Canada 2017

Christi Belcourt says Indigenous resistance didn't start with Canada I50

The #Resistance150 project is a reaction to Canada 150 and part of a continuum of Indigenous resistance in Canada.

'It's a project highlighting the resistance that already exists and that will continue to go on.'

Michif artist Belcourt is one of the four Indigenous people who launched the #Resistance150 project — a reaction to #Canada150 and part of a continuum of resistance in Canada. Belcourt is seen here in front of one of her large scale but intricate 'beadwork' paintings. (Christi Belcourt/Facebook)

This year marks the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation, but Michif artist Christi Belcourt, Cree activist and advocate Tanya Kappo, Métis elder and author Maria Campbell and Anishinaabe traditional teacher and storyteller Isaac Murdoch have not been celebrating.

Instead, they've started #Resistance150: a project intended to highlight the many ways Indigenous peoples have historically resisted, and continue to resist, what many see as discriminatory and assimilationist policies of the Canadian government, such as those regarding pipeline construction, access to drinking water and child welfare funding gaps. Perhaps most importantly, the Indian Act itself.

Christi Belcourt took time to discuss the #Resistance150 project and why Indigenous resistance in 2017 continues to be so important.

What is #Resistance150 and how did it start?

It started with Tanya, Maria, Isaac and me talking about how Canada 150 was being celebrated, which was ignoring basically all of the First Nations, Métis Nations and Inuit people that have been here for 15,000 years. We knew were going to hear about Canada all year long — and not only that, but the spending for Canada 150. That's half a billion dollars to celebrate Canada's birthday. Meanwhile, over 100 First Nations still are without potable drinking water. Our languages only get $5 million a year. There are a lot of crises here in this country that need to be dealt with first.

#Resistance150 is a reaction to Canada 150, but it's also part of a continuum of resistance.- Christi Belcourt

The other thing is that we wanted to be able to showcase the good things that are happening in our nations that we should really be celebrating. We wanted to feature examples of history, of resistance, resilience and resurgence. All the restoration work being done on the grassroots level. It's really inspiring.

The @Resistance150 Twitter account has featured prominent Indigenous artists, activists and thinkers as guest hosts, and there's such a variety of content. When Terri Monture hosted she gave a great, detailed history of the Haudenosaunee. A young woman named Valeen Ka'ani staged what she called "a renegade art show" on the #Resistance150 hashtag. You may have had some idea of what you wanted this to look like, but what's it like actually seeing it come together?

It's just starting so it's kind of hard to assess. I do want to clarify that #Resistance150 is not a project where we intended anything to happen other than the four of us as individuals and sometimes as a collective going through with our own acts of resistance. We just invited people to hashtag their opinions on resistance and their acts of resistance, which we've then shared.

For myself, I want to see if I can try and do 150 traditional tattoos throughout the year. I'm doing other things as well. I probably won't accomplish 150 of the other things that I'm doing but I want to challenge myself to up my game. Maria has ideas and Isaac has ideas and they're going to do those, as well. Then we have our guest hosts that are going to be doing [different] things.

Talking about some of the art that you've personally shared, your poem and short film Canada I can cite for you 150 was featured as part of the project, as well as the Onaman Collective's I am not a number video featuring Elder Mary Elizabeth Wemigwans cutting up her Indian Status card. What was the experience of creating those works?

That was pretty neat because Canada I can cite for you 150 was a poem that I had written that I had always sort of visualized as a film. It was easy enough for me to put it into iMovie and just do my best at it.

With [I am not a number], it was a symbolic gesture rejecting the Canadian state and the oppressive laws of the Indian Act. Mary is a very lovely, gentle, kind elder, and to have her make that kind of a statement was really brave. She wants to see a change. She's lived a long life and she's seen a lot of the difference in climate. She's seen what's happening to the environment, and she's worried. And the connection between what's happening with the environment and the Indian Act is clear.

There have been two others who have followed suit and cut up their cards in response to seeing that. A lot of people are really cognizant of how the laws of Canada, including the Indian Act, have been used to displace and dispossess Indigenous people of their lands so there could be free-for-all resource extraction.

With the release of the final report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and now Canada's 150th Birthday, there's been a lot of talk about "reconciliation" but not a lot of action. What is your response to the idea of "reconciliation," particularly in regards to #Resistance150?

I don't believe that reconciliation is even possible. The entire premise of Canada rests on the dispossession of Indigenous people of their lands. As a people, everything we have known for generation upon generation has been the land. Because our connection to the lands has been severed, it affects our whole being. Until the theft of lands is looked at, until we can reconcile our own relationships with the lands, then reconciliation with the Canadian state is not possible. Until then, reconciliation is only a move towards assimilation.

We have a fantastic history of rebellion and resistance across the country.- Christi Belcourt

Do I think there's potential to reconcile? Maybe. I don't think Canadians are bad people. But I do think the Canadian state can't help itself. It continually perpetuates assimilation and assimilationist policies, and it doesn't even realize what it's doing.

Bruce McComber, who just hosted, said he was excited to "see what the #Resistance150 campaign will inspire or lead to or be a part of." I think a lot of us are kind of sitting in that boat. What do you personally hope will come from this project?

Well, we have a fantastic history of rebellion and resistance across the country. I think there's a lot of things that are going to be ramping up, including resistance over some of the pipelines that have been approved by Trudeau. That resistance is only going to keep growing. I don't think it's directly related to #Resistance150, but resistance in general. I don't want to label Indigenous resistance as being "#Resistance150" but I'm excited to see what people do this year.

#Resistance150 is a reaction to Canada 150, but it's also part of a continuum of resistance. It's a project highlighting the resistance that already exists and that will continue to go on.


Alicia Elliott is a Mohawk writer living in Brantford, Ontario. She’s had essays nominated for National Magazine Awards for three straight years, winning Gold in 2017, while this very column earned her a Digital Publishing Award nomination in 2023. She is the author of A Mind Spread Out on the Ground (Penguin Random House, 2019) as well as the upcoming novel, And Then She Fell (Penguin Random House, 2023).