Day 6

Ryan McMahon's 12-step guide to decolonizing Canada

The Canada 150 celebrations are just six weeks away and many Indigenous people find the event deeply problematic, arguing it reinforces Canada's ongoing colonialism. Ryan McMahon charts a course for the next 150 years.
Ryan McMahon is an Anishinaabe comedian and writer who will give Day 6 listeners a five-part guide to eliminating colonialism in Canada. (Ryan McMahon)

by Ryan McMahon

If I could buy Canada one gift on its 150th birthday, I'd buy it a 12-step program.

No, not that 12-step program. A 12-step program on decolonization. 

In fact, if I had three wishes and a shirtless, magic genie ... well, it'd be awkward. But, I'd use all three of those wishes on an effort to decolonize this country. 

I don't have a magic genie or three wishes. And herein lies the rub. 

Many probably don't even believe Canada has a history of colonialism. 

This country is pretty good at ignoring its not-so-pretty past. Famously, just a few years ago, our former Prime Minister Stephen Harper said it himself.

Colonialism is definitely a thing

So I know, I have my work cut out for me here. Before a 12-step decolonization program can be implemented in this country, I need to argue that colonization even exists, or more than that, that it's an on-going system and structure that negatively affects Indigenous peoples and, in turn, Canadians.

Before we start, let's acknowledge just how ugly the word colonialism actually is.

Honestly, it has the word, colon in it. Yes, I went there. 

Now that we have the cheap jokes out of the way, let's dig in.

When we think of colonialism we think of 17th century European men on horseback. We don't often think of white men in business suits driving nice BMWs. I argue strongly that colonialism, its effects and its systems, are alive and well in Canada today. They just wear different clothes.

Yes, Canada. Your Canada. This Canada. 

Did you know that to create Canada, the government of the day created more than 1600 kilometres of roads to allow settlers easy passage for them to find the land they'd call home?

It was a whole system. It's called The Colonization Road Act.

These roads were called Colonization Roads.

Colonization roads are 1,600 kilometres of roads built for settlers to have easy access to plots of land across Canada. (Colonization Roads)

I know it sounds crazy, but me and my friend Michelle made a whole movie about it. 

It's called Colonization Road, it aired on the CBC this winter, it's online, check it out.

Sorry to say, our Canada has a long history of colonialism.

Here's a list of 5 things that prove colonialism is a live and well, today in this country.

Five reasons that Canada still faces issues of colonialism:

Number Five

It says it right in your song, the national anthem, it says it, in the song. Am I wrong? I mean, I've sung it a few hundred times through grade school.

"Oh Canada, our home and native land." 

Sir Adolphe-Basile Routhier, the guy who wrote the song, admitted it. He wrote it in the song. You admit it every time you sing it at a hockey game, your home is on Native land.

So. Can we Native people have a say over what goes on in these lands? Please? Canada?

Colonialism didn't just happen, it's ongoing.

Two musicians perform the Canadian national anthem during the opening ceremony for the 2015 Pan Am Games at Pan Am Ceremonies Venue. (Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports via Reuters)

Number Four 

Let's stay here a minute. Let's keep talking about land. We can't just skim past the land question in this country, right?

Just 150 years ago, 100% of the land base of what is now Canada WAS Indigenous land. But today, in 2017, Canada, the Crown, JT, controls 99.8% of all lands in Canada. That means, Indigenous peoples, we have a say over and control of 0.2% of all land in Canada, and we wonder why we're poor?

Because. Colonialism. It didn't just happen, it's ongoing.

Number Three

Let's admit, the word itself, colonialism, makes you tune out. It induces an eye roll of epic proportions. In fact, many people don't believe colonialism occurred in Canada - at all. So. Let's define the word itself.

Colonialism - the policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country.


Colonialsm - Occupying it with settlers.

(looks around)


And, Colonialism — exploiting it economically


Commissioners of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girl and the lead legal counsel for the commission, hold the first MMIWG inquiry news conference in Ottawa back in February. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Number Two

We are in the early stages of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. An estimated 4,000 Indigenous women and girls have gone missing or have been murdered since 1980, when they started keeping track of this number.

Until everyone is safe in Canada, no one is safe in Canada. The statistics tell us we die sooner. Our education system is funded four times less than the mainstream. There are more than 100 First Nation communities under boil water advisories right now. There is no denying that in this country, some lives matter and some lives don't.

Until everyone is safe in Canada, no one is safe in Canada.- Ryan McMahon

Number One

All of the issues we've talked about here are massive issues, but here is an issue that should provide us all with a bit of hope - the nation to nation talks that Justin Trudeau campaigned on.

It's exciting, possibilities are endless, even I have ideas ... like ... let Indigenous nations get 50 per cent of all monies made from natural resource exports. Just to start. Then, leave us alone, just for a bit. We'll call it a "break." It'll be like a divorce everyone saw coming. We can get along for the kids' sake, but, ya know, we'll be in different houses.

From there, Indigenous people, we will take care of our lives and in time we come back to the table ready to talk about what a NEW Canada might look like.

Because Colonialism? It didn't just happen. It's ongoing. Unless we say it's not. Then it's not.

This copy may vary slightly from the broadcast version.

Ryan McMahon is an Anishinaabe filmmaker, writer, a podcast host, and a comedian.

To hear the first part to Ryan McMahon's guide to decolonizing Canada, download our podcast or click the 'Listen' button at the top of this page.