective on Canada 150 and all that this celebratory story ignores. They discussed actions such as prominent billboards on Syilx land that could use pictures and words to make people aware of the truths of Syilx generosity to early settlers, of residential schools, of stolen lands and damaged ecosystems, and of ongoing Syilx vitality. They expressed their interest to others – both Indigenous and settler-identified – who shared concerns about the focus on Canada 150 as a celebration, and the idea started to grow. These people came together to talk about the problems of Canada 150, the goals behind an alternative approach to commemoration, and visions of how that alternative might take place. This growing group has been working to clarify the vision and develop a strategy that makes use of everyone’s strengths and resources within their communities.
We have chosen to call our project Rethink 150: Indigenous Truth. These efforts are rooted in our shared desire to interrupt the story of celebration and open space for Indigenous stories – stories about communities and their lands, the experiences of contact and colonization, and cultural and political resurgence. Despite the publicity around the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the growing talk about ‘reconciliation’ between Indigenous peoples and the Canadian state, it is still rare for non-Indigenous communities to listen to these stories carefully and talk about them openly. Without these conversations, talk of reconciliation becomes an empty gesture. Rethink 150: Indigenous Truth will use creative interventions in multiple media and multiple locations to make space for these stories, to generate cross-cultural listening and learning, to develop visions of new ways of living together, and to leave a lasting, material legacy that can guide the communities of the Okanagan. We understand, together, that there is no possibility of reconciliation or decolonization without disrupting the power of “Canada” to claim ownership over what stories matter and whose stories are heard.
Canada 150 is a story that needs to be disrupted so Indigenous truth can be heard.
Rethink 150 in the News:
Rabble.ca (June 30, 2017): “Members of Okanagan-Syilx Nation are unsettling Canada 150. It’s time for Canadians to listen.”