Day 6

Ryan McMahon's guide to decolonization: 'Listen to us.'

Ryan McMahon wraps up his condensed 12-step program for decolonizing Canada with a simple plea for Canadians to listen to Indigenous people and try to understand.

Ryan McMahon's 12-step guide to decolonization

5 years ago
Duration 3:08
Ryan McMahon's 12-step guide to decolonization

by Ryan McMahon

Well, just like that, we're done.

Some of you may have noticed this is only the fifth episode of the mini-series and we promised 12 steps. Touché.

Simply, steps six to 12 in decolonizing Canada are all about the return of land to Indigenous people. Land. Land. Land.

So. Let's wrap this up.

I considered doing a well-researched, fact-filled, hyperlinked, resource-supported finale to the mini-series. I started down that road and got about halfway done the writing.

My goal here was to present a path to decolonization in Canada. I've tried.

Lucien Wabanonik Grand Chief of the Tribal Council of the Algonquin Nation stands beside a map of the Algonquin Anishinabeg territories during a rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in April 2010. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

I spent two weeks trying to convince Canadians that colonialism was even a thing. To prove my point, I connected shameful government policies like The Indian Act to our current lives. I pointed towards statistics and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada. 

I was even nicknamed "Captain Decolonization" by a listener.

In the first two episodes I provided dozens of resources. We turned our attention to Treaty, the thing that formed this country. We then focused on the land question in Canada.

Then it hit me.

The facts won't make Canadians change their minds.

In one form or another, the facts have been around for decades.

Sure, none of us learned this stuff in high school. The intricacies of the Indian Act are hard to understand. But the facts have been ignored, twisted and taken out of context.

The facts have always been there.

In one form or another, the facts have been around for decades ... But the facts have been ignored, twisted and taken out of context.- Ryan McMahon

We've watched successive governments, both provincial and federal, hand off the 150-year-old "Indian Problem" to each other time and time again.

The age-old "jurisdictional juggling act" drove one of our modern day superheroes, Cindy Blackstock, to court against the federal government in her effort to successfully have Jordan's Principle implemented country-wide.

Chief Liz Logan, of Fort Nelson First Nation, holding an original Treaty 8 medallion. (Kirsten Brynelsen/Handout via Canadian Press)

We've watched an indifferent country respond to a National Inquiry to Missing and Murdered Women and Girls. We've watched an indifferent country respond to Indigenous youth suicide — the highest suicide rates in the country.

We've watched an indifferent country learn about the more than 100 communities without consistent clean drinking water in Canada.

The facts have always been here.

We've watched many of the elite in the Canadian media mock us openly on Twitter, stripping us of our power and dignity. There were apologies and promises and eye rolls.

Despite best efforts, this relationship is fundamentally broken and I am doubtful it will ever be fixed.

In my estimation, independent Indigenous media must be the place for Indigenous voices to be heard. The best the establishment can do is to support independent Indigenous media as they tell their own stories.

And Canadians, you need to listen. 

How do we talk about decolonization when we first need to push people to see our humanity?

This is the work that is underway now. There is a resurgence of Indigenous art, literature, music, academia, culture and language. Let's face it, right now, it's cool to be NDN.

It almost feels like we're entering a Dances With Wolves phase, remember that? It was so cool to be NDN in the early 90's that anyone with a larger-than-normal nose and a tan was rocking a Chinatown choker and had a dream catcher around their necks.

Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director of First Nations Child and Family Caring Society. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

My simple plea today: personalize to decolonize.

Listen to us. 

Hear us. See us. Feel us. Talk to us. Listen to Indigenous peoples. Understand the humanity in the issues we face.

We aren't faceless strangers asking for government handouts. We're human beings. We're human beings that made a deal with your ancestors.

We're human beings that agreed to share what we had with you. At its core, the deal has never been lived up to — you know it and I know it.

I've thrown facts, figures, reports, dates, inquiries, names, places and points of view at you over the last five weeks. But the only thing that will bring decolonization to this country is you sitting with yourself, and asking the question, 'can we do better.'

I know we can. Here's to the next 150 years. Here's to Canada 2167.


This copy may vary slightly from the broadcast version.

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

To hear Ryan McMahon's commentary, download our podcast or click the 'Listen' button at the top of this page. Click the links for part onepart twopart three and part four of his guide to decolonizing Canada.

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