A Whitehorse artist's poster design is leading a cross-country activist art campaign to counter Canada 150 celebrations and to critically re-examine Canadian history.

"Canada 150 is sort of a celebration of Canada, all the good things — maple syrup, poutine, wonderful things about John A. Macdonald. But of course, there is a darker side to Canada, and there's lots of things that need change," says historian Sean Carleton, who's leading this project with the Graphic History Collective.

They're calling it Remember, Resist, Redraw — an ongoing series of poster art from across the country, depicting various issues in Canadian history.

"[It's] an attempt to intervene in this kind of celebratory story of Canada to create space for alternative understanding of the country that we live in," says Carleton.

Land claim treaties a 'double-edged sword'

Lianne Charlie, a Yukon artist and instructor of political sciences at Yukon College, has been chosen to create the first poster addressing a topic of her choice. Her idea emerged out of her research into the land claims.

Her poster depicts a fragmented Yukon land. "It's basically a collection of photographs of land, mostly around the Northern Tutchone territory," says Charlie, who's ancestors are from that region.

lianne charlie poster

The poster is the first of several to come in this new art activism project. (Graphic History Collective)

Standing on the land is a sketch of a First Nations woman twisting a moose hide, in the middle of the traditional moose tanning process.

"The woman plays a really integral role in the piece, because she's standing across all these fragmented images of the land that metaphorically can represent how our land has been cut up, distributed, renamed, settled, developed and mined," says Charlie.

"She's standing over it, engaging in a process that our ancestors would recognize… still engaging in processes that we plan to do well into the future," she says.

'We still think of the Yukon as our land' 

Written across in bold is "We still think of the Yukon as our land." In smaller script, a clause in the Umbrella Final Agreement is quoted:

"That Yukon First Nation and all persons who are eligible to be Yukon Indian People it represents, as of the Effective Date of that Yukon First Nation's Final Agreement, cede, release and surrender to Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, all their aboriginal claims, rights, titles, and interests."

The 1990 Umbrella Final Agreement is not a legal document, but a 'political agreement,' signed between the Yukon First Nations, Canada and the Yukon Territory on ownership and uses of lands and resources in the Yukon.

"We hold the Umbrella Final Agreement up quite high. It extends us a lot of power and jurisdiction over our settlement lands," says Charlie. 

Charlie says that the "cede, release and surrender" clause in the agreement actually "extinguishes" land claim treaties signed between First Nations peoples and Canada, from the moment it was signed.

"The UFA, then, is a double-edged (settler colonial) sword. It guarantees Indigenous peoples local control over important issues, but it also surrenders large parts of our territories to the settler state to be sold to developers and resource extraction companies," writes Charlie in her poster submission.

lianne charlie

Charlie's poster art speaks out against clauses in the Umbrella Final Agreement that enforce "cede, release and surrender." (submitted by Lianne Charlie)

"Why I think that this cede, release, surrender is so interesting, is that of course many Indigenous nations that were signing these agreements felt that these treaties were being signed to share the land," says Carleton.

But instead, by having this overarching "surrender clause," Carleton says the land claim treaties are actually more about "trying to grab and expropriate the land, dispossessing Indigenous people."

Not tapping into the Canada 150 fund

'We purposely did not apply for the Canada 150 fund," says Carleton.

He says he believes that the Canadian government is looking to celebrate Canada in a "safe way," although they're encouraging challenging questions.

"They want people to talk about racism, different things that the current government could say 'but we're trying to get better at this,'" says Carleton. "The Canadian government is not trying to get better at settler colonialism."

"We're hoping that these posters can try and unsettle some of that, and ask some critical questions. So I would imagine, that the kinds of questions that we're wanting to ask in this project are not fundable questions," says Carleton.

Charlie's poster marks the first of the several posters scheduled to come out each month.

The posters will be available online, and can be downloaded and printed for free. The project will also hold exhibits across the country.

with files from Leonard Linklater, Cheryl Kawaja