From Parks Canada’s “Discovery Pass” to the new international Canadian tourism campaign called “Keep Exploring,” the embrace of #Canada150 by outdoor recreation and tourism industries is widespread, along with its heavy colonial overtones.
Social media competitions encourage people to post photos of themselves on the land and water, proclaiming what makes Canada great using the hashtag #Canada150 (the hashtag has been used nearly 400,000 times on Instagram as of today).
The tourism industry driving these campaigns accounted for more of the country’s GDP than
agriculture, forestry and fisheries combined in 2013, generating $88.5 billion in economic activity. A bitter irony is the same colonial system that actively embraces love for the land readily exploits it through the tar sands, pipelines, mining exploits and deforestation.
Nationalism is an effective marketing tool, and the level of Canadian nationalism, colonialism and patriotism is reaching a fever pitch as Canada Day approaches.
But just as there are enraging and problematic colonial aspects of #Canada150 within the tourism and outdoors communities, there are also promising signs of subversion, positive Indigenous alternatives and outright resistance.
Colonialism Finds its Roots in Land & Water
Indigenous sovereignty finds its expression—among other things—through collective Indigenous autonomy over lands and waters, land reclamation, barricades, land-based education or an active return to living off the land.
If Indigenous sovereignty finds its roots through a connection to the land, it should not be surprising that, in order for colonialism to establish its roots, Indigenous peoples must first be uprooted and displaced from their lands and waters. Capitalism as a colonial economic system can then be implemented.
Capitalism requires ceaseless growth and exploitation, at a compound rate, of people and the natural world. Geographer David Harvey calls this “accumulation through dispossession,” drawing on Marx and Engles, and anarchist thinkers and organizers have long-since written about the geography of capitalism. Accumulation through dispossession happens every day though forcible displacements of Indigenous peoples for mining projects, or because of climate change, or most aggressively for imperial wars.
I currently live in Winnipeg, for example, and Indigenous peoples were forcibly removed from their lands through forced starvation by then-Prime Minister John A. McDonald in order to make way for the railroad. Substantial amounts of capital in Canada still travel on rail.
Today, the colonial state is widespread in Canada. Tourism, in its worst form, reasserts these colonial claims over the land. The #Canada150 marketing blitz, the ‘Discovery Pass’ and the ‘Keep Exploring’ advertising campaign are pretty clear examples. But this does not have to be the case.
For those of us who embrace nature and the outdoors, there are things that we can do to challenge or unsettle the colonial roots of #Canada150.
Ideas for Outdoors Lovers to Unsettle #Canada150
How can those of us who are non-Indigenous and who enjoy the outdoors effectively challenge problematic aspects of #Canada150 while supporting Indigenous sovereignty?
These are questions that I have been asking myself and others for about one year now.
Some ideas are provided below:
– Support #Unsettling150: in honour of Arthur Manuel, support and/or participate in the National Day of Action being organized by Idle No More and Defenders of the Land, #Unsettling150.
– Take direction from Indigenous voices: in a good way, if possible, take guidance from Elders, grandmothers and grassroots Indigenous organizers and voices;
– Question peoples’ patriotism and nationalism: whether at a campground or out trekking, being outdoors is a great time to talk about these sensitive subjects because there is plenty of time to talk and unpack things in a personal way. This is not always easy, but it is almost always worthwhile.
– Every time you go to enjoy the outdoors, consider doing some of the following (try doing these things collectively with your trekking partners, but individually is good too):
– Support Indigenous sovereignty and actions: contact Indigenous organizers involved in Indigenous sovereignty and cultural reclamation initiatives like land-based education, efforts at land and water reclamation, and efforts at returning to the land, asking how you can support;
– Contacting Indigenous organizers of blockades, land reclamation and land-sovereignty initiatives to see how you can support;
– Show that you #Resist150: my partner and I have been actively involved in low-level forms of solidarity while participating in outdoor activities. For example, while out canoeing, biking or hiking – we post photos in solidarity with #Resist150 #Unsettle150 and challenge #Canada150. Just add paper and sharpies to your gear packing list! You can also do things like banner-drops at your campground, or hanging anti-colonial flags from your canoe, bike or campground.
–Prioritize Indigenous History & Knowledge: When planning a trip, people tend to prioritize their packing list and travel plans. Rarely do people consider the lands and waters they are passing through and enjoying. Alongside a packing list and travel plan, or even prior to those, make it a priority to learn about the Indigenous history and present of the lands and waters that you are passing through.
– Support Indigenous-led tourism: tourism is not a bad word. When planning a trip, consider going to one of the hundreds of Indigenous-led tourism destinations and organizations that foster Indigenous sovereignty. Aboriginal Canada, an Indigenous tourism body, poses the following questions to consider: “Can I demonstrate the participation of and meaningful benefit to the Aboriginal people and community?” “Does the Aboriginal community being portrayed have control over the content of the cultural programming? Can I demonstrate a connection to the community portrayed that reflects a responsibility to that community? Is the community involved in the delivery of the cultural programming to the visitor?”
– Support Indigenous & non-Indigenous workers: many Parks Canada workers are politicized through the Phoenix Pay system debacle as workers are going unpaid or underpaid. Whether these workers are members of their PSAC union or not, they can get involved in PSAC’s #ThirstyforJustice campaign and other local campaigns that challenge colonialism. Parks Canada plays an educational role at national parks and workers can challenge the colonial reality of Canada, rather than simply towing the line of celebration. For those of us who enjoy national parks, we can connect with these workers and see what their thoughts are, encourage them to get involved in their union and initiatives like this at their workplace, as is their right. This can be done in creative ways not only with federal Parks workers, but with all workers in the tourism industries.
– Learn While on the Land: while out camping or trekking, read Indigenous literature about the region that you’re in (also bring Indigenous fiction, poetry or non-fiction). A personal favourite of mine is The Winter We Danced, which I bring on most trips. Reading about the land, while on the land, helps develop a sense for appreciation of whose land and waters you are on. This can be a very pleasant and educational activity with friends, children and family. I pose some questions here that you can ask children or friends around the campfire.
– Here are some more suggestions that I am developing with Indigenous guidance.
I encourage other ideas, criticism, feedback and comments.
Enjoy the outdoors. #Resist150!