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De-celebrating Canada 150

The non-stop nationalistic party doesn't leave much space for the critical reflection our country needs to acknowledge harms and move towards reconciliation.

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Sadie Beaton is community conservation research network coordinator for the Ecology Action Centre. This article’s full version can be found in Ecology & Action magazine’s summer issue. Davis’ - #decelebrationofcanada150 installation opens June 19 at the Khyber. - SUBMITTED
  • SUBMITTED
  • Sadie Beaton is community conservation research network coordinator for the Ecology Action Centre. This article’s full version can be found in Ecology & Action magazine’s summer issue. Davis’ #decelebrationofcanada150 installation opens June 19 at the Khyber.

I’m sitting in Cornwallis Park feeling useless. However, that’s not the best way to begin: focusing on my own feelings when I want to tell you about a powerful performance piece by Indigenous artist Raven Davis. Did I mention that I am a white person, a settler, a guest on these unceded Mi’kmaq lands?

Davis is masked and wearing moccasins. The mask is unnerving, and features an inverted Canada flag: an upside-down white leaf on a red background. Their hands and feet are tied with thick red rope to a statue of Edward Cornwallis, who rode on the coattails of the Doctrine of Discovery and Terra Nullius to help found Halifax on good Mi’kmaq moose-hunting ground, then issued a bounty for the scalps of Mi’kmaq persons. Davis is silent, motionless, and will remain bound for one hour and 50 minutes.

I’m looking at the dozen eggs Davis has set up on a rickety table as a provocation to passersby. They are branded with Canadian flags. They look like invitations, but for what? Will somebody throw an egg at the Indigenous body before us, or will they aim for Cornwallis’ smug likeness above?

Throwing an egg at Cornwallis feels kind of juvenile and ineffective, but I do it anyway. After all, I am burning with rage thinking about everything he’s celebrated for, and what a tip of the iceberg he is in the full story of Canada’s genocidal founding we are meant to be celebrating this year.

The Canada 150 party is everywhere—branding everything from barbeque tongs to sock monkeys to the ever-present Tim Horton’s coffee cups. Yet many Indigenous peoples have refused to celebrate the colonial birth of a nation that has worked to erase them, choosing instead to celebrate Indigenous resistance.

I’m grateful to Raven Davis for creating space as part of the recent Mayworks Festival to “De-Celebrate Canada 150”, with a performance that poses questions as to how we can show up in solidarity with Indigenous people.

The eggs don’t inflict any real damage; they don’t do anything to free Raven from the red ropes binding them to this edifice of colonization. I am sitting there “holding space,” but I’m not sure what that means. I am wondering why I don’t move to simply untie Davis. My gut tells me not to, but I don’t trust my gut yet because my gut is colonized.

I am thinking about how deeply the white saviour complex is ingrained. Why am I seeing Davis’ body as vulnerable and helpless, when they are so strong and capable? After all, this intervention is an act of resistance—it is proof of resilience.

I go home feeling stirred up. Self-critical, sure, but also raging at how our government has been willing to spend half a billion dollars celebrating Canada’s confederate anniversary while Indigenous peoples across this country continue to fight for crucial services like clean water, housing, mental health support, food justice and the right to protect their territories from resource extraction and pollution.

The forces and impacts of colonization are everywhere, like the empty Canada 150–themed Tim Horton’s cups blowing around. Davis’ provocation provided a vital space to reflect on the side-step dance the country is doing when it comes to reconciliation. Without crucial reflection and the dismantling work that must come afterward, concepts like these will continue to underlie our country’s relationship to the land and to Indigenous peoples here on Turtle Island.

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