The 180

Is the canoe a symbol of Canada, or of colonialism?

The canoe has long been a powerful symbol of Canadian identity. But a professor at the University of Victoria says it's time for Canada to rethink the canoe. Misao Dean says that in the aftermath of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, we should question the colonialist implications of the canoe.
Justin Trudeau paddles a canoe down the Bow River, in Calgary, during the 2015 election campaign. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Ah, the Canoe.

One of the seven wonders of Canada.

To some, a symbol of our connection to the natural world, a representation of our reverence for history, a tool of exploration and discovery.

To others, like Misao Dean, Professor of English at the University of Victoria, the canoe can be a symbol of colonialism, imperialism, and marginalization.

Dean is the author of the book Inheriting a Canoe Paddle: The Canoe in Discourses of English-Canadian Nationalism. In this interview, Dean asks us to consider the canoe, and what it really represents in Canadian society, and whose symbol it is. To Dean, the story Canadians tell themselves about the canoe is one of European colonialism, while ignoring the role the canoe played in displacing and harming indigenous people. She notes that hobbyist canoers today are a pretty specific group.

Certainly the majority of wilderness canoers are people who have a very privileged place in society. They're frequently highly educated people. They're almost completely white. - Misao Dean, Professor of English, University of Victoria

Dean says that in the wake of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, non-indigenous Canadians should rethink the canoe. And they can do it every time the dip a paddle in the water.

To hear the full interview, click the "play" button above.


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