First Nations skateboarder educates people on colonialism in Canada

Michael Langan from the Cote First Nation in Saskatchewan started Colonialism Skateboards to raise awareness of the Pass and Permit system used to control Aboriginal people living on reserve in Western Canada.

Michael Langan sparks conversations about Canadian history with his board

Michael Langan founder of Colonialism Skateboards in Regina holds his first board design highlighting Canada's colonial policies towards Aboriginal people. (Nichole Huck CBC )

When Michael Langan was 18 years old he landed his first kickflip on his skateboard outside the CBC building in Regina. Fourteen years later he stands outside that same building holding a skateboard that he hopes will be a powerful tool in educating young skaters about one of the darkest times in Canada's history. 

Langan started Colonialism Skateboards as a way of educating people on the shared history and culture of Aboriginal people in Canada. An avid skateboarder himself, he felt the skateboard community would be receptive.

"Skateboarders are really accepting of one another with their differences. You'll go to a skate park and there will be a super poor kid and some kid driving up in an Audi and they'll hang out. They'll skate together and they'll talk and they'll just accept one another," explained Langan. 

The board's graphic highlights one example of colonialism, the Pass and Permit system. Langan explained that the system was used in Western Canada as a way of controlling Aboriginal people's movement and economic activity. Aboriginal people needed a permit to sells goods, to leave the reserve, to visit children in Residential Schools and visit families in neighbouring communities — something Langan said destroyed families. 

Langan who is of Cree and Saulteaux descent, grew up on the Cote First Nation near Kamsack, Saskatchewan, but the inspiration for his board came from the Glenbow Museum Archives in Calgary. He found one image that he said is very powerful and stuck with him. The image is an actual permit written by an Indian Agent from Treaty 7 Territory.

The image on the board is a copy of an actual permit written by an Indian Agent on September 25, 1892 (Nichole Huck CBC )

The document granted Big Prairie Head of Sarcee Indian Reserve permission to leave his reserve and sell livestock for one day. If he had not returned to the reserve before the end of the day, or if he sold more chickens than approved, he could face up to three months in prison or $500 in fines. 

"It's a really,really deep dark history in Canada and it's been hidden in Canada for a reason," said Langan in an interview with CBC morning show host Stefani Langenegger. 

Bringing positive from a negative 

Langan hopes the board will spark conversations at the skate park. Conversations he said may be uncomfortable or awkward at times, but will ultimately expose a whole new group to some of the ugly chapters in Canada's past. 

Langan said he's been contacted by a teacher in B.C. who wants to use the skateboard in his classroom to connect with his students and get them talking about the legacy of such policies. 

"The Indian Act is still restricting Aboriginal people today," said Langan. The Colonialism Facebook page says the Pass and Permit system is one example of how the oppression of Aboriginal people then contributes to inequality and strained relations now. 

Colonialism Skateboards are currently for sale in Regina, Saskatoon and Winnipeg, but Langan says the response has been overwhelming and he plans to create more boards to highlight other aspects of Canada's colonial policies that haven't garnered as much attention as he says they deserve. 

Books that inspired Langan's Colonialism Skateboards

  • Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life by James Daschuk
  • Children of the Broken Treaty: Canada's Lost Promise and One Girl's Dream by Charlie Angus