Arts Keep Calm+Decolonize

As Canada marks 150 years, five filmmakers heed the call to 'Keep Calm and Decolonize'

Curated by Jesse Wente, the film series is inspired by a call to action from Buffy Sainte-Marie

Posted: November 27, 2017

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As the country marks 150 years of Confederation, five of Canada's most distinguished filmmakers respond to Buffy Sainte-Marie's call to "Keep Calm and Decolonize" and offer an alternative vision.  1:02

"First and foremost, decolonization must occur in our own minds."
— Waziyatawin and Michael Yellow Bird, from the introduction to For Indigenous Minds Only: A Decolonization Handbook


Keep Calm and Decolonize

Earlier this year, during a panel discussion, Buffy Sainte-Marie urged the audience to remain calm and decolonize — marching orders from the iconic activist and artist, echoing a call that has been loud in Indian country for years and is now being heard more widely, thanks to the increased presence of First Nations, Métis and Inuit voices across Turtle Island. That Sainte-Marie would signal boost this message now, as Canada celebrates 150 years of its colonial state, is certainly no coincidence. For nations that have been present on this land for millennia, the number of candles on this cake seem quaint and come soaked in a history of violent assimilation and oppression.

Yet, Canada 150 reminds us that this is our shared history now. Calls to decolonize need to extend to all who now call Turtle Island home, because while the urgency of decolonization is certainly acute for First Nations, Métis and Inuit, it is a process in which all can participate — for the results will affect all of us, just as the process of colonization here has left its mark on everyone and everything being celebrated this year.

"Flood" by Amanda Strong (Amanda Strong)

Watch all five films now »

Decolonization means to divorce oneself and one's community from the ideologies and structures of colonialism, which impact all of us differently. While liberation of mind, body and land is the ultimate end, it first begins in the mind and in the culture, where colonialism's hold can be most insidious.

For this series, we've asked a group of artists to do just that: to engage in their own decolonization, to examine their own relationship to colonialism and how it has shaped them and us. We did not know what responses we would get, and as you will see, they are diverse, rich and deeply personal.

"Marco's Oriental Noodles" by Howie Shia (Howie Shia)

Legendary documentarian Alanis Obomsawin's Walking is Medicine focuses on the connection of protest to decolonization, while Yung Chang explores the meaning of names. John Greyson explores connections between environmental destruction, LGBTQ2AI activism and the colour pink, and Amanda Strong uses shadow puppets to transform the quotidian acts of Indigenous life into decolonization.

This is our response to Buffy's call. We heard it, we are calm and we will decolonize.

"Waling is Medicine" by Alanis Obomsawin (Alanis Obomsawin)

As the country marks 150 years of Confederation, five of Canada's most distinguished filmmakers respond to Buffy Sainte-Marie's call to "Keep Calm and Decolonize" and offer an alternative vision. Watch all five films now.

A Note about the Keep Calm and Decolonize Artwork

The distinctive red-and-white "Keep Calm and Decolonize" word mark was created by Jaque Fragua, a celebrated artist from Jemez Pueblo, New Mexico, whose work features visions drawn from traditional Native American ceramics, blankets, tattoo designs and more. Fragua repurposes his culture's iconography in an effort to subvert what he refers to as the "overconsumption of misappropriated Native American design and identity."


Jesse Wente

Jesse Wente is an Ojibwe broadcaster, curator, producer and public speaker. Jesse spent 11 years with the Toronto International Film Festival, the last 7 as Head of Film Programmes at the Lightbox. Jesse is also a columnist for CBC Radio's Metro Morning, where he has covered film and culture for 21 years.