Day 6

Ryan McMahon's guide to Canada's colonial founding documents

As a birthday present to Canada, Anishinaabe comedian, writer and filmmaker, Ryan McMahon, presents a 12-step program for decolonization and charts a new path for the next 150 years.
Former Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo holds up the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples during a news conference in Vancouver, B.C. in 2013. (Andy Clark/Reuters)
Listen6:01

by Ryan McMahon

This is your boy, Ryan McMahon, AKA, Captain Decolonization.

I didn't name myself. It's not a good look to give yourself a superhero nickname.

Instead, a listener from last week told me I was fighting a losing battle trying to prove Canada's colonial roots.

The email went on to say that if I were a superhero, my name would be Captain Decolonization and I would face my ultimate demise in a slow-sinking canoe, while battling Captain Canada and his robotic beaver sidekick, Robo Beave.

Every superhero needs his theme music

I'm going to digress here for a minute, just to be on the record.

I am a boy who grew up with comic books and I must say that if I were a native superhero here in Canada, I can think of much better names than Captain Decolonization.

(Ryan McMahon)

How about: Nava-Hulk, or Spider-Clan Man, or Sioux-Per Man?

He's just a Sioux guy. His origin story is he was born Sioux and his superpower is he's Sioux.

So he's Sioux-Per Man. 

Or how about Captain Native America?

Or best yet, Ryan Mc-Man.

He gets light-headed when he exercises too hard.

And when his truck gets stuck in a snow bank — and he's gotta push it out —  he ends up with that deep lung burn.

That wheezy shallow breath? Where my chubby people at? You know what I'm saying.

He's an every-hero. Ryan Mc-Man, fighting his nemesis Lung Burn.

All right. Back to work.

Indigenous protesters take to Parliament Hill on April 28, 2003 to protest against planned changes to the Indian Act. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Canadian Colonialism 101

So, as I said last week, I have my work cut out for me.

Last time, I tried to prove colonialism is even a thing in this country.

For some of you, it worked. For others, you still need convincing.

OK, let's say you don't entirely agree with me (I understand), but that you think I am on to something and you want to know more. 

I got your back.

Let's just use the pre-existing documents, studies, inquests, etc. that have done ALL the heavy lifting for us.

These documents, processes, inquests and special departments have cost this country hundreds of millions of dollars.

Surely there is some good reading in here, right?

So, photocopy these documents, put them in your bathroom and every time you do your business, you'll get to know us just a little bit better.

These are the foundational documents you need to read to get to know this country.

Six of this country's foundational documents

Number One:

Read The Indian Act. Seriously. It's hilarious.

First introduced in 1876, the Indian Act is still in force today. (CBC)

It's a good place to start. You'll see the deep-seated racism shine through the text.

If it helps, imagine Kevin Spacey, Sir Ben Kingsley or Keanu Reeves dressed up in pre-confederation garb. 

Close your eyes and imagine them reading it out loud!

You'll get a sense of the racist roots of this country.

Jean Chretien, future prime minster, proposed a policy of assimilation called the White Paper, when he was Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development in 1969 (Chris Haney/Canadian Press)

Number Two: 

You can read The White Paper, a terrible policy paper from 1969 that then Minister of Indian Affairs, Jean Chretien, proposed to eliminate Indian Status (and the rights therein), assimilate Indians into the body politic, and complete the wholesale theft of Indigenous lands and territories by adopting fee simple/private land ownership and extinguishing lands held in reserve.

Number Three:

You can dig into The Red Paper, or the Citizens Plus document, the groundbreaking document created by a group of great Indigenous thinkers, community leaders, philosophers and political leaders in 1970.

The document fundamentally outlines the opposition to colonial rule and the top-down approach Canada takes with Indigenous Peoples.

Here's the summary. It's a quick read.

Number Four: 

You can read The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.

This is in reference to your Queen, Canada. It doesn't get much bigger than this — a ROYAL commission.

It's 4,000 pages long, but it essentially gives you the truth behind the country and provides a framework for a pathway forward.

Number Five:

Or maybe read The Kelowna Accord.

Again, it was an exhaustive effort to come to an agreement on a framework for moving forward within Canada.

Then-Prime Minister Paul Martin delivers his opening remarks to start the First Ministers and National Aboriginal Leaders meetings in Kelowna, B.C., Nov. 24, 2005. (Adrian Wyld/CP)

Ultimately, Harper's conservative government squashed it and the opportunity was lost.  

But it was a plan. It was a plan that Canadians forget exists when they talk about the impossibility of moving forward in 2017.

Number Six:

Thumb through UNDRIP.

The implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada would mean constitutional talks (which we need anyway, if we're going to make things right in Canada) and it'd essentially mean the end of the Big White Daddy attitude the government holds towards Indigenous peoples.

Indigenous peoples know there are answers.

I'm sharing these answers with you, today.


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

To hear the second part of Ryan McMahon's guide to decolonizing Canada, download our podcast or click the 'Listen' button at the top of this page. You can find part one here.