The Current

What does Canada 150 mean for Indigenous communities?

For First Nations people, the territory known as Canada is much, much older than a century-and-a-half.
With all of the mainstream hype about Canada’s 150th year of Confederation, many Indigenous people are resisting, using the anniversary to further the discussion around colonialism. (Radio-Canada)

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Canada marks its 150th birthday this year. But the event is not a celebration for everyone.

Indigenous people across the country are pointing out that for them, it's a symbol of 150 years of colonization.

Some are looking for changes to the celebrations to recognize their much longer history here.

Others call for resistance to the birthday party — or just skipping it altogether.

Lillian Howard is co-chair of the Vancouver Urban Aboriginal Peoples Advisory Committee, and has been developing the idea of a 150-plus theme for the city.

"[The] 150 reflects the colonial history of Canada and the historical trauma that Indigenous people face," she tells Anna Maria Tremonti.

"Many strongly felt we could not participate in that as it was."

Art designed by Eric Ritskes. (Eric Ritskes)

But adding the "plus" changed the narrative.

"It's a "plus" that would represent the moving forward in this period for reconciliation," says Howard, "and telling a truth about the history of Canada and the dark past of Canada with respect to First Nations."

Christi Belcourt is a Métis visual artist and one of the creators of the hashtag #Resistance150.

"I find it really insulting that there are 10,000 or 20,000 years of history in this continent," she tells Anna Maria Tremonti.

"Yet Canadians are going to celebrate their 150 completely erasing and ignoring the thousands of years of Indigenous experience."

Her movement is looking to give the conversation a different focus.

[We want] to highlight the history of resistance, resilience, rebellion, resurgence and restoration.- Christi Belcourt

"There's this massive movement that's really beautiful that's happening within Indigenous communities," says Belcourt.

Eric Ritskes has created an alternate Canada 150 logo, which instead reads "Colonialism 150."

Looking back at Expo 67 celebrations in Montreal, he sees echoes in how Indigenous artists of the time used the celebrations as a platform to try to create a new relationship with Canada.

"Here we are 50 years later looking at that and that really didn't materialize," says Ritskes, the editor of the journal Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society.

"It's quite striking to me that 50 years ago we had a very similar discussion as we're having right now about Canada 150."

Kent Monkman's inspiration

6 years ago
Duration 1:45
Cree artist talks about what inspired his take on Canada 150, Shame and Prejudice

Listen to the full conversation at the top of the post. 

This segment was produced by The Current's Samira Mohyeddin and Stephanie Kampf.